Discover Asia's craft beer scene
15th September 2017 | by Louise
Here at Selective Asia, we've always been advocates of supporting local initiatives as much as possible, and are big believers in buying local. Our home town of Brighton is (in our humble opinion) one of the greatest places in the UK for home-grown talent, indie businesses, and craft food and drink producers - with craft beer being a favourite amongst Team SA.
No longer are we faced with a limited selection of beers, brewed by a limited number of multi-national corporations, when we head to a bar or bottle shop. We now have the option to choose from a vast range of beers developed by individual brewers and small businesses, bringing new flavours and tastes to our shelves and taste buds every day.
Asia is currently in the midst of enjoying a boom in craft beer, so here we take a look at some of the places where you can enjoy these hand-crafted drinks, the people behind the brews, and not forgetting the local beer snacks to enjoy while you sip on your glass of amber nectar. And once your appetite is whetted, why not take a look at our new tailor-made Craft Beers of Asia itinerary, which will take you there in person?
For years, Thailand's beer industry has been dominated by two major players - Singha and Chang. Thailand faces South-East Asia’s highest taxes on the brewing and importing of beer - up to 300 – 400% - with brewing licenses only given to companies producing upward of 100,000 litres per year, making it impossible for any small business to enter the market. However recent changes have meant that some entrepreneurial brewers are now brewing the product out of the country, and importing it back in.
Our favourite: Tawangdeng
For a swashbuckling, beer-swigging, raucous night out, Thai style, head to Tawangdeng, Bangkok’s most famous German style beer hall and first micro-brewery. Here you’ll find long benches ram packed with mostly Thai clientele enjoying steins of beer to the backdrop of whatever live rock band is taking to the stage that day. A truly unique experience and always a hilarious night out. Choose between traditional Thai snacks, or Tawangdeng’s infamous spicy pork knuckle!
462/61 Rama III Rd, Chong Nonsi, Yan Nawa, Bangkok 10120
Let the Boy Die
Recent years have seen Bangkok’s Chinatown rise up to become one of the trendiest parts of the city for a night out. Traditional shop-houses have been converted into boutique art galleries, and new independent bars pepper the sois (streets) running off Yaworat Road. 'Let the Boy Die' was Bangkok’s first bar to serve Thai craft beer, and is run by a local architect turned brewer. Guest beers include Soi beer and a Selective Asia favourite – Serious Panda. Let the Boy Die is just a short 20 minute walk from BTS National Stadium station or a 5 minute taxi after rush hour.
542 Luang Rd, Khwaeng Pom Prap, Khet Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10100
No beer in Thailand is complete without a delicious snack, and our recommendation would be to try Moo Dadeo. Sundried slices of pork are highly seasoned and served with a spicy dipping sauce. Thailand’s answer to beef jerky, and a real treat – trust us! And check out a recipe for the Thai bar snack that makes us go week at the knees – Laab Moo Tod.
Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam has always enjoyed its own style of craft beer, known locally as Bia Hoi. Bia Hoi is brewed fresh daily and generally served at local street establishments where patrons sit on small plastic chairs and enjoy the light, low alcohol drink to end the day with mates. We highly recommend trying a Bia Hoi bar, which are now mainly found in the northern city of Hanoi, and Selective Asia can point you in the direction of where to find the best spots for an end of day refreshment. There are about 45 Czech and German styled microbreweries in Vietnam, as Vietnamese returning home from East Germany and Czechoslovakia in the 1990s brought with them recipes and technology. Down in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh City, a plethora of bars now serve both locally brewed and imported craft beers, and Saigon even hosts its own craft beer festival in December each year. It’s amazing to think that until 2013 there were no official craft beer bars in Vietnam, but the boom has now well and truly arrived.
One to watch: Pasteur Street Brewing
Pasteur Street Brewing is found down an alley and up some stairs in Saigon’s glamorous District 1. Boasting its own Brewmaster and Taproom, the brewery focuses on using local ingredients to define the flavours of the beers. The highlight of this is using coconuts from the Ben Tre town on the Mekong, which can also be visited on a Selective Asia tour. Pasteur also dabbled in a Durian Wheat Ale for a short lived period – Durian, aka the ‘stinky fruit’, is banned in many hotels and public areas across Asia. In Pasteur’s Taproom, visitors can sample up to eight beers on tap, which are rotated on a regular basis. If you’re not able to get out to the taproom, Pasteur beers can be found on sale in many other bars and restaurants across the city.
144 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Nghé Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh
Bia Craft has only been operating for two years, but during that time has grown to become one of the city’s most progressive and innovative venues to sell locally brewed craft beers. The ambition of owner Mark Gustafson is to offer every craft beer in the country on tap, plus a rotating selection of international brews. Now operating in two locations in both Directs 2 and 3, some of the inaugural beers on tap included Xấu mà Chảnh ('Ugly, yet Vain'), an India Pale Ale, and a seasonal brew from the Phat Rooster brewery - ‘Thumpin’ Pumpkin Ale’.
1 Lê Ngô Cát, phường 7, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
As to Vietnam’s bar snacks, the Vietnamese are adventurous eaters so don’t be surprised to see fried crickets and other such bugs being munched on with a beer. For the less adventurous, peanuts are the norm at bia hoi stations, but we would recommend sampling the delicious Banh Xeo – Vietnamese Pancakes, stuffed with a combination of vegetables, pork and shrimp.
A country well known for producing internationally renowned beer, Japan's Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo can be found in bars all over the world. With a whisky industry considered one of the best in the world, it’s not surprising to find that Japan has also long been leading the way in craft brewing in Asia, with a focus on providing the same attention to quality, mastery of ingredients and craftsmanship that is applied to Japanese food. In 1994 tax laws were relaxed, allowing smaller breweries to grow, and there are currently over 200 microbreweries across Japan. The craft beer revolution has taken Tokyo and Osaka a particularly by storm.
Popeye – Ryogoku
When this now-famous craft beer bar opened in 1995 it had just three beer taps. Fast forward over 20 years, and over seventy beers can be enjoyed from the tap - the most of any bar in Japan. Long regarded as the essential destination for beer aficionados in Tokyo, this bar has stood the test of time. We recommend sitting at the bar to fully enjoy the atmosphere and make the most of the recommendations from the incredibly knowledgeable staff. You can even enjoy a snack of Japanese pickles, pickled with beer!
2 Chome-18-7 Ryogoku, 墨田区 Tokyo 130-0026
Craftheads – Shibuya
The owner of Craftheads, known as Michael, is somewhat legendary in the Japanese craft beer community, as he used to unofficially import craft beers before official imports came along. With an atmosphere somewhere between a beer hall and a wine bar, Craftheads encourages visitors to sample a selection of beers with both 200ml and 350ml glasses on offer. Michael offers a range of both Japanese and US produced beers, including an early grey tea and blood orange infused beer, and craft Bourbons are also available for those after something a bit stronger. We suggest dipping in, sampling the wares and then moving on to the next Izakaya of the evening.
1 Chome-13-10 Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0041
Also known as otsumami, Japanese bar snacks are an integral part of the beer drinking experience in Japan. You may be familiar with the edamame bean, but have you come across Tsukemono before? Tsukemono is a range of pickled vegetables from the region. Often pickled in beer or sake, they make a refreshing and well matched snack for your craft beer. For those looking for something a bit more familiar, we recommend Kakipi – a delicious mix of spicy rice crackers and peanuts.
Meet the Brewer - Kanazawa Brewery
On a recent recce in Japan, we were lucky enough to meet with Yuka Suzumori, Japan’s first female brewer. A Kanazawa resident, Yuka decided after working in the corporate world that beer was her calling in life, and quit the rat race to study brewing. Three years later she now produces two very fine craft beers out of her small brewery in central Kanazawa. Speak to one of our Japan Destination Specialists for details.
Gems elsewhere in Asia
Taipei - L’Apero
A tiny bottle shop, this bar is somewhat of an insider’s, locals-only spot which hasn’t quite made it into the guidebooks.
Yangon - Burbrit
Myanmar's first microbrewery, located on the banks of Pazundaung Creek in North Dagon (12 km north of the city centre).
Siem Reap - The Siem Reap Brewpub
A microbrewery and restaurant in the heart of Siem Reap.
Phnom Penh - Kingdom Breweries
Speak to Selective Asia about arranging a tour of the brewery and taproom.
Osaka - World Beer and Café QBrick
A craft beer institution in the city of Osaka.
Hong Kong - Tipping Point Brewing Company
A brewpub where you can pour the beers yourself!