Talk of international beer typically conjures up images of German beer gardens, Belgian monasteries, and pints of Guinness. But where is the rest of the world in this Eurocentric fantasy?
Indeed, with all but a couple of shelves in the international beer aisle devoted to European offerings, you can be forgiven for this limited world view. However, in the age of globalization, beers from exotic locations are enjoying ever greater circulation, including in your local package store and ethnic restaurant.
Leading the way is Asia, where a rise in disposable income has precipitated a meteoric growth in the beer industry. But with only the weak and watery TSINGTAO enjoying any shelf presence in the US, this is one market where China still places second to its neighbors.
At the forefront is Japan, with Rice Lagers as the dominant style. Not as interesting as you might imagine, rice plays the role of cost-cutting adjunct, much like corn for US macro-lagers. KIRIN ICHIBAN, ASAHI SUPER DRY, and SAPPORO PREMIUM BEER are the most commonly seen brands, of which I prefer Sapporo. But if you are looking for more out of a beer than just its ability to wash down wasabi, KOSHIHIKARI ECHIGO BEER is the way to go. Crisp and clean, the light hops pair nicely with the more delicate nature of Japanese food.
Where Japan stands out, though, is the fact that some of its craft beers are available in the US, and not only its most popular lagers. Legendary sake maker HITACHINO NEST is the most recognized with its highly-acclaimed and very unique Witbier, WHITE ALE. While interesting, I personally liked both their tart and yeasty RED RICE ALE, and lively REAL GINGER BREW better.
There are other Asian options beyond the Land of the Rising Sun. Thailand’s SINGHA has a smoothness and balance that makes it ideal to pair with a meal. The Philippines’ SAN MIGUEL DARK LAGER is a similarly well-constructed but maltier brew. And Singapore’s TIGER BEER and Thailand’s CHANG BEER are other easy drinking alternatives. LION of Sri Lanka puts out a macro-lager of its own, but its STOUT has made a name for itself in the craft beer community. A flavorful Irish Dry Stout, this is a beer that can stand on its own merits without being paired with food.
While most of these beers will do the job, when washing down the spice of Indian food I prefer an authentic experience with a couple of good, clean Indian beers. United Breweries out of Bangalore steps up by offering three different beers: KINGFISHER PREMIUM LAGER, TAJ MAHAL PREMIUM LAGER, and FLYING HORSE ROYAL LAGER. Kingfisher and Taj Mahal have some off-notes mixed in, so Flying Horse is my pick. Clearly trying to stand out with a classy bottle replete with tasting notes on the beer, Flying Horse has a more pleasant, multi-dimensional malty backbone.
Now I love Mexican food almost as much as Indian and have worked my way through the Mexican beer scene. I prefer the darker NEGRA MODELO and DOS EQUIS AMBER LAGER for their crisp, dry, refreshing nature. The lighter and more watery MODELO ESPECIAL, PACIFICO, and TECATE come in a distant third through fifth. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t let anyone put a lime in any one of these beers.