About a week ago, I read an online article about 10 things Malaysian beer drinkers need to know. While I had no real problem with the points given in the article, I did have an issue with the title, as most of the items on the list were pretty general facts or tips about beers, and not exactly very “Malaysian-ised”.
So, for this week’s column, I decided to compile my own list. Here it is – six things you need to know about beer in Malaysia.
1 There are only two commercial breweries in Malaysia
Guinness Anchor Berhad (GAB) and Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Berhad are the only commercial breweries in Malaysia with licences to brew beer legally.
According to the official website of the Confederation of Malaysian Brewers Berhad (CMBB), the two companies account for ninety five percent of the total beer and stout volume in the market.
Most mainstream pubs and bars in Malay-sia sign contracts with either GAB or Carls-berg to serve their beers exclusively on draught, and there are hardly any institution that actually serve beers from both breweries.
There was another player a few years back, Napex, which mysteriously came on the scene 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.
2 Tiger is the oldest locally-brewed beer brand in Malaysia
Well, sort of. Tiger Beer was first brewed in 1932 by Malayan Breweries Limited, a Singapore-based brewery that was the result of a merger between Heineken and beverage giant F&N.
Today, Tiger is brewed by GAB. Besides Tiger, certain well-known foreign brands are also brewed here. GAB recently celebrated 50 years of brewing Guinness in Malaysia.
In fact, Malaysia was named the biggest Asian market for Guinness in 2004. GAB also brews Kilkenny at their brewery in Sungai Way, Petaling Jaya.
Carlsberg (whose official website claims that Carlsberg was first imported here in 1903) set up their Malaysian brewery in 1969, and besides the flagship Carlsberg Green Label, they also brew foreign brands such as Kronenbourg and Asahi locally 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 locally.
3 Malaysia’s excise duty for beer is the second highest in the world
Although the last hike was in 2006, the excise duty for beer is still astronomically high in Malaysia.
In fact, according to the CMBB, at RM7.40 per litre plus 15% ad varolem tax, Malaysia has the second highest excise duty for beer in the WORLD, after Norway.
Now, add other taxes like the GST (Goods and Services Tax), and other mark-up in prices that the bars and pubs add on, and you know why you have to pay so much for a beer in Malaysia.
4 Craft beer is already in Malaysia
Want a different sort of beer from the mainstream commercial ones? Try craft beer. While commercial lagers and stouts still make up a huge majority of the beer market in Malaysia, the craft beer scene here has been growing slowly, but steadily in recent years.
The number of craft beer bars in Malaysia may still seem pitifully small, but between them, there are already more than a hundred different types and brands of beer to choose from.
5 Beer doesn’t have to be cold
Yes, lagers taste better when they are really cold, but only because they don’t really taste of anything in the first place, and taste pretty bad when they get warm, which happens really quickly in a warm climate like Malaysia’s.
Other types of beers like stouts and ales (and most craft beers) fair better when they are chilled, but not TOO cold, because that would mute all the subtler flavours and nuances.
In fact, certain beers actually taste better when you’ve let it sit and warm up slightly.
While we’re on the subject of cold beer, chilling a beer glass isn’t wrong either. It’s not NECESSARY, but there certainly is nothing wrong with chilling your glass first before pouring the beer.
In fact, one of Malaysia’s most unique ways of drinking beer – snow beer – is made by chilling both beers and glass to a certain temperature so that when poured, it creates a snow-like effect in the glass.
6 You CAN mature beers, even in Malaysia
Believe it or not, I once drank a beer that had been left to age for more than five years, and it was one of the best beers I have ever had. Certain beers can be matured and aged (the label on Dutch craft brewery De Molen’s Hemel & Aarde beer says “enjoy within 25 years”), and can taste even better after a few years.
However, like wines, you need to keep your beer in proper conditions. Beer hates light, so keeping your beer in a hot area with lots of light going through it is a sure-fire way to spoil it. Since Malaysia is so hot and humid, it gets a little trickier to age your beers, but generally, it’s best to keep your beer in a nice dark, cool place.
If you want to know what beers can be aged, you can consult beer websites like Beeradvocate.com or Ratebeer.com. But don’t bother opening that two-year-old Tiger beer you found while spring cleaning your house though. Lagers usually don’t age at all.