Bold prediction: The rise of the ASEAN beer

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I grew up in the Philippines when beer drinkers are proud of the country’s only beer – San Miguel. Although today there are lots of other brands, and the San Miguel Corporation has diversified into other business lines, San Miguel beer remains to be one of my favorites. San Mig Light became my preferred beer because I can wake up the following morning without hang over.

Beer consumption is high in Southeast Asia and beer drinkers love locally brewed beers. I am not aware of beers in Muslim-majority neighbors like Malaysia and Indonesia, but in Singapore, Tiger beer is one of the most popular beer brands.

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In mainland Southeast Asia, the more popular beer bands are those named after places. To start in Vietnam, Hanoi is the most loved beer in the north, while Saigon has one of the highest sales in the south. In the middle, there is Huda beer which came out from the putting together the first syllables of Hue and Danang, two important cities in the area.

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In Cambodia, Angkor used to be the most popular beer. It was mimicked by Anchor beer, capitalizing on the way you pronounce the name of the original beer. It created confusion since the locals who preferred the cheaper copycat were served with the higher-priced Angkor. The solution was simple – when ordering Anchor, locals say “an-choo”. That settled the issue and Angkor retained its market leadership. But in 2012, Angkor met its match when Cambodia beer was introduced to the market. A taste-test was done and it turned out that more people liked the taste of Cambodia. That started the beer war in the Kingdom of Wonder.

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Laos despite its small population goes with its neighbors with its own version of a national beer. BeerLao of course is the favorite beer brand in the country. Myanmar who just recently opened its economy has its Myanmar beer. The only exception among the mainland countries is Thailand. We haven’t heard of Thai beer or Bangkok beer. Singha or Chang are the most popular in that kingdom.

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Going back to the Philippines, in the early 80’s, there was an attempt to introduce Manila beer. With Marcos in power, it was an attempt to break the monopoly and popularity of San Miguel. It failed despite the range of marketing strategies against the iconic beer.

So what was the whole point of this inventory of “nationalistic” beers? I was just thinking that in implementing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), where the economy of the ASEAN member-countries will be integrated, a new beer will emerge as the image of the new community. That would show that the region has indeed assimilated and become one! One region, one beer!

The integration would have been more successful if the first economic cooperation is setting-up of a regional brewery. The only problem will be the most appropriate name. With the propensity of the mainland countries to name beer after places, what would be the brand name of the beer? ASEAN beer? Southeast Asia Beer? Whatever. We can have it discussed in all bars and beer shops in the region, and generate a lively debate on the most applicable name. It may even result to a popularity contest with all member-countries pushing names that would promote their brands. Or we can leave that problem to the ASEAN secretariat. In the meantime, we can stick to our respective national beer. Cheers!

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