In an era of globalization, countries
are thought of, in the most hoped for scenarios, as
specialists of something. In the case of foods, the Europeans have embraced
protected geographic indicators (PGI's) to proclaim
internationally that their regions/countries are specialists
in particular foods and beverages. The hills around Turin, Italy are home to the TGI
piedmont hazelnut. The Champagne region of France is the only region in
the world which can call the sparkling wines hailing from
its region champagne. Parma boasts its Parma ham. The Brits have Melton Mowbray pork pies.
For something to be granted PGI status,
it must continue to be made/grown/produced in the designated
region using traditional techniques which, presumably, have
made the item desirable and famous to begin with.
It is not common for beer to be given
PGI status. It
is virtually unheard of.
Scottish & Newcastle's Newcastle Brown
Ale had PGI status until 2007. The company asked for the status and got it, but then
asked, less than a decade later, to have the PGI status
revoked because they wanted to move production outside of
Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Gateshead. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it, too. The only other brewing company I know to secure this
status is the Czech Republic's Budweiser Budvar.
The Europeans don't need PGI labels to
protect their throne as the cultural beer experts. They're already the perceived dominant brewers
who makes the best beers in the world, you'll usually hear
the Belgians or the Germans, maybe the Czechs. Never the Japanese or the Koreans. That's where you get quality cars from. Asians just aren't known worldwide for their beers,
which isn't to say Asians don't/can't make good beer.
The world's oldest brewery, Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany, can trace its roots back
to 768. The
German Purity Law has been around since 1434 or 1516,
depending on which source you believe. Six hundred years ago, the Germans were already
codifying purity standards for a drink Asians had never
Asia's oldest (beer) brewery, by
comparison, is less than 200 years old, setup by the British
in the Himalayas to supply their fellow citizens, a brewery
establishment pattern repeated in many Asian countries
first modern brewery in Japan, which later evolved into
Kirin, was started by a Norwegian-American in Yokohama in
China's second largest brewery, was set up by German
settlers in 1903. The Lao Brewery Company, makers of Beer Lao, started
out as a joint venture between Lao and French businessmen.
Not all breweries in Asia were
established by European immigrants. Thailand's first brewery, Boon Rawd, makers of Singha,
was setup by a Thai in 1933, but Asian-owned breweries like these took root largely because of what was
happening elsewhere in the region. Just two years before Boon Rawd's birth, Dutch giant
Heineken and Fraser & Neave formed a joint venture called
Malayan Breweries Limited to produce Tiger Beer.
The Asians have their unique beverages
and their own unique cuisines borne out by geography and
there is no such unique thing as Asian beer, defined by
Asian brews utilizing a special type of hops or barley
indigenous to the region or utilizing a common Asian brewing
technique not practiced elsewhere. Whether an Asian brewery was founded by European
immigrants or founded by indigenous people, beer was always
a Western drink, using key ingredients largely imported from
Beer Lao, for example, is brewed in Laos with hand picked
indigenous rice varieties, spring water originating from the
foothills of the Himalayas, Hallertau (German) hops,
German yeast, and French malted barley.
Even where Asian
countries can support the growth of barley and hops, it is
more prestigious and desirable for consumers that the barley
and/or hops came from more affluent nations with brewing
India indulged in an experiment to grow hops in the remote
tribal regions of Himachal Pradesh, but with few Indian
breweries willing to take the produce, there was talk of
hops being replaced by other crops.
Wine is a different beast. European grape varietals were grown in new continents
where they took on different flavor characteristics. With Asian breweries using predominantly the same key
ingredients as their European forebears, Asian beer becomes,
in effect, a Western product stirred up with an Asian-based
brewmaster's (Westernized) recipe.
The Asian side of the craft beer
revolution thus far is Asians observing the progression of
the craft beer industry in the United States (and other
Western countries later) and doing the same thing themselves
in Asia, again using mostly Western ingredients and beer
styles. This is
why Japanese microbreweries like Hitachino and Baird, itself
owned by an American expatriate, can export their brews back
to the West and be appreciated. Beer, by its very context, is already Westernized.
You can tell a Cuban sandwich from a
Vietnamese sandwich just by looking at it and most
definitely by tasting it. As far as I know, there is no unique Japanese or
Korean or Chinese or Thai or Indonesian brewing style that
puts such an indelible signature on the beer that any
experienced sampler can immediately discern the beer's
This is not a dig at Asian beer
It's just a fact of history that brewing beer as we know it
began in Europe and that history continues to define the
standards, like it or not. Sake began its origins in Japan. Today, over 10 countries brew sake, with 7 sake breweries in China and 6 in the United States. The Nøgne Brewery
in Norway, makers of quality microbrews since 2002, also
makes highly regarded sakes in the yamahai muroka junmai
I'm sure it's delicious if sakes takes you to new levels of
But sake still remains a Japanese drink, brewed according to
long established tried and true Japanese sake brewing
Hadaka-jima just happens to be brewed in Norway. If a sake novice or even a sake connoisseur were
richly exploring the universe of sake making, would s/he be
better off hitting Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea, all
locations of sake breweries, or doing a sake crawl in one
region of Japan?
Europe is never far away, as long as a
shop selling beer is nearby.