UPDATED January 16, 2017

BY Michael Coo

IN Company

no comments

UPDATED January 16, 2017

BY Michael Coo

IN Company

no comments

Elephants, Tigers & Sheep Piss: A Cyclist’s Guide To The Beers of South East Asia


In May of 2016 we published a blog on ‘The Beers of Africa‘. It turned out to be very popular, so we have decided to turn our attention to South East Asia and give the riders of the Bamboo Road Cycling Expedition a preview of what to expect during their ride.

drinking beerlao


China – Tsing Tao


This ubiquitous beer is a reminder of Germany’s role in China’s not so distant colonial past. The German Empire gained control of the Qingdao area (present day Shandong Province) under a lease treaty which pretty much gave it complete control over the local population. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the beer’s present-day logo displays an image of Zhan Qiao, a famous pier on Qingdao’s southern shore. One of the few positive results of this ‘occupation’ was that a group of German settlers decided to open a brewery which began to produce Tsing Tao beer, the first of which was served on December 22, 1904. The German Empire was forced out in 1922 but, fortunately, the beer remained. While it was originally brewed according to the German Purity Law and used Laoshan spring water, rice is now also added to the mix. Still, this flagship hoppy pilsner will bring a smile to the face of any thirsty cyclist.

Hong Kong – San Miguel Pale Pilsen

san miguel

Although Hong Kong is now home to a growing number of craft breweries, the most popular brew, San Miguel Pale Pilsen, is actually from the Philippines. This pale lager was first produced in 1890 when a group of Spanish ex-pats living in the Philippines somehow managed to receive a Royal grant to open a brewery. At that time no one in the colonial capital of Manila had heard of beer. The grand opening was such a historic event that it became known as ‘The Day of San Miguel’. By 1914, the beer had managed to become somewhat of an icon for drinkers and was widely exported to Shanghai, Guam and, yes, Hong Kong. The beer itself is characterized by a bright yellow colour and a slightly bitter taste. It has won a number of awards including the Monde gold quality award in 2009. Cyclists will feel right at home sipping on a cold San Miguel in the roof top bar Sugar overlooking over Victoria Harbour. After a few they may even be able to make out the Philippines in the distance…

Vietnam – Saigon Special

Cong Caphe Old Quarter Hanoi

On my first visit to Vietnam in 2001, I was appalled at the state of the beer available. I remember frequently being forced to choke down a vile beer called ‘Ba, Ba, Ba’ (3,3,3 – referring to the alcohol content). Come to think of it, the name was quite appropriate as it really did taste like sheep piss. Returning in 2015, I was pleasantly surprised by the improvement in the brewski department. While wandering through Hanoi’s old city, I came across the Cong Caphe, quickly planted myself at a 3rd floor table overlooking the city’s busy streets and ordered a cold Saigon Special. Oddly enough, it turned out that this tasty beer was somehow made by the same company that still churns out the wretched 333! Not everyone agrees with me. One reviewer ranted, “Sour fruity aroma. Pale. Fizzy. Sour, fruity, rough. Starchy, papery, leaves the mouth dirty – I want to scrape my tongue.” Ouch, I guess Bamboo Road cyclists will just have to decide for themselves.

Laos – Beer Lao

Great beer

Everybody’s favourite South East Asian beer! I fondly recall buying a pitcher of it for 5o¢ on my first visit to this magical country. The unique taste may be due to the fact that one ingredient is locally grown jasmine rice. This is added to malted barley from France and Belgium and hops and yeast from Germany. It was first produced in 1973 as a joint venture between local businessmen and French investors. When the Pathet Lao took control of the country in 1975 following the end of the Vietnamese War, the company became the national brewery following, as the the company’s website diplomatically states, “the voluntarily handing over of shares from the Lao businessmen to the State.”  Unfortunately, outside of Laos, Beer Lao is very hard to find despite attaining cult status among backpackers. Fortunately for cyclists passing through this lovely, laid-back country, enjoying a cold, crisp refreshing Beer Lao while watching the mighty Mekong flow past is easily accomplished.

Cambodia – Angkor


This beer’s motto, ‘My Country, My Beer‘, reflects its status as Cambodia’s national beer. It is brewed at the Cambrew Brewery in Sihanoukville on the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. The location was chosen for the quality of the local water, apparently having the ideal mineral content for brewing beer. This key ingredient helps create the beer’s signature taste – full, rich, hoppy and slightly bitter. Officially opened by HRH Prince Sihanouk in 1965, the brewery was closed from 1975 – 1992 due to the civil war and the emergence of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot was obviously not a fan. The beer’s name and logo reference the country’s most famous attraction, the incredible temples of Angkor Wat. Despite the company’s recent controversy and labour issues, I can think of few things as enjoyable as sitting in Phnom Penh’s iconic Foreign Correspondents Club at happy hour sipping on a ice cold Angkor Beer.

Thailand – Chang


This beer’s unmistakable logo can be glimpsed on colourful souvenir t-shirts the world over. Chang is Thai for ‘elephant’ and the animal has an important historical and cultural significance for the people of ‘The Land of Smiles’. Sadly, the pachyderm population in Thailand has fallen from over 100,000 in 1900 to just over 3,000 today. Chang beer was introduced in 1995 and has become wildly popular, eclipsing the more well-known Singha. It is made with water from deep-water wells, imported barley, yeast chosen for its smoky, herby and fruity aromas and European and American hops. All this gives the beer its unmistakable full-bodied flavour, light golden appearance and bitter, floral and citrus notes. Not to mention the higher than expected 6.4% alcohol content. British cyclists will be pleased, or not, depending on their loyalties, to learn that Chang is a sponsor of Everton Football Club of the English Premier League.

Malaysia – Carlsberg


Malaysia’s Islamic culture has meant that it has not developed a national beer and instead has depended on imports such as Carlberg, Guinness and Heineken. Thirsty cyclists should be aware that many Malaysian restaurants do not serve alcohol. In addition, the beer that is available (mainly at Chinese stores/restaurants) can be pricier than the rest of South East Asia. That reflects the country’s significant excise duty for beer, second highest in the world, topped only by Norway. Despite this Malaysia is the 10th largest consumer of alcohol in the world according to the WHO. Annual per capita beer consumption is 11 litres/person whereas South Africa weighs in at 60 litres per person per year, the African average is 14L and the world average is 22L. All is not lost however. As one writer points out, there are currently five places in Kuala Lumpur where you can get your craft beer fix – Taps Beer Bar, Ales And Lagers, the Great Beer Bar, and Messrs Barley, Malt and Hops!

Singapore – Tiger


This beer makes me sentimental. I first flew to Singapore 0ver 40 years ago as an naive, inexperienced, guileless Canadian. Once I had managed to find some accommodation in a cheap Chinese rooming house (or come to think of it, maybe it was a bordello), I wandered the streets as the sun came up looking for some breakfast. I found an old man cooking in a stall by the water and indicated I wanted some food. I sat down on the side of the road and soon he ambled over with a spicy squid soup and a cold Tiger beer. I thought to myself, I think I am going to like this travel thing. Tiger was first produced in 1932 but in 1942 production was halted when the Japanese conquered Singapore. The occupiers used the brewing facilities to produce beer for their troops but in 1945, the city was liberated and the production of Tiger beer resumed. Cyclists might want to time their ride to Singapore to coincide with its annual beer festival, Beerfest Asia.

We sell beer


Coming soon….Beers of the South American Epic!


Leave a Comment for "Elephants, Tigers & Sheep Piss: A Cyclist’s Guide To The Beers of South East Asia"

Your Email address will not published. Required fields are marked