Chiang Mai, Thailand–On a sticky morning near the beginning of Thailand’s Wet Season, the temperature hit 95 Fahrenheit, and was projected to continue climbing. Roosters awakened ahead of schedule, alarmed from the incoming heat. The cicada’s drone followed, disseminating through the air as one unchanging tone like lawnmowers on a day in spring. Air Conditioning was scarce, shade elusive, and after a brief tour of some of Northern Thailand’s marvels, we collapsed into our dorm room beds. Nothing compares to the midday reds. You stand up too quickly and boom, syncope, a blood rush to the head. Days like these are common, and can only be quelled by one thing, sitting back down. Sitting down, with an ice cold beer.
Thailand’s lagers, both famous and infamous in their own ways, are a convenient remedy ready to be plucked from your hostel’s refrigerator, or one of the thousand 7-11’s across the country. The beers are infamous because they aren’t anything close to what you’d call world class (see Chang-over), but famous as they do play a critical role in a traveler’s everyday life. They are a home base, a ceremonial siesta, where backpackers convene and stories begin.
Americans may know the glorious Singha, an inhabitant of Thai restaurants throughout the United States, but in said restaurants selections are fairly singular. Different variants of beers such as Chang, Leo, and Tiger are also found throughout Northern Thailand. The nuances between the beers are subtle and few. To achieve a well-rounded opinion, I went to the field and interviewed some experts on which beers were their favorite.
Spencer, (On Leo) “I liked it because it maintained that refreshing lager aspect that is necessary in tropical climates, but also had a good crisp flavor.”
Michael refuted, “Singha takes the crown on this one. Not only is it mostly formaldehyde free, scoff Chang, it is classy and elegant, which sets it apart from its proletariat and phony cousin, Leo. Let’s face it, no one goes to SE Asia on a beer tasting tour. But that doesn’t mean you can’t throw back a couple of cold ones in style. Now, you can be that “frugal vagabond” who saves a meager 10 cents a bottle, but looks more like a yuppie buying a used range rover. Or, you can grab a Singha, and let people know that you are as majestic and mythical as the lion from which its name is derived. The choice is yours, but i’ll always reach for the Stella Artois of Indochina.”
Then in a curt manner Spencer shot, “Well, Mike clearly has no taste for good beer.” And it’s interesting, because after a brief dialogue with Mike, I informed him that the two beers were produced by the same brewing company. This hardly surprised him. I read deeper and found that Singha was marketed for the Bourgeoisie, and Leo was created later for the proletariat. It struck us as odd, because the price didn’t vary much, however there are clear differences in the packaging–Singha’s, a regal white and gold, and Leo’s label is as red as daybreak.
Sam joined in, “I’d go with Singha, goes down easy, nice and crisp in that hot Thai sun. If it’s a night out, it’s going to be Chang though, can’t beat the value.”
Chang is a funny one. When we arrived in Thailand, we were indefinitely inducted into the volatile world of nights fueled by Chang beer. It’s a tempting choice, because of the bang for its buck, the name isn’t as familiar to us Americans (I know it has Liverpool ties), and the Alcohol level isn’t consistent! It fluctuates from 6.4%, which is written on the side of the bottle, all the way up to 12%. Black out.
Some honorable mentions are Tiger, and Phuket, the micro brewery. My one experience with Tiger was with a girl we met along the way, who handed it to me saying that, ‘I can’t stand it anymore.’ A queasy look on her face followed as the tuk-tuk took a sharp turn. And Phuket beer, well, some Hostel manager in Bangkok was trying to sell them to us, but we concluded that there’s a reason why there aren’t many Microbreweries in Thailand.
Summing it up Jon-Jon, our fourth analyst added, “They all taste the same.”
From African Bowtie.