8 Places for a Pint in Asia
Heady lagers, amber ales and golden pilsners are flowing into Southeast Asia in a current of craft beer. By Brian Spencer
Published on Aug 15, 2013
Young American brewmasters invading China. A 200-year-old sake brewery in Japan shifting focus to a fledgling line of microbrews. It is indeed becoming a brave new beer world in many parts of Asia, where in recent years the growing global taste for craft beers has spread to previously untapped regions, from Beijing to Singapore and back to Bangkok. Check out below for a list of great places to knock back a cold one
Expect big, bold, well-balanced beers from quick-witted American brewmaster Carl Setzer at Great Leap Brewing (Doujiao Hutong 6, Dongcheng District, Beijing; +86 10 5717 1399), widely considered the best microbrewery in Beijing. Setzer has tapped his small-batch beers at a cheerful hutong courtyard tasting room since Great Leap’s debut in 2010, but the brewery’s runaway success has him thinking much bigger: A new 300-capacity space featuring a kitchen and 15 beer taps is set to open in the coming months near Chunxiu Road.
Setzer isn’t the only American making a mark in Beijing’s emerging craft-beer arena. Slowboat Brewery (56 Dongsi Batiao; +86 10 6538 5537; slowboatbrewery.com) is a joint venture of expats Chandler Jurinka and Daniel Herbert, who launched the company in 2009 and December 2012 unveiled the brewery’s cozy showcase venue, located in the Dongcheng district. Eleven bars and restaurants pour Slowboat’s beers, but the 20 wall-mounted taps here offer the largest assortment.
The past 180 years of Kiuchi Brewery’s (1257 Kounosu, Naka-shi, Ibaraki; +81 29 298 0105; kodawari.cc) history have been largely defined by sake, but vice president Youichi Kiuchi sees the future of his brewery through the bottom of a pint glass. Located roughly 160 kilometers outside of Tokyo in Naka city, Kiuchi Brewery began brewing its award-winning Hitachino Nest beers in 1996—a good move given Japan’s ongoing generational shift from sake to craft beer as the tipple of choice. Last year Kiuchi added eight new 12,000-liter tanks to its facilities, which today handle 11 different Hitachino Nest ales. You can also brew your own beer under the direction of Kiuchi’s brewmasters and have it shipped three weeks later to anywhere in Japan.
Exposed brick walls, polished concrete floors and blackboards chalked with cheeky beer quips highlight the warehouse-like space at Taps Beer Bar (1 Jln. Nagasari, One Residency, Kuala Lumpur; +60 3 2110 1560; tapsbeerbar.my), a collaborative effort of five cousins that’s located near Kuala Lumpur’s lively Bukit Bintang nightlife and shopping district. Elevating the beer scene in KL, Taps offers the city’s best selection of imported craft beers with more than 50 different bottles and, notably, 14 taps pouring a well-culled selection of beers from international microbrewery titans such as Mikkeller, BrewDog and Nøgne Ø. Tapas, 18-centimeter pizzas and pub-grub staples are cranked out of the kitchen to help soak up the suds.
Visit 15 different hawker centers and you’ll taste 15 distinctly different takes on the same dish, but the culinary diversity of Singapore’s famed eating houses doesn’t extend to a beer selection dominated by Tiger, Baron’s Strong Brew and Heineken—with one lone exception. The Good Beer Company (335 Smith St., #02-58; goodbeer.sg), a newish stall occupying a prime corner in Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre, deals exclusively in craft beers, hawking 50 to 60 ales and ciders from 10 countries.
While you’ll find a handful of Japanese imports at The Good Beer Company, JiBiru Craft Beer Bar (313 Orchard Rd., #01-26; +65 6732 6884; jibiru.com) offers more than 20. Situated in buzzing “Discovery Walk”—a breezy outdoor courtyard at 313@Somerset mall—JiBiru pours house drafts of Hitachino Nest, Sapporo and Singaporean microbrewery Jungle Beer, along with a long list of bottles headed by Japanese breweries Kinshachi, Kiuchi Brewery, Shiga Kogen and Yoho Brewing.
The region’s pivot to craft beers hasn’t gone unnoticed by Thailand’s Boon Rawd Brewery, the mass producers of Singha and Leo beers, which has scaled down at its Bangkok microbrewery Est. 33, (1420/1 Praditmanoontham Rd., Bldg. E; +66 2 102 2096) a stylish indoor-outdoor brewpub at trendy Crystal Design Center in Lat Phrao. Here a swanky, industrial-style design incorporates the crystal brewing and fermentation tanks that handle the brewery’s house beers—a lager, a copper and a black beer made with black glutinous rice—as well as its occasional seasonals, which are worth the wait.
Elsewhere in Bangkok, two enterprising expats recently formed Beervana (seekbeervana.com), the import company behind an influx of craft beers popping up at hip bars and restaurants like White Beer’D, WTF and Smith Restaurant. Brews from Singapore’s Brewerkz and U.S. microbrewers Rogue and Anderson Valley are currently available, with more coming soon.