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!!