The South Asian Beer Awards

One thing that bicycle tourists have in common is drinking a lot of beer. Packed with calories and carbs and alcohol, beer is our sports’ preferred energy drink. There’s nothing that gears us up for hundred kilometer rides like downing a helping of liquid bread.

Suffice to say we’ve had a lot of it on this trip, diligently sampling the hops, malts, and barley from over 17 countries. Having become experts, we thought we’d award our favorite varieties from South Asia.

Best Beer to have with Breakfast

Bia Hanoi, Vietnam

There’s nothing that quite accompanies a bowl of rice porridge like a pitcher of Bia Hanoi in the morning. The Vietnamese earn the distinction of getting their drink on the earliest in the day. At 6:30 am, we’d sit down at cafés where there would already be groups of men waving down the waiter for their second rounds. At times we were tempted to join them, but always ended up ordering coffee. Something about a pitcher of draft beer followed by six hours of cycling didn’t sound like such a good idea…

Best Beer Bottle to Crawl Into

Kingfisher Strong, India

With the untold millions all trying to get on the same train car, food that makes your stomach explode, and the constant threat of death by rickshaw, India is a stressful place.  Burnt-out souls take refuge in India’s sketchy bar scene, poorly lit buildings with plywood walls and blue collar workers hiding from their wives in the corner. The drink of choice: Kingfisher Strong. At 8%, just one of the 650mL bottles will take the edge off, and by two the stresses of India seem a world away. Our favorite haunt was a bar in south Bangalore where the police officers offered us hand-rolled cigarettes, and our waiter was a midget who always high fived us when we walked through the door.

Best Beer served on Ice

Angkor Beer, Cambodia

The Cambodians have turned beer-drinking into a science. That is – if you enjoy your lager poured over ice, and sipped out of a straw. We were taught the traditional technique at a Cambodian wedding, when a disheveled, red-faced usher in a tuxedo saw us gaping at the spectacle from the street and pulled us into the party. He led us to a table filled with farmers from the village, who eagerly made room for us and cracked open another 30-rack of Angkor beer cans, Cambodia’s cheapest beer. Because the music was too loud for conversation, the farmers’ engaged each other by toasting Cheers! about every minute. The beer was warm, but by the time it was poured on ice and sipped from a straw, it didn’t taste like anything anyway. It was a beautiful method to get the job done with minimal requirements for flavor.

Best Beer to Serve to Under-aged Children

Beer Lao, Laos

While in Laos, we were able to attend a Songkran festival celebrating the Laotian New Years on the banks of the Mekong River. We’d never been to a party that wild. Kids ran around splashing each other with water, a mosh-pit formed in front of the elevated stage, and Beer Lao flowed into livers in volumes rivaling the great Mekong itself. In their patriotic drinking, it seemed no one was spared a fair share of the national beer – not even the kids. Upon boarding a boat to leave the festival, we came under attack from some insurgent six year olds. Not only were they armed with water guns, but they waved their bottles of beer lao at us flauntingly. Once we were out of reach, their platoon leader took a swig of beer, shot us a hardened stare, and then followed with a long, contemplative drag on his cigarette.

Best Beer

Myanmar, Myanmar

No joke here, the beer named after its country was just the best tasting beer in South Asia.  The great part was that it was almost always served to you on tap, with free peanuts, on a table on the streets of Burma’s laid back cities.  After days in the bush, powering over the rutted dirt roads of the country’s steep mountains, or pushing our bikes through kilometers of road that were buried in sand, a cold mug of Myanmar was exactly the reward we wanted. Plus the company’s advertisements were hilarious.

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