Scouring the web and looking for Asian specific beers, I find that the vast majority of the reviews on Asian beers are largely negative. In particular, I’m talking about these two beer review websites called RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com, respectively. Both review websites have unanimously declared out of a total score of 10 (RateBeer) and 5 (BeerAdvocate), that Asian beers, like Hite, for instance, deserve a score of 3 or lower. That’s a really pitiful score. And when you go through the criteria set by these two respective websites, you can see quite clearly why they fail across the board. It’s because they are judged on American standards of what is a proper beer: aroma, body/appearance, hops, color, “head,” and things of that nature.
Now, at first glance, you might say “Well, shouldn’t any beer be judged by how it smells, taste, and look like you would judge food?” Sure. To an extent, I do agree that all three play a role, but at the same time, it depends on what you’re drinking it for. Is beer meant to be drunk by itself for the sake of getting drunk? Is beer meant to be drunk with food? Is beer meant to be drunk on special occasions? Or is beer meant to be drunk in social settings? For some, it’s all of the above. For others, it may be just two of the above. And still others, it may be just one of the above, but depending on circumstances, may include two or more of the above. As you can see, there’s no real right way or wrong way of drinking beer. Drinking beer is strictly a subjective experience and as such, it should be judged by what the beer was intended for. The vast majority, if not all Asian beers, are meant to be drunk with food. The idea of drinking for the sake of getting drunk is not a strictly Asian concept, although there are exceptions. Those exceptions, however, are few and far in between. That is, they do not constitute the norm amongst Asian cultures.
Just taking a quick look into those Korean drama’s that is the hype these days so far as drama TV shows are concerned, at almost every meal, there’s always at least a bottle of Korean wine (you may know this “soju”), and a few beers on the table. This is true even in modern Hong Kong TV drama shows produced by TVB. In almost every social setting or meal setting, there’s at least a few cans of beer sitting on the table when eating hotpot or Chinese BBQ. Now, granted, these are TV shows and are, therefore, fictional, but often times TV shows are a reflection of society. Amongst adults, at the least, and during a Chinese meal, having a beer or two, is not an uncommon thing. What is uncommon is having a 12-pack all by itself with no food or munchies to go with it. Or having craft beers at a microbrewery all by itself.
When you judge Asian beers (Hite, Sapporo, Asahi, Tsingtao, etc) by American standards, such as hops, aroma, body, malt flavor, you’re basically setting up these beers to fail. Asian beers are not known for their hoppy flavors. Malt, sure, but not hops. The concept of having hops in beer is traditionally a European thing, but specifically of German origin. The same would be true of aroma and body. Almost all of them have a “shallow” body or virtually little to no aroma. Again, these beers are meant to go well with food, much like one would drink white wine for white meat, and red wine for red meat. One wouldn’t drink Asian beer and eat something hearty like a steak and a bowl of chili or a big greasy bacon cheeseburger with a bucket of fries. They just won’t go well together. In fact, drinking Asian beer and eating American food just don’t go hand in hand. Drinking Asian beer and eating Asian food, on the other hand, go well together. And you can see why this is the case. Almost all Asian dishes tend to be light, not heavy. Stir fried veggies and meat coupled with a bowl of clear broth and a bowl of steamed rice. Almost nothing about Asian dishes are heavy.
Having said all of that, if I had to recommend an Asian beer to try out, I would personally suggest trying out Hite Dry Finish. Not Hite the original beer, but the Dry Finish version. But wait a minute, you might say. You’re Chinese! Shouldn’t you recommend one of your homeland’s beers? First of all, I’m not from China or Hong Kong. Second of all, I’m born here in America. I just happen to be born of Chinese parents. Third of all, if the 99 Ranch Supermarkets or other Chinese supermarkets here actually carried Chinese beers, at prices I can afford, I would buy it more often and give my two cents on which one is the best of them all but alas, Chinese beer is expensive to import. Anyway, getting back to Hite beer, the original Hite has a grassy straw-like flavor, which may put off a lot of Americans who aren’t used to that kind of flavor. This is the reason why I would suggest Hite Dry Finish, which is actually a lot like drinking Asahi Super Dry except at a much cheaper price. So if you like Asahi Super Dry, you’ll probably like Hite Dry Finish.
Hold on, you say. I’ve never drank any of those Asian beers you just named. What’s the closest equivalent American beer that’s like the above beers you just recommended? I think the closest equivalent would be a Coors Light. It has the same clean, smooth, and refreshing taste except that there’s actually something to it. To me, there’s actually a “bite” to it and it tastes something like rice grain, but there might be other grains in it. I just wouldn’t know how to describe it. And the ABV is a full 1% higher than conventional American beers which stands around 4.3-4.7% ABV. You can find this beer at most Korean supermarkets. I personally buy these at the Little Tokyo Marketplace in Little Tokyo (of Los Angeles, CA) at $5.99 for a six-pack of 16.9 fl oz cans. I know, I know. It says Little Tokyo, but it’s actually owned and run by Koreans. Effectively, it’s a Korean supermarket with Little Tokyo as its supermarket logo.