Brand of the rising sun

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Seven Asian brews, four gruelling disciplines and a panel of hardened beer aficionados. It could only be a Publican taste test. Ben McFarland...

Seven Asian brews, four gruelling disciplines and a panel of hardened beer aficionados. It could only be a Publican taste test. Ben McFarland reports.

The British are in the throes of a love affair with the Far East. Raw fish sold at extortionate prices and served on a conveyor belt is the latest fast food. People are shifting their furniture about in the hope of improving their love life, career and bank balance.

Chopsticks are the thinking man's knife and fork. There are minimalist Japanese shops on the high street, Far Eastern players in the Premiership, crazy Japanese game shows on the telly and arty kung fu films about dragons and tigers at the cinema. Throw in the recent World Cup in Japan and South Korea and it's no wonder everybody's going mental for all things Oriental!

Whether sushi in a style bar or a Thai green curry in a rural pub, Far Eastern cuisine is all the rage and in recent years has managed to extend beyond its restaurant roots, but for Asian beers the transition from the dinner table to the local hasn't been as easy.

So, with this in mind, The Publican assembled a panel of six esteemed judges, seven Asian brews and four gruelling disciplines in a quest to dispel the mystery surrounding beers from the Orient.

Venue: Positively 4th Street, a leading Japanese bar and restaurant in central London.

First Discipline: Authenticity

Only three out of the seven beers presented to the panel are brewed in their country of origin and for some, this was clearly a sore point.

Kirin, Cobra and Kingfisher are all brewed under licence in South East England while the Asahi drunk in the UK is brewed in Prague at the same brewery as Staropramen, a fellow Coors stablemate.

Tsingtao, Singha and Tiger are all genuinely imported beers, making the trip from China, Thailand and Singapore respectively.

"I feel genuinely cheated" was the reaction of one panellist on hearing that Cobra is brewed in Bedford and had never been near Bangalore. Others were not so concerned. "The chicken korma was made up by the English so why is it such a problem?"

The panel were less aggrieved by those brands that boast a genuine following in their country of origin and some were willing to overlook the issue if it meant improved quality and consistency of taste.

Top three: Singha, Tsingtao and Tiger

Second Discipline: Packaging

The panel of judges were asked to give their verdict on the appearance of the bottle alone.

Shallow it may be, but in the increasingly competitive battle for fridge space the exterior packaging and design of a bottled lager is as important as the liquid inside.

Everyone agreed Tsingtao looked authentic yet dated - "it hasn't changed since 1955!" - and there were concerns that pub goers might be put off by its awkward name (sing-dow if you're wondering).

Everyone liked the smaller Singha bottle - "more sensuous than a stubby and the label looks genuine".

Asahi was generally seen as the more modern and contemporary of the two Japanese brands, although it was felt that the brand's rising sun icon could feature more on the packaging. "The Asahi design is minimalist which reflects its clean taste while Kirin is more traditionally Japanese - probably drunk by emperors!"

The panel agreed that Tiger's gold labelling gave it "good fridge stand out", while the two Indian beers gained a few fans.

Top three: Singha, Asahi and Tiger

Third Discipline: Marketing and Advertising

The panel was asked to recall any advertising campaign, promotional drive or slogans for each of the competing brands while extra brownie points were awarded for any positive feedback.

The response was a little disappointing. Cobra's "No Pressure" poster and press campaign struck a chord with five of the six panellists while Kingfisher's sponsorship of World Curry Week also rang a bell.

Asahi is currently running a poster campaign on the London Underground and all but two could recollect the advert.

Surprisingly, mention of Tiger's advertising drive featuring a bevvy of rather attractive Oriental beauties triggered nothing but a blank face from all but one red blooded male.

Most agreed that Singha relies predominantly on word of mouth among Thai travellers while Tsingtao and Kirin could probably do with a fistful of marketing spend.

Top three: Cobra, Asahi and Kingfisher

Fourth Discipline: Taste with Food

First up was Tsingtao. The flowery language flowed and the panel was divided. Positive comments such as "it's spritzy with pineapple chunks and hints of champagne" and "like the smell of a putting green" were offset by less complimentary observations that "it tastes industrial" and "smells too much".

Cobra, a beer promoted on the basis of its kinship with spicy food, overran the lighter sushi starters and one panellist complained of a "very heavy yeasty taste that only works with a post-pub curry."

Its rival Kingfisher faired better, especially with the spicy fish cakes. "With strong, spicy food you want something that competes and you want to be able to taste the beer as well. Otherwise its just fire fighting!"

At the other end of the scale, it was felt that the dry taste of Asahi complemented the delicate flavours of the sushi but got lost later on in the meal.

Kirin was attributed by one taster as having an aftertaste "that stays longer than the mother-in-law" and was dismissed by the sole female as "a bit too bitter."

A clash with one of the starters didn't help Singha's case early on but as the dishes got stronger, the Thai beer performed well.

It was widely agreed that Tiger was the best all-rounder, dubbed by one as "the Ian Botham of the Asian beer world".

Top three: Asahi, Tiger and Tsingtao

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