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Best Beers of Southeast Asia 2009 (Thanks to “The Godfather”) May 13, 2009

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.

By Alex Sawit

13 May 2009


I’m thinking about a scene from The Godfather. It’s the one where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) confronts his sister’s traitorous husband, Carlo, telling him to fess up about his complicity in the horrific machine-gun slaying of Michael’s eldest brother. “You think I’d make my sister a widow?” he says to his terrified brother-in-law, assuring him that his life would be spared if he stopped protesting.

“Just don’t tell me you’re innocent,” Michael warns coldly. “It insults my intelligence.”

As fans of the movie trilogy know, what came next was one of the most brutal mafia executions in cinema history, with Carlo admitting his guilt only to be garroted inside the car, the killer uprooting him so violently out of the front seat that his shoes smashed the windshield as he kicked and struggled to his death. All of it had the effect of turning Pacino’s words into a chilling catchphrase.

Don’t tell me you’re innocent. It insults my intelligence.

I’ll take my cue from that, thank you very much. Like Pacino’s fictional character, I too find it insulting when I hear declarations of innocence from those who are blatantly and stupidly guilty.

As it happens, I’m annoyed at a bunch of sneaky executives at the country’s biggest brewing company, San Miguel. They’re the ones whose bright idea it was to reformulate San Miguel Pale Pilsen. In my last review of Southeast Asian beers, I chastised them for ruining this classic brew beloved by generations of Filipinos. The reformulated beer is now a hollow-tasting shell of its former full-flavored glory, all because of the decision by management to reduce the amount of high quality malt used in the recipe and substitute it with a higher proportion of cheaper cereal extenders.

But there’s more. I just found out, belatedly, that those same penny-pinching corporate clowns have been lying through their teeth to their own advertising agencies about what they did. This didn’t reach my ears, however, until someone from an ad agency that handles San Miguel beer brands dropped by the wine shop last week and relayed to me the “official story.”

“The reason San Miguel decided to reformulate Pale Pilsen,” the fellow sincerely explained based on the briefing he received, “is because the brand has been losing market share to San Mig Light. They altered it to make it taste more like San Mig Light, which is what their research says consumers prefer now.”

Really… that’s what they’re saying? Excuse me for a moment, readers…

[SFX: Imaginary footsteps of me walking around the room LMAO!!!]

Yup, San Mig Light, one of the blandest beers on the planet, something so hilariously lousy that horses would take offense if you were to liken it to their piss. Unfortunately, it’s an important part of the San Miguel brand portfolio, enjoying strong sales among pretentious teens and status-conscious young adults who’ve bought into the glossy ad message that light beer is “cool.”

“It’s a bogus explanation,” I said to my customer in so many words. Having once been in the ad industry myself, I still have insider friends of my own who are connected in one way or another to the local beer industry. Based on what they told me, I told my customer that the reformulation was a cost-cutting move in response to rising prices of imported barley malt.

“San Miguel owns both brands,” I continued. “Both sell for the same price even though the low-calorie variant is significantly cheaper to produce. They make more money selling San Mig Light, so it’s in their interest to push this brand even if it cannibalizes market share from Pale Pilsen. Like I said, they own both brands, so in reality they don’t lose market share at all.”

My customer was swayed. “You know, that actually makes more sense,” he said. “Now that I think of it, I think the story you received was the genuine one.”

The truth still annoys me, though.

I miss the old San Miguel Beer. I can only hope that someday in the future those manipulative liars at the company will be gone, allowing a new generation to set things right. It’s either that or Filipinos might just decide to take matters in their own hands.

Why not? Vengeful things can always happen if there are enough outraged consumers who feel insulted… capiche?




Note: Only beers available for retail were considered for this review.




Best Pale Beer, Philippines – SAN MIGUEL OKTOBERFEST BEER

Producer: San Miguel Brewery

Alcohol Content: 3.6% vol.

In 2008, Philippine brewing giant San Miguel launched two all-malt beers for the domestic market: San Miguel Premium and San Miguel Oktoberfest Beer. The former is actually an old brand that disappeared from local shelves many years ago but remained in production for a few foreign markets. That’s beside the point, though. Premium is an overrated brew that has an odd, mild finish that really disappoints me, a far cry from the rich taste of the original San Miguel Premium that I remember from some twenty years ago.

San Miguel Oktoberfest is better. Though still not as full-flavored as I would prefer, it is slightly more tasty and much better balanced than the other all-malt beer despite its lighter body. Too bad, though, that this was just a limited edition brew for the company’s Oktoberfest marketing promotions last year. It’s not easy to find, but as of this writing you can still find it at a limited number of Seven Eleven outlets in Metro Manila.


Best Beer Overall, Philippines – CERVEZA NEGRA SAN MIGUEL

Producer: San Miguel Brewery

Alcohol Content: 5% vol.

Cerveza Negra was tops in last year’s review for this category and it looks like it will stay there for the foreseeable future. I have no problem with that. Though it has traditionally been overshadowed by its Pale Pilsen counterpart, Negra has never been anything less than its equal and in the minority opinion of a few discerning local connoisseurs is even seen as the better of the two.


Best Dark Beer, Southeast Asia – CERVEZA NEGRA SAN MIGUEL

Nobody else in the region has ever made a better dark lager than this. Period.


Best Beer Overall, Southeast Asia – BEERLAO LAGER

Producer: Lao Brewing Company

Alcohol Content: 5% vol.

The “laid-back beer” of Laos stays at the top of the list this year, though I get the feeling that Cerveza Negra San Miguel could displace it with a little bit more tweaking and a little less inconsistency. It’s just a pity that BeerLao isn’t available in the Philippines, because I’d take it any day over any pale beer from any of the local breweries.



UPDATE (24 May 2009): In case anyone wants to know, the current suggested retail selling price for a bottle of San Miguel Beer is PhP 19.00, while that of San Mig Light is PhP 22.00 a bottle. What a rip-off.







1. x - May 21, 2009

too bad i can’t bring home czech beer

2. Alexander Sawit - May 22, 2009

Yeah, it’s sad. But at least you got to try Budweiser (Budvar) while you were there.

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