Diners, chefs and restaurant owners looking for a good Asian beer to go with Asian food have many options available to them. There are a wide variety of Asian beers – both imported and manufactured in the US and Canada – that are designed to pair well with the spices and flavors of Asian food.
The biggest obstacle diners and restaurant owners alike face when looking to pair Asian beers with Asian food is availability. Many of the widely available Asian beers, like Kingfisher, Kirin, Sapporo Reserve and Asahi Super Dry, are brewed in North America for the North American market, since transportation from Asia can ruin the flavors of imported beers. And finding more authentic or obscure Asian beers, like Beer Lao, for example, can be more difficult. However, in the end it will be worth the search.
General Tips for Pairing
Palettes and tastes differ, and as long as it tastes good to the individual, there is no wrong way to pair beer with food. However, there are a few common rules that can lead you to a widely appreciated match. If you are looking for a beer that works well with Asian food, follow these guidelines to arrive at a successful pairing:
- Avoid bitter beers like IPA. Contrary to its name, India Pale Ale and other bitter beers generally do not pair well with the potent flavors of Asian cuisine, although they can go well with milder Asian dishes.
- Pale lagers work well. Pale lagers have a subtle flavor and a crisp finish that complements the flavors of Asian spices. That is why most Asian breweries focus on refreshing, light, pilsner-style beers.
- Malt is a friend of Asian food. Wheat beers and golden ales – beers that are brewed with large quantities of malted barley – tend to work well with Asian food, since the malty flavor will cut through spiciness. In general, garlic, chilies and ginger – the main three ingredients and spices for Asian cuisine – pair very well with malted barley.
- Smell the hops first.Most hoppy beers are bitter due to the presence of alpha acids in the bittering hops. However, there is another type of hops called “aroma hops,” which gives the beer a fragrance rather than bitterness, and aromatic ales made from this type of hops pair well with spicy Asian foods.
- Pair fruity beers with sugars. Fruity beers go well with vinegary or sweet Asian dishes like sticky rice, mango pudding and spicy, vinegary Asian salads like Thai papaya salad.
- Effervescence is ideal. An effervescent beer is usually a good choice for pairing with spicy foods. The carbonation brings a refreshing crispness to the tongue that is great for chasing away spicy aftertastes.
Finding the Right Asian Beers
Once you understand the basics of pairing beers with Asian dishes, you should feel free to experiment and try a variety of both imported and domestic beers with your Asian cuisine. Chances are, there are several domestic beers or microbrews that will work just as well with Asian food as an Asian beer would.
However, if you want to create a more authentic Asian dining experience, there are a number of Asian beers that you should try. Here is a list of some of the beers by region, as well as tips on pairing them with a variety of Eastern dishes:
The most common Japanese beers found in America are Sapporo and Kirin. Sapporo is a light-bodied rice lager with a crisp, clean, grain-focused taste that pairs well with sushi and tempura. Sapporo’s Yebisu – a darker, carbonated malt beer with a hint of hoppy bitterness – is ideal for pairing with fatty Japanese foods like yakisoba and tonkatsu. Kirin Lager Beer and Kirin Ichiban Shibori – two mild rice lagers – are not very flavorful but pair well with very spicy foods. The leading Japanese beer company, Asahi Brewery, makes Asahi Gold – a sparkling, somewhat bitter Happoshu – that goes well with soy-based dishes, like miso.
By far the most widely known beer in China is Tsingtao. The Tsingtao Beer is a hoppy pilsner. With about 3% alcohol, it is a weak beer, and the nicest adjective it receives from most beer connoisseurs is “drinkable.” However, the presence of bittering hops, while mild, makes it less than ideal for pairing with spicy food. Another beer called “Snow Beer” is a more flavorful lager that is statistically the most popular beer in the world. Like most Chinese beers, it pairs well with most dishes, but is hard to find in the United States.
The most famous Laotian beer, Beer Lao is a fast-growing product in Asia. The Beerlao Lager is allegedly brewed with French barley, German yeast and drinking water from the peaks of the Himalayans. It is somewhat aromatic and has a hint of sweetness. This makes it a good Asian beer for pairing with both fatty Asian cuisine and stir fries.
One of the most popular exported Asian beers, Singha is a light, malty pilsner with heavy carbonation and is designed to pair with spicy food. It works especially well as a cleanser for hot curries. The best part about Singha is that all of it is brewed and bottled in Thailand, ensuring consistency no matter where the beer is bought. Phuket Beer is another popular lager in Thailand, and although it is harder to find in the US, it has won international awards for best lager and pairs well with Thai cuisine. Another widespread beer in Thailand is the flavorful “Chang Beer,” the export version of which is made of 100% malt. This makes it ideal for pairing with very spicy curries.
Singapore’s first locally brewed beer is Tiger Beer. It is widely available in the US, especially in major cities. It is a pale lager with a hint of maltiness and a clean, carbonated mouthfeel. These features, along with a lack of bitterness, make it one of the best Asian beers to pair with very spicy-hot foods. Pair Tiger Beer with curries, Thai pepper steak, Sichuan dishes and vindaloo.
San Miguel Brewery, a popular brand of beer usually considered “Spanish,” actually hails from the Philippines, where it practically has a monopoly on the beer market. The leading beer, the San Miguel Pale Pilsen, is a malty, mildly bitter pilsner with light carbonation. It is a good beer to pair with milder Asian food, especially noodle dishes, but the slight bitterness from the hops keeps it from being a perfect match for spicier food.
While the traditional rice beer is popular and available locally, Indian beers available internationally tend to be malty, smooth lagers. The most popular Indian beer, Kingfisher, is available around the world. Kingfisher Premium Lager is an award-wining beer that has a mild taste and goes well with medium-spicy Indian food, although it does have a tiny amount of bitterness that keeps it from being a good pair for the spiciest dishes like vindaloo.
Every Asian country has some good beers to offer, and for authenticity’s sake, many people like to pair regional foods with their corresponding regional beers. However, most Asian beers can pair well with a variety of Asian dishes. When choosing an Asian beer to go with Asian food, the levels of spice and fats in the food and the amount of hops, malt and carbonation in the beer should be the main factors that guide the pairing.
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