28 April 2014 - Best Beer HQ
International beer spotlight: Beerlao
Is Beerlao the best beer in Southeast Asia? It could be.
You’d certainly be hard-pressed to find a backpacker who doesn’t like the classic Laotian lager – produced by the Lao Brewery Company of Vientiane and sold in 330ml and 640ml bottles and 330ml cans.
Made with locally grown jasmine rice and brewed with hops and yeast imported from Germany, Beerlao Original is a European pale-lager style beer with an alcohol volume of 5%. It’s a slightly sweet and refreshing beer, with a gentle aroma, pouring golden with a white head.
The most popular beer in Laos
You would have seen the Beerlao logo if you’ve spent any time in Asia, because it’s festooned on t-shirts and singlets. In fact, Beerlao is almost unavoidable – the company claims a 99% market share of the national beer market in Laos.
Restaurants and bars in Laos generally charge a paltry 10,000 kip (about $1.20 US) or more for a big 640ml bottle of Beerlao. That’s a bargain, anyway you look at it. Naturally, you’d expect to pay a lot more than that in the West.
Beerlao is exported to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and parts of Europe – but the beer is best enjoyed in Laos, preferably in the shade after a hard day’s sightseeing.
The beer has won numerous awards, too, including two gold medals for quality from the Monde Selection – the European organisation that tests and rates consumer products.
History of Beerlao
The Lao Brewery Company was founded in 1971 and was, at the time, a joint venture between French and Lao businessman. It wasn’t until 1973 that it began production, churning out just 3 million litres per year.
The company ran into a little bit of trouble when the Laotian Communist movement came into power in 1975. The Lao Brewery Company was then nationalised, effectively becoming a state-owned enterprise. It should come as no surprise why Beerlao has been the dominant beer in Laos for so long, then.
When the tiny Southeast Asian country moved to a market economy in 1986, the Lao Brewery Company sold a 51% stake to foreign investors (the Laos government retained the rest). By this stage it had a production capacity of 20 million litres per year and had roughly 300 employees.
Later, in 2002, Danish brewing company Carlsberg and its Thai partner TCC acquired a 25% stake in the Laotian brewery. Its annual production capacity increased to 85 million litres in 2005, when Carlsberg’s share in the company increased to 50%.
At the time of writing, Carlsberg continues to own half the company – with the Laos government owning the other half. Production capacity now exceeds more than 150 million litres per year.
Other Beerlao products
Besides the original lager in the iconic bottle (see pic, above), Beerlao also brews light and dark beers. It also produces and markets bottled drinking water – but because this is a website dedicated only to beer, we’ll assume you’re not very interested in that.