Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beer from the Communist World.

Marx would have been proud.

Hoppy brews from the world's few remaining socialist states triumph victoriously over their decadent imperialist capitalist equivalents.

In this part of the world, my favourite beer is far and away the delicious Tsingtao. Hailing from the Chinese town of the same name, a former German treaty port on China's northeast coast, China's number one beer is fruity, floral, fresh, and tastes as if it was made with water from a pristine Chinese mountain spring.

I first tasted Tsingtao in January 2001, in Guangzhou, on a daytrip over the border from Hong Kong. Then, it came in an authentically communist format: a poor-quality large green bottle and a badly printed, toilet-tissue thin label. More recently, I had a few last night at my local Thai restaurant. The packaging is markedly more sophisticated, the label redesigned and printed perfectly: but the taste is still the same.

My second favourite hails from the People's Democratic Republic of Laos: Obviously, Beer Lao. I have had several happy nights by the Mekong in Vientiane, gazing smugly over the river at Thailand and pitying the poor saps who had to make do with Beer Chang and Leo.

But now, in an uncharacteristic display of cross-border cooperation, Beer Lao is now widely available in Thailand. Its sharp, hoppy, almost-too-strong-but-not taste is perfect for lazy Saturday afternoons, or sitting outside in the baking Thai evening heat. And the recent discovery of Beer Lao Dark has added yet more appeal to the brand. Beer Lao Dark is almost English in texture, a kind of Newcastle Brown Ale with a much more fresh, natural, mineral, refreshing taste. Wherever I see it, I find it very difficult to resist ordering it immediately.

Number three is not so much a brand as an institution: Bia Hoi in Vietnam. Bia Hoi - literally, fresh beer - is found in hundreds of places throughout Hanoi and its surrounds. Delivered daily in unbranded vats to downmarket coffee shops and fluorescent-lit restaurants throughout the North Vietnamese citadel, Bia Hoi - frothy, fragrant, fresh - is shockingly good: with a taste not unlike Belgium's Hoegaarden, but better.

Viva La Revolucion.

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