Lots of people complain that light Asian lagers lack individuality compared to Western beers. However, most Asian beers are designed to be drunk with food and one could argue that their clean profile fits this role admirably. Picture yourself at a roadside stall on a sweltering night, eating spicy seafood while insects commit suicide under carbide lamps. There really isn’t much room to ponder a complicated beer as the sweat trickles down into your underpants.
I’ve made this defense before, but started to wonder recently whether it was true that you couldn’t really tell one mass-produced light lager from another. So when our youngest child turned 5, I suggested to my husband that her birthday party was the perfect time to have a beer tasting. It would be a small get-together in our backyard, and the menu would be simple. Grilled short ribs, rice, side dishes, lettuce etc. and lots of beer (for the adults) to mitigate the screaming children.
Prepping the food was easy, since a kind Korean friend had told us about a secret butcher who made the best pre-marinated kalbi, and I jumped at this suggestion. The butcher turned out to be located in the rear of a bright pink building with the words “ADULT WORLD” dangerously emblazoned across the front. Even worse, the name of the shop was “Oriental Side Dish”. As I parked, I wondered how to explain myself if I ran into anyone I knew. “Oh, I’m just here for the fresh meat…”
But everyone was very friendly, despite not speaking any English, and I managed to place an order for a large amount of kalbi. Then I went around various Asian supermarkets collecting the following beers: Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, OB, Tiger, and Taiwan beer. It would have been nice to get a wider variety, e.g. Tsingtao, Singha, and at least one more Korean or Vietnamese beer, but I was running out of time and beginning to feel rather poor.
When all the beers were lined up together, they bore a strong resemblance to an Asian boy band.
1st place — a tie between Sapporo and Taiwan beer. Sapporo – clean, soft crisp taste. Taiwan beer – mild, refreshing. Both beers that made people want to eat more food and went well with the sweetness of grilled kalbi and sour notes of kimchi. These would be the two pretty-boy lead singers.
2nd – Kirin – slightly bitter finish. All around smooth, easy to drink. Great with sushi. The slightly older guy who wants to cut his own single.
3rd – Asahi – some people really liked how dry this was and ranked it #1. Others disliked it. Would go well with fatty dishes like pork belly. The slitty-eyed guy who looks like a little punk.
4th – Tiger – stronger taste. Everyone commented that if we’d been eating spicy food this would have scored higher. The guy with a tan who does the Muay-Thai boxing moves in the back.
5th – OB – not bad, just bland. The not-quite-cute extra member.
They were all mass-produced light lagers, but very drinkable especially with Asian food, where their mild profiles complement the regional palate. I don’t know whether I’d fall in love with them individually, but with a meal they performed very well. In fact, what we ate really influenced the final verdict and if the food had been different, the ranking would have changed.
What are some of your favourite beer + cuisine pairings?
Update: Aha! It looks like Bon Appetit also agrees with our taste ranking of Taiwan Beer!!
If you enjoyed this post, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page.
18 responses to “Asian Beer – An Unofficial Taste Test”
This made me want to grill Kalbi right this very moment. I also appreciated the topic because, in general, I lack respect for Asian beers. However, that may be because I have not properly considered them in the context of a grilled kalbi dinner. I must do this soon.
I hate all beer and most alcohol, but I LOVED reading about your adventure. And you managed to elicit much salivating as I thought about your food. Which I miss. A lot. But not as much as I miss living all in the same city… So proud of you, YS. Looking forward to seeing your many successes. ❤ Bernice
Reminds me of drinking Saigon beer, a local lager in Vietnam, which goes great with all the spicy food we get over there. Saigon comes in a green label and a red label. The green label is a larger bottle, and much better than the red label, which is, ironically, supposedly their export beer. We also get Tiger in VN, and it’s never been a favorite of mine.
Kelly, where can I get Saigon beer around here?
I will never think about beer the same way again. Rah rah for Taiwan beer making the top! I’m eating a chirashi bowl right now and wishing I had a Sapporo to go with it…
Ha! Well, Koreans do love our fresh meat 🙂 Though sad that OB didn’t make it to the cool club. Would love to hear what your side dishes were! Great post 🙂
Reblogged this on Good Beer Better Hats.
Thanks for the reblog — loved your site!
Boy Band analogy = Asian beer off my list forever.
Everything I know about Asian beer, I learned from you!
Thought about your article this week when I had a really refreshing Kirin with Mongolian hot pot. It just seemed like the perfect palate cleanser. I think of white wine versus red wine in a parallel way to your Asian beer versus Western beer role. White wine is never considered to have the depth of red wine, but it is so much easier to pair with food in almost every situation besides a big steak meal.
Ha ha! I’m so glad to be contributing towards the sales of Asian beer 😉 Seriously though, I think the merits of drinking beer with food are under-appreciated and you’re right, it’s a lot easier to pair a crisp, clean beer with more types of food.
Hi ! Yangsze,
Since my “Wargamas” eyes have undergone a dramatic improvement I should be able to follow more of goings-on of your interesting site. Cheers!
Keep on posting! Makes me thirsty.
[…] by my success in locating the secret Adult World kalbi butcher, I was curious to discover what else might be lurking around that mysterious strip of stores. It […]
Since I’m gluten free and can’t have beer, I must say I still enjoyed reading your post – Actually I was never really a beer drinker, but the Tiger beer was the one beer I felt I could like. Not that I tried any of the others, but it was one that worked for me. Ahhh, well, I have given that up with all the other gluten-filled foods. Cheers on your next food adventure!
Thanks Karen! I’ll make sure to post reviews of some gluten-free foods as well. 😉
Asian cuisine styles can be broken down into several tiny regional styles that have rooted the peoples and cultures of those regions. The major types can be roughly defined as East Asian with its origins in Imperial China and now encompassing modern Japan and the Korean peninsula; Southeast Asian which encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines; South Asian states that are made up of India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as several other countries in this region of the continent..
Please do look at our favorite blog site