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September 15, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Beers of Asia

People drink more than 130 million litres of beer every year. I’m certainly doing more than my share. However, in most countries, beer consumption per capita has been steadily dropping for many years. Some beer lovers are choosing to drink less but drink better. The one region which bucks this downward trend is Asia, where both men and women are imbibing more beer every year.

While the Czechs, Irish and Germans still drink the most beer per person, China is the largest producer and consumer of beer in raw terms. The easiest Chinese beer to find in Wellington is Yanjing. As the state beer of China and an Olympic sponsor, it is perhaps unsurprising that Yanjing has an astonishing 85% share of the Beijing beer market.

Yanjing (4.5%) is a golden beer with a slightly grassy nose, a light, clean body from the use of rice and a short, sharp finish. It is a pleasant accompaniment to most Chinese food but, on balance, I prefer its rival Tsingtao. Tsingtao (5%) is crispier and more full-bodied but is increasingly rare around town.

An unkind critic once claimed that saying that your country’s beers were better than Japanese beer was like saying your country’s food was better than English food. That is a tad unfair. The Japanese do make very drinkable pale lagers and many of them reach our shores (albeit with hefty price tags).

From the oldest continuously operating brewery in Japan, Sapporo Draft (5%) is one of the country’s most popular beers though, ironically, it is rarely found in draft form. Most Japanese beer is drunk from the bottle or can, often obtained from vending machines. Many supermarkets have these machines at the entrance to ease the pain of grocery shopping. I suspect more men volunteer to do the shopping as a result.

Sapporo has a soft grassy nose, a hint of sweetness in the middle before a serviceably dry finish. Two Australian beer wags wrote “the flavours are so light and polite that it’s almost not there – a bit like really expensive sushi.”

My pick of the readily available Japanese beers would be Asahi Super Dry, (5%) though it can be pricey. According to the World Encyclopedia of Beer, Asahi created the dry beer style in the 80s when it found drinkers wanted “a thin, clean beer with little flavour which would leave consumers in need of another drink.” The result is a light, quaffable lager with a noticeably dry finish. I usually have more than one.

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