Four Takeaways from the Inaugural Asia Beer Championship

Asia Beer Championship

Held on October 19 in Singapore, the inaugural Asia Beer Championship invited commercial breweries from 48 countries across Asia to participate. A panel of regional judges determined the gold, silver, and bronze medal winners in 20 different categories, and Chairman’s Selections–comparable to an honorable mention–were awarded, as well. With the awards ceremony from American Taproom a wrap, we share the final results and a few takeaways from the competition.

It’s becoming easier and easier for travelers to find good beer on the road in Asia.

To be clear, the eye of the beholder determines what does and does not constitute “good beer,” and that constitution can certainly change based on the time and place. In other words, one may not particularly enjoy a bottle of, say, Chang Classic at home in Singapore. However, sweaty bottles of the stuff (poured into a glass with or without ice) sure get the job done at open-air, hole-in-the-wall Bangkok eateries where the kitchen cranks out one beautiful, authentic Thai classic after the other over the course of an hour or two.

For our purposes here, however, let’s consider “good beer” as beer produced within the world of “craft beer,” though as I’m sure anyone reading this knows all too well, not all craft beer is, ahem, created equal. Awards such as those earned at the Asia Beer Championship help separate the wheat from the chaff, of course. “It is so important for the continual development of the region’s brewing industry for consumers to support their local breweries and be able to identify good beer,” said awards organizer Charles Guerrier in a pre-event press release.

Guerrier is right, and I’ll slightly tweak his statement by saying that it’s important for travelers to give local breweries they encounter on the road a try. It can and does make a difference to small, aspiring Asian breweries when travelers choose local over name-brand imports—particularly when they do so at a bar, restaurant, or café that may be test driving local stuff to see if it resonates.

Yardley Brothers Beer Brewery
Inside Yardley Brothers Beer in Hong Kong

Regardless of whether the local beers are award-worthy or not, it can be a great experience to show up somewhere fairly random, not expecting anything crafty brewed locally, and to find just the opposite. Awesome beers or not, it’s interesting and fun to get a quick pulse on what might be a nascent beer scene in its early development.

Related: In Singapore, Cutting-Edge Beers in a Most Unlikely Place

With that said, the ABC results prove that Asia travelers can increasingly, to borrow a phrase, have their good beer and drink it, too. That is, not only are more and more craft breweries popping up in places other than major city centers, but those somewhat “off the beaten path” operations are brewing high-quality beers to boot.

Based in Inner Mongolia, Steppeo Brewery won a gold medal for its Berliner Weisee. Carakele Brewing Co in Amman, Jordan, won gold for its Barrel Aged Imperial Porter in what I’m guessing was the highly competitive “Wood/Barrel-Aged Beer” category. Playground Brewery in Ilsan, South Korea, scored gold and silver medals for its Hoplash IPA and Witch Chocolate Stout, respectively.

In Vietnam, Saigon-based Heart of Darkness Brewery (six), Pasteur Street Brewing Co (five), and East West Brewing Co (four) anchored the country’s competition-best 24 awards; no surprise there. However, Danang’s 7 Bridges Brewing Co (four awards) and Hanoi’s Furbrew and Turtle Lake Brewing Co (five total) show that today travelers can enjoy good beer at all three major stops on the country’s traditional travel circuit—and more local breweries in all parts between are surely on the way. Vietnam is just an example, as the same thing is happening across many parts of the continent.

Travelers should support local breweries whenever possible. One handy thing about the ABC results, which we’ve listed below, is that travelers have a free roadmap for those local places to prioritize.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

This isn’t unique to Asia. There’s room for improved consistency and execution, combined with more ingenuity, in every corner of the craft world and at every brewery. Still, it’s fair to say that craft beer in all Asian markets is still a relatively new thing—especially in comparison to the United States and some parts of Europe—and the ABC reflected the expected, perfectly normal, and healthy learning curve.

Warning: the following paragraph is a wee heavy on beer technicality. We don’t mind if you skip it.

All ABC entries were judged based on the Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCP) criteria, which allots a maximum of 50 points across five considerations with flavor (20 points), aroma (12), and overall impression/technical quality (10) given the most weight. At ABC, any beer that scored at least 40 points received a Chairman’s Selection, so with a max 50 points possible, you can do a fairly accurate guesstimate as to how many points were needed to earn each medal.

Related: In Xiamen, Fat Fat Beer Horse Loves Beer, So They Make Their Own

With that in mind, of the ABC’s 60 possible medals—gold, silver, and bronze across 20 categories—11 were not awarded, including seven golds, due to insufficient scores. No Chairman’s Selection awards were granted in eight categories, and of the 12 categories that did have those winners, six of them only had one.

Now, the results could have as much to do with the (low) number of submissions for a given category as they do with the quality of submissions. The consumer demand for some beer styles just isn’t there yet in many of Asia’s developing beer scenes, too, so breweries may understandably dabble in those styles with less frequency. If anything, though, regional breweries could look at categories like “Experimental Beer,” “Saison,” and “Porter” that didn’t have all three medals awarded and perhaps see an opportunity to fill the void as they consider brewing plans for 2019.

Don’t sleep on South Korea.

Vietnam may have stole the show with 24 awards, but South Korea made quite a splash, too, by earning 15 awards between four breweries. Seoul’s Artmonster Brewery led the way with six awards, including four silver medals. South Korea was the only country to sweep the medals in a given category, as well, with Galmegi Brewing Co (gold), Playground Brewery (silver), and Gorilla Brewing Co (bronze) at the podium for “Stout.”

Asia Beer Championship

During the awards ceremony Guerrier told me that South Korea now has well over 100 craft breweries, which is remarkable. I haven’t yet had the chance to venture outside of Seoul, but when I was in the city last year I was fairly psyched about the South Korean stuff in the glass, as well as the venues pouring it. We’re going to try and cast a much wider net across the country in the coming years, though I suppose just getting something up about Seoul would be a start. (Our bad, Seoul.)

Busan’s Wild Wave Brewing Co, which specializes in sour beers, is at the top of our wish list for breweries to visit and cover, but there are so many more, including all the ABC winners. Indeed, traveling beer enthusiasts looking for a “sleeper” place to visit based on beer merit might consider giving South Korea a long look in 2019.

Young Master Brewery is killing it with the barrels.

Maybe it was just me, and I’m not saying it was a slam dunk by any means, but nobody in the room seemed particularly surprised when Guerrier wrapped up the awards ceremony by announcing Young Master Brewery’s Hak Mo Sheung con Chile Ancho Y Panca as Champion Beer of Asia. The only gold medal winner in the “Spice/Herb-Flavored Beer” category, this boozy 10.1% ABV imperial stout, dark as the inkwell, is one of four stouts in the Hak Mo Sheung series that continues racking up regional awards in 2018.

Related: In Hong Kong, the Secret of Young Master Brewery’s Success

Double Chocolate Double Wood, which is aged in brandy and bourbon barrels, took gold in the ABC’s “Strong Ale” category. Ancho Y Panca, which spends six months in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels and is infused with two types of South American chilis, not only won Champion Beer of Asia, but also Best of Asia at Beerfest Asia 2018 (and 2017, too). That’s an impressive feat with so many well-regarded imperial stouts and dark ales coming out of the region these days.

Young Master Ales in Hong Kong

Aside from its successful barrel-aging program, Young Master Brewery is also smashing it with the “Days of Being Wild” mixed fermentation series, the first of its kind in Asia. At ABC, one of the latest entries in the series, Days of Being Wild – Peach, scored bronze in the “Sour Beer” competition.

Asia-brewed sours and mixed fermentation ales are still relatively scarce, but that’s bound to change in the coming years. Young Master Brewery is leading the charge, but others are getting into the game, as well. The aforementioned Wild Wave Brewing in Busan is one, and last year Moonzen Brewery in Hong Kong aged its annual “lunar barley wine” in clay Chinese wine barrels. Beijing’s Jing-A Brewing Co did a mixed-fermentation gose (Liangban Jinju) and saison (Mixed Culture Revolution). In Singapore, Brewlander & Co released a mixed fermentation farmhouse ale (TFP-005) in 2018. And in the ABC’s “Wild Ale” category, The Cebruery won gold for its Anniversario Solera Lambic, the first proper Belgian-style lambic brewed in the Philippines, while Artmonster Brewery took silver for its Sour BB.

These are just a few examples, and there’ll soon be a lot more from which to choose.

Results of the 2018 Asia Beer Championship

Asia Beer Championship

Champion Beer of Asia

Hak Mo Sheung – Ancho Y Danca, Young Master Brewery (Hong Kong)

Wheat Beer

Gold: —
Silver: Itaewon Freedom, Artmonster Brewery (Seoul, South Korea)
Bronze: Shiro, Coedo Brewery (Saitama, Japan)
Chairman’s Selection: Orange Wheat Beer, Wen Shen Brewery (China); Sunset Weizen, 7 Bridges Brewing Co (Danang, Vietnam)

International Lager

Gold: —
Silver: Puso, Cebu Brewing Co (Cebu City, Philippines)
Bronze: Right Hook Helles, Boxing Cat Brewery (Shanghai, China)

Pilsner

Gold: Ultimate Luck, Artmonster Brewery
Silver: Ah Kah Ji, Archipelago Brewery (Singapore)
Bronze: Primeval Forest Pilsner, Heart of Darkness Brewery (HCMC, Vietnam)
Chairman’s Selection: Sunday’s Brew, Rye & Pint Brewery (Singapore)

Gose

Gold: Yuzu Gose, Galmegi Brewing Co (Busan, South Korea)
Silver: Guimaras Gose, The Cebruery (Cebu, Philippines)
Bronze: Green Mango, Furbrew (Hanoi, Vietnam)

Sour Beer

Gold: Berliner Weisse, Steppeo Brewery (Mongolia)
Silver: —
Bronze: Purple Rain, Boxing Cat Brewery; Days of Being Wild – Peach, Young Master Brewery

Saison

Gold: —
Silver: Helmet Boy Saison, Turtle Lake Brewing Co (Hanoi, Vietnam)
Bronze: Spice Island Saison, Pasteur Street Brewing Co (HCMC, Vietnam)

Golden Ale

Gold: Temple Golden Ale, Goose Island Beer Co (China)
Silver: Another One, Young Master Brewery
Bronze: Modern Belgian Blonde, East West Brewing Co (HCMC, Vietnam)
Chairman’s Selection: Mekong, Himawari Microbrewery (Phnom Penh, Cambodia); Contender Extra Pale Ale, Boxing Cat Brewery; Keller Pils, Artmonster Brewery

Pale Ale

Gold: Dream Alone Pale Ale, Heart of Darkness Brewery
Silver: Dragon Coil IPA, 7 Bridges Brewing Co
Bronze: Red Truck Red Ale, Chiang Mai Beer (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Chairman’s Selection: Busan Pale Ale, Gorilla Brewing Co (Busan, South Korea); East West Pale Ale, East West Brewing Co; Machine Men, Yardley Brothers Beer (Hong Kong)

India Pale Ale (IPA)

Gold: Showdown IPA, Outlaw Brewing (Loei, Thailand)
Silver: Philippines IPA, Cebu Brewing Co
Bronze: London IPA, Gorilla Brewing Co
Chairman’s Selection: Kurtz’s Insane IPA, Heart of Darkness Brewery; Mosaic IPA, Outlaw Brewing Co; Galmegi IPA, Galmegi Brewing Co; Jasmine IPA, Pasteur Street Brewing Co; Far East IPA, East West Brewing Co

New England-Style IPA

Gold: The Hoplash IPA, Playground Brewery (Ilsan, South Korea)
Silver: Loose Rivet, Heart of Darkness Brewery
Bronze: Hitachino Nest Crazy Hazy Baby, Kiuchi Brewery (Naka, Japan)
Chairman’s Selection: Inevitable Backlash NEIPA, Pasteur Street Brewing Co

Double IPA

Gold: Imperial IPA, 7 Bridges Brewing Co
Silver: Bagsik, Cebu Brewing Co
Bronze: Hong Kong Bastard, Yardley Brothers Beer
Chairman’s Selection: Double Edged Sword, Turtle Lake Brewing Co; Courage, Brewlander & Co (Singapore)

Dark/Brown Ale

Gold: —
Silver: Dark Mild, Artmonster Brewery
Bronze: Broken Sword, Sandport Beer (Bangkok, Thailand)
Chairman’s Selection: Ki Siao, Archipelago Brewery

Porter

Gold: —
Silver: Chocolate Hills Porter, The Cebruery
Bronze: —
Chairman’s Selection: Tropical Porter, 7 Bridges Brewing Co

Stout

Gold: Espresso Vanilla Stout, Galmegi Brewing Co
Silver: The Witch Chocolate Stout, Playground Brewery
Bronze: British Stout, Gorilla Brewing Co
Chairman’s Selection: Liquorice Stout, Furbrew

Strong Ale

Gold: Hak Mo Sheung – Chocolate & Vanilla, Young Master Brewery
Silver: Big Boy Pants, Turtle Lake Brewing Co
Bronze: Cacao Kick Imperial Stout, The Perfect Pint (Manila, Philippines)
Chairman’s Selection: Red Devil RyePA, Galmegi Brewing Co

Wild Ale

Gold: Anniversario Solera Lambic, The Cebruery
Silver: Sour BB, Artmonster Brewery
Bronze: —

Fruit-Flavored Beer

Gold: —
Silver: Singapore Blonde Ale, Archipelago Brewery
Bronze: Passionfruit Wheat Ale, Pasteur Street Brewing Co

Spice/Herb-Flavored Beer

Gold: Hak Mo Sheung – Ancho Y Danca, Young Master Brewery
Silver: Cyclo Stout, Pasteur Street Brewing Co
Bronze: Jobs, Artmonster Brewery
Chairman’s Selection: Futile Purpose Cucumber Pilsner and Cacao Nib Porter, Heart of Darkness Brewery

Wood/Barrel-Aged Beer

Gold: Barrel Aged Imperial Porter, Carakale Brewing Co (Amman, Jordan)
Silver: Barredl Aged Imperial Stout, East West Brewing Co
Bronze: Red on Oak, Yardley Brothers Beer

Experimental Beer

Gold: —
Silver: Kereru Birbstout, Daryl’s Urban Ales (Singapore)
Bronze: —

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The Asia Beer Championship returns in 2019 in Bangkok.

Brian Spencer
written by: Brian Spencer
Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance journalist and the founder of Beer Travelist. Say hello at brian [a] beertravelist.com.