While most Asian cultures make alcohol from rice, the Bhutanese farmhouse ales Sin Chang and Bang Chang start with 100 percent raw wheat. Reserved for religious and special occasions, these Wheatwines are a part of life for many.
In Seoul, it seems like you can’t walk a block without the words “craft beer,” in English and Korean, glaring out at you from a window or doorframe. Flavorful, hoppier beers—especially IPAs—are becoming the trendy thing to drink in the capital of this nation of very heavy drinkers.
Singapore has a handful of young microbreweries, but it’s the tidal wave of high-quality imports—and the pioneering craft-focused bars serving them—that’s most responsible for the area’s recent drinking metamorphosis.
In 1994, a new law allowed breweries to produce a minimum of 600 hectoliters per year. Microbrewing in Japan was born. Over 200 microbreweries sprang up in a few years. Today that number is half of what it was. Yet the beer culture in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka is twice as strong.
Loosened governmental restrictions and reduced tax burdens have encouraged entrepreneurship in South Korea’s beer industry, leading to a series of small brewery launches. The changes also allow the country’s preexisting brewpubs and microbreweries to sell their products to outside vendors.
Three years ago, there wasn’t much of a beer scene in Hong Kong. Now it is one of the most exciting cities for craft beer in Asia, with a growing community of brewers, bar owners and independent importers doing their part to give local taste buds an alternative to fizzy light lagers.
For decades, beaches, not beer, were the reason to visit Thailand. But things are changing, with Singha opening a pair of brewpubs and European and American imports appearing on menus with increasing frequency. And across Bangkok, community malls with trendy beer bars have sprung up like bamboo.
How can craft brewers survive the global recession? Ask the Japanese. During its economic boom in the 1980s, the Japanese were huge consumers of single-malt whiskies and fine wines. Beers are starting to enjoy a similar cache.