the beers of Indonesia

Doug here:  After traveling the world for a number of years, we suppose we've  become connoisseurs of local beer varieties.  That is not to say we actually know anything about the production of ale.  But even so, we can usually still decipher a few things rather quickly.  How does the local beer taste?  And more importantly, how fast is it going to give us a buzz?

Our first beer in Sulawesi was had during an afternoon of relaxation at the Murex Dive Resort (see “digs.")  Although tasty, it seemed to have one drawback:  it was much too “light.”  What we would soon learn was that the alcohol content of any beer in Indonesia was just not as high as those from Western countries might expect.  In fact, thanks to some rather twisted national laws, you will be hard-pressed to find much of anything in the form of brand name alcohol from “back home.”  (Unless you are in a rather high-end establishment that has somehow managed to pay the government off, Heineken is about as familiar as you are going to get.)

From the onset, Bintang proved itself as the beer of choice in Indonesia.  In fact, you will see its logo just about everywhere, including on the buttocks of many tourists who adorn cheap souvenir shorts and bathing trunks!  (Have no fear, Bintang hats, tank tops and even sarongs are also available.)  But don’t believe the hype!  With an alcohol content of only 4.6%, Bintang is so weak, you might as well grab for that bottle of "FresTea" instead!  True, if you want a buzz on this stuff, you'll need to drink twice as much as you normally would, with all those added calories going straight to your belly.  After only a few days in Indonesia, we had already upgraded to one large bottle of Bintang each, usually doubling that order by the end of our meal!  The waiters who served us always seemed incredulous when we would start our meal with two of the larger sized bottles right off the bat.  Clearly, these guys would not be able to match us in a drinking game!

A few more nights of bar-hopping led us to the conclusion that there are actually three different local beers brewed in Indonesia:  Bintang, Bali Hai and Anker.  We actually enjoyed the Bali Hai brand the best.  And wouldn’t you know it, after close inspection we realized that it provided the highest alcohol content of all three coming in at 4.9% + or -.

Prices vary depending on whether you are buying your beers from a market - Circle K is a hit in Indonesia - or a restaurant or bar.  We noted that the average price for a large-sized bottle was about 27,000 rupiah (about $3 USD), still quite cheap considering that the volume is almost the same as two regular sized beers.

If you are a fan of relaxing with a “cold one” after a sizzling day of sitting by the beach or trekking through the jungle, we assure you that all of the Indonesian beers will taste wonderful enough, particularly when served at icy cold temperatures.  Still, if you have the choice, go for Bali Hai.

Set of Drifters tip:
  While surveying any bar’s drink menu, watch out for funny spelling variations of the famed “Long Island Iced Tea,” perhaps the only drink we noted throughout Indonesia that assured it would pack a punch.  For more on tropical drinks, be sure to check out our reports on Java and Bali.