6 things you need to know about beer in Malaysia

  • Food News
  • Saturday, 17 Oct 2015

A week ago, I read an online article about “10 things Malaysian beer drinkers need to know”. I had no problems with the points given, but I do have an issue with the title as most of the items on the list were general facts or tips about beers, and not exactly very Malaysianised.

So for this week’s Tipsy-Turvy column, I’ve compiled my own list of “6 things you need to know about beer in Malaysia”.

There Are Only Two Commercial Breweries In Malaysia

Guinness Anchor Berhad (GAB) and Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Berhad are the only commercial breweries with licences to brew beer legally. According to the Confederation of Malaysian Brewers Berhad (CMBB) website, the two account for 95% of the beer and stout total volume in the market.

Most mainstream pubs and bars sign contracts with either GAB or Carlsberg to serve their beers exclusively on draught. There are hardly any institutions that serve beers from both breweries.

There was another player a few years back, Napex, which came on the scene mysteriously with Jaz Beer in 2007, and also brewed Starker beer for the Overtime chain of pubs (remember those?). Unfortunately, the beers weren’t great and the brewery disappeared just as mysteriously as it had appeared.

Tiger Is The Oldest Locally Brewed Beer In Malaysia

Guinness has been brewed in Malaysia for over 50 years.

Sort of. Tiger Beer was first brewed in 1932 by Malayan Breweries Limited, a Singapore-based company that was the result of a merger between Heineken and beverage giant F&N. Today, Tiger is brewed by GAB.

Besides Tiger, other well-known foreign brands are also brewed locally. GAB recently celebrated 50 years of brewing Guinness in Malaysia. In fact, we were named the biggest Asian market for Guinness in 2004. GAB also produces Kilkenny at their brewery in Sungai Way, Petaling Jaya.

Carlsberg – which the website claims was first imported here in 1903 – set up their local brewery in 1969. Besides the flagship Carlsberg Green Label, they also produce foreign brands such as Kronenbourg and Asahi at their Shah Alam brewery.

Then there’s the aforementioned Jaz and Starker beer, which contrary to its “German-styled lager” tagline, was actually brewed in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Excise Duty For Beer Is The Second Highest In The World

Craft beer bars like Taps in Kuala Lumpur can have over 100 beers on the menu.

Though the previous hike was back in 2006, the excise duty for beer is astronomically high. According to CMBB, at RM7.40 per litre plus 15% ad varolem tax, we have the second highest excise duty for beer in the world – after Norway.

Add other taxes like GST or SST and other mark-up in prices that bars and pubs pile on, and you know why you pay so much for a beer here.

Craft Beer Is Already In Malaysia

Want a different beer from the mainstream commercial ones? Try craft beer. Commercial lagers and stouts still make up a huge majority of the beer market, but the craft beer scene has been slowly and steadily growing in recent years.

The number of craft beer bars may seem small, but between them there are more than a hundred types of beer and brands to choose from. There are currently four places in Kuala Lumpur where you can get your craft beer fix: Taps Beer Bar, Ales And Lagers, Great Beer Bar and Messrs Barley, Malt and Hops.

Beer Doesn’t Have To Be Cold

Snow beer is one of the unique ways Malaysians drink the stuff.

Lagers taste better when they’re really cold, but only because they don’t taste of anything in the first place, and taste pretty bad when they get warm which happens really quickly in our tropical climate.

Other beers like stouts, ales and most craft beers fair better when they’re chilled, but not too cold because that mutes all the subtler flavours and nuances. In fact, some beers taste better when you’ve let it sit and warm up a bit.

While we’re on the subject, chilling a beer mug isn’t wrong. It’s not necessary, but there’s nothing wrong with chilling your glass first before pouring the beer.

One of Malaysia’s unique ways of drinking beer is called a “snow beer”, made by chilling both beer and glass to a certain temperature, so that it creates a snow-like effect on the glass when the beer is poured.

You Can Mature Beers Even In Malaysia

I once drank a beer that had been left to age for over five years and it was one of the best I’ve had. Certain beers can be matured and aged – the label on Dutch craft brewery De Molen’s Hemel & Aarde beer actually says “enjoy within 25 years” – and can taste even better after a few years.

But like wines, you need to keep the beer in proper conditions. It hates light, so keeping it in a bright hot space is a surefire way to killing it. Since Malaysia is so hot and humid, it’s a little tricky to age your beers, but generally it’s best to keep it in a nice dark cool place.

If you want to know what beers can be aged, consult websites like Beeradvocate.com and Ratebeer.com. But don’t bother opening that two-year-old Tiger you found while spring cleaning your house. Lagers don’t age well at all.

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Drop columnist Michael Cheang a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow him on Instagram.

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