Beer Myanmar - the 1,500 Baht Beer
Now I have never been one for supporting military Juntas who commit mass murder and rape but I have to say as far as making beer goes the Union of Myanmar has got it right. Despite recent claims that Beer Myanmar is being exported to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh you would be hard pushed to find any great quantity at your local shop anywhere apart from Myanmar due to global economic sanctions against the country for one of the longest lists of human rights abuses in the world. Now since the Myanmar Junta own Beer Myanmar many people would take issue with supplying funds to the regime by manner of purchasing a bottle of their very, very good beer but the Junta own everything in the country, even the water, so anything you buy there will eventually find its way into the pockets of the military government anyway. Many people would simply refuse to enter into such a country let alone condone the actions of the Junta by giving them money but most foreigners who visit Myanmar do so not out of choice but of necessity. Myanmar neighbours Thailand and Thailand has a very strict, and incredibly frustrating, visa policy. You can enter on a tourist visa that gives you 30 days grace or on a Non-Immigrant visa that gives you 90 days in the country. Once this expires you have to cross over the border to renew your visa. So you head to the nearest border, which for most people is that of Myanmar and after five or six hours on a bus and a boat, believe me you need a beer. Even if you do not buy the beer the Junta will recieve around five US dollars for every foreigner that crosses it's border so buying the beer, or anything else, should not cause you too much concern. At least if you buy something from a vendor then that person will get some of the money, unlike the 5 dollars that goes straight into the pockets of the Junta.
"Myanmar's favourite beer" is the slogan that emblazes every bottle and it is factual for several reasons. First of all the beer is very good. Second of all the Junta has just nationalised it's main competitor Beer Mandalay for being too popular. It costs anywhere from 40 to 60 Baht per bottle ($1 to $1.30) depending on your negotiation skills. Best served chilled it has a golden brown colour that indicates that they have actually bothered to use some ingredients in the brewing process unlike the many chemically based beers in Asia. The beer actually has a bit of body to it, light to medium but a body none the less, and it has got quite a nice taste as well. There is a mixture of hops and yeast that combine to create a flavour that leaves a pleasant aftertaste for somewhile after the beer is consumed. The beer is a standard 5% - this is about the right alcohol level for my tastes and also for the tropical climate. A 640ml bottle in the afternoon won't end your day and a few more in the evening won't leave you reeling in the morning. Up to a year ago it was easy to find cans of the beer for sale at the border but for some unknown reason it is now only available in bottles. This might be because they ran out of aluminium or, perhaps more plausibly, a soothsayer or sage advised the management that bottles were luckier. You have to remember that this is the country that has just moved it's long established national capital 400 km north allegedly on the advice of witchdoctors.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Thailand will be more than aware of the outlandish and mostly fraudulant claims by everyone from tailors to restaurants about winning awards for any multitude of things but the awards Beer Myanmar displays on it's label are actually genuine. To date it has won the Gold Medal (Packaged Lager) and Gold Medal (Draught Lager) in the 2005 Brewing Industry International Awards, the Silver Medal in the 2004 World Beer Cup as well as several other awards. Quite an achievement for a beer that comes from a country nearly as isolated as North Korea. While I thoroughly dislike the day it takes me to journey to the border of Myanmar and back to fulfil my visa obligations I have to say that the 1,500 baht (30 dollars) the trip costs me is well worth it just for that bottle of Beer Myanmar. It is an alcoholic gem of Asia and as I sample, critique and review the beers of Thailand the reasons for my appreciation of Beer Myanmar will become more and more evident. It is a good beer that stands tall against some truely awful ones.
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