With a history that dates back eons and a landmass that stretches more than 27 million square miles, you can bet Asia is home to a wide variety of unique drinks. Even countries that prohibit drinking due to their majority religion give tourists a way to imbibe if they so desire.
Pack your bags, grab your passport, and get ready to drink your way through some of Asia’s most populous countries in our Asian Liquor, Beer, and Wine Guide.
Even if you’ve never heard of it, baijiu ranks as the globe’s top-selling spirit, accounting for 25 percent of all spirits consumed across the world. This distilled liquor is created from the cereal grain sorghum. While the clear liquid looks similar to vodka, it has a unique taste. It kicks off with a sweet flair, then leaves you reeling with a bitter, alcohol-laden aftertaste. Red Star is a well-known brand of baijiu, as are Moutai and byejoe.
INDIA: INDIAN WHISKEY
While whiskey as we know it is typically made out of barley, wheat, corn, or other grains, Indian whiskey is a distilled liquor traditionally made out of molasses. However, Indian whiskey is increasingly emerging as a blend or a single malt made from barley. Hot brands on the scene are McDowell’s No. 1 Reserve, Amrut, and Officer’s Choice.
Arrack, also known as arak, is a popular drink throughout all of Southeast Asia. It comes in a range of varieties, each with different flavors, strengths, and components. While many versions are made of fermented coconut palm sap, you can also find the drink distilled from sugarcane, coconut, or even red rice.
If you’re itching for Arrack in Indonesia or any other country, make sure you go for a commercial brand rather than a homemade variety. The latter is akin to bathtub gin—you never know what you’ll get, and you don’t know if it’s even safe for consumption.
PAKISTAN: MURREE BEERS
Although Pakistan’s population is made up of 97 percent Muslims whose religion prohibits them from drinking, you can still kick back with a can of Pakistani beer. Murree Brewery is the country’s oldest and largest producer of alcoholic products, and its beers and other alcoholic beverages are sold in select places. Those locations tend to include restaurants in top-end hotels, as well as during very limited hours out of small shops within the hotels.
BANGLADESH: WHATEVER YOU CAN FIND
If you thought drinking in Pakistan was tough, just wait until you try it in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has over 149 million Muslims, along with a lower tolerance for drinking in public. If you’re insistent about drinking your way through Asia and Bangladesh is on your destination list, you can find alcoholic beverages available at high-end hotel bars, government warehouses, and specialized shops open to non-Muslim visitors.
Since Russia stretches into both Europe and Asia, we already covered Russia and its vodka in our European drinking guide. Russian vodka began its climb into tasty notoriety in the late 1800s, when new standards were enacted to ensure exceptional quality and taste.
JAPAN: JAPANESE WHISKEY
While Westerners may often associate Japan with sake, a more common drink is Japanese whiskey. Similar to Scotch whiskey in its creation, Japanese whiskey boasts a subtle spicy sweetness—along with a texture that’s as smooth as silk. Brands to try include Hakushu, Hibiki, Suntory, and Yamazaki.
VIETNAM: SNAKE WINE
If the name of this drink makes you think it actually contains snakes, then you’re right. Snake wine is made up of grain alcohol infused with snakes, preferably venomous ones. Since the toxicity of the venom is denatured by the alcohol, it’s safe to drink – in moderation, of course.
Whether you find Asian drinks intriguing, strange, or a little of both, sampling the local alcohol is a fun way to explore different countries’ cultures during your trip to Asia.