Itinerary: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Siem Reap, Saigon, Tokyo.
Beer Tally: 77 (approx 12 oz), 20 (Bombers approx 22 oz), 15 (samples, less then 12 oz)
Sa-Wa-Dee-Ka! With the exception of Japan, most of the beer in these areas are a bit less then desirable. Mostly pale lagers that need to be served at freezing temperatures to be palatable. With that being said, I decided to write in a different direction of my beer travels and share with you some of my experiences. Not about beer quality but beer oddity.
We started our trip in Thailand and I drank as many cold Singhas as I could get my hands on. With Chang, pronounced (Chung), a close second, these two beers are the most readily available. One thing the Thais do know is that beer needs to be cold. I don’t think I had any that weren’t at the sufficient temperature to drink. In fact you could drink it the ‘Thai way’. They serve it with a mug full of ice or I even saw pitchers being served with a big cylinder of ice in the middle. Now you have poor, cold watered-down beer. In a few places in Vietnam, the beer was served warm with a mug of ice. Now you have to make a decision, is the ice safe to consume or do you want a warm beer?
“One night in Bangkok”…I heard about a “brewpub” from a local that was not listed on Ratebeer. I should have been dubious right then. I found my way to this place called the Coliseum/Brew Arena. Once we arrived I knew we had found it. There was a big statue on top of the building that looked like Zeus who was holding a frothing beer mug. Eureka!
Inside I was escorted to the restrooms. There were a 5 guys dressed in blue jump suits who led me to a urinal. They threw a hot wet towel around my neck, not what you want when you’ve been walking the streets of Bangkok, where it is about 80 degrees with 80% humidity. Then they start messaging my neck, arms, and shoulders while I’m trying to whiz. This made me highly uncomfortable I tossed few baht at them and ran for the door as fast as I could.
We walk into what looked like a Las Vegas show room. With tiers of tables, the place is packed and pumping. A drag band is playing on center stage. We finally find a table at the very back of the room, I order some tom yum gai and ask for one of “their” beers. The waitress, who spoke little English and had no idea what I was talking about, replied “Tiger”. After going round and round with her I decide to go to the bar to retrieve a beer myself only, to find they actually don’t have their own brewed beer at all. No one really knows why the place is called a brew arena maybe it’s because they sell the obligatory Singha, Chang, and Tiger? Odd and curious.
After this first initial misrepresentation, I began to find them all over Thailand.
In Chiang Mai there was a place called the Beer Stop. Well, they did have beer but no more then the bar right next door the usual Singha, Chang, and Tiger. I found a store just called BEER. Well these guys gotta have beer, right? Wrong. They rented motor bikes, no beer, and they had orange helmets that read B-E-E-R vertically down the center of them. I found the Beer Barn, which was mostly a burger joint with one draft handle of Tiger. Shouldn’t there be some sort of rule that if you use beer in your name you should at least sell beer and probably have more then one kind?
One great thing about Thailand is that beer is definitely a local favorite and readily available everywhere. Even at the elephant park outside of Chiang Mai there were cold 22 oz bombers of Singha for 100 baht, that’s about $2.50. If going to Thailand please skip any elephant rides, parks, etc. They are cruel to the animals and they beat them directly in front of us with a hard crack of a metal cane to their foreheads. You can even see the welts in pictures I took. Bastards!
I met an American guy who owned and ran a restaurant/bar called Viva on “DenverLogan’s” recommendation in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We had quite a few conversations over the three days we were there. He served Mexican food, which I was dying for- I couldn’t stomach another curry and rice meal. The food was excellent. We of course discussed beer in depth. Being in a new country there were several new beers that I hadn’t tried yet, most notably the ABC and Panther Stout. They were quite good and a nice change from the bland lagers I had been drinking. He advised me not to drink the Chang beer unless I wanted a wicked headache because it’s brewed with formaldehyde. Now I have heard rumors of Chinese beers that are suppose to have formaldehyde in them. And even some of US macros. But I wasn’t sure I had ever really come into contact with one. Come to find out it seems many cheap beers do use it to improve color, shorten the brewing time, and improve shelf life. Embalming fluid in your beer? This can’t be good.
Another curious thing I found was that Cambodia had several beers to choose from which I didn’t find in Thailand. For those of you who haven’t been, this probably doesn’t mean much but Thailand is a huge industrial area manufacturing many items for world export where as Cambodia is what you may think of as a “third world” country who has just recently been open to tourism due to unrest. I wouldn’t even know where they would have a large brewery, probably Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville. Although many of the beers are brewed elsewhere there are several that are actually “brewed in Cambodia”. To name a few (Angkor, Klang, Bayon, Black Panther, and of these a few are stouts!)
The kicker in Cambodia is that there are two beers with basically the same name that are completely different beers: Anchor (pronounced Onshur) and Angkor (pronounced Onker). If you want to be confused order one of these and see what they’ll bring you.
I ordered what I thought was an Angkor it was served in an Angkor glass and placed on an Anchor coaster. Hmm? You would think for a place with so few beers they would at least have a somewhat different name to differentiate the two. However, in the end this doesn’t really make a difference as both beers taste about the same.
The beer in Japan was much better than any other country I had visited, with several new microbreweries starting to take shape, most notably Baird and of course Hitachino. When wandering around a food hall in Tokyo I found a unique item. It was small flat cup full of gelatinous Yebisu “all malt beer”. Very strange stuff, it was sweet with the texture of jello. I couldn’t determine if it had alcohol in it or not. But why would you want something like this if it didn’t. The second entertaining item I found while in a convenience store was Kirin Ichiban and Asahi Super Dry both in small 135ml cans. Now this may not seem noteworthy at first but that is less than third of a regular can. I bought one which took me about 3 gulps to get down. A tiny can that fits in the palm of your hand. What is the point here? Baby Beers!
We had a great night of beer tasting with some of our fellow Ratebeerians at Popeye’s in Tokyo, which by the way is a must if traveling there. Popeye-San the owner and his staff can tell you which hops were used in most any of his beers on the menu. I bought an oversized “Popeye” shirt per the alcohol in my blood. What a top shelf place. On our subway ride back to the hotel a Japanese businessman fell out of his chair and hit his head hard enough to see stars, he wasn’t feeling any pain though. He was clearly intoxicated and sat on the subway floor in his Italian suit for a good 4-5 minutes before reviving and slumping back into the chair. I started wondering if he was going to make it home or just ride the train all night. There areas designated outside areas in Tokyo where you can smoke however, you can smoke anywhere you would like inside. Figure that one out. Oh ya, I saw a “real-live” sumo wrestler cruising in the subway station listening to his iPod. Cool stuff!
All in all my travels weren’t about beer but about the people that I shared a beer with and made my trip a memorable one. Special thanks to Tim (TimE), and Chad (aceofhearts) and Wayne (Daijokey) for making our trip to Tokyo awesome. Also to Logan (DenverLogan) for all the pointers on Southeast Asia. And Scott at Viva in Cambodia and my South African friends that watched the rain and drank some Beer Lao while downloading pirated songs to our iPods.