A flushed red face, wet eyes and elevated spirit would appear when Asians drink alcohol even a bit. It is due to their low activity of an alcohol breaking-down enzyme in the liver. Very inconvenient personally, when I sipped a cocktail at a business power lunch with Caucasian partners who showed nothing. This Asian character, I confirmed with indigenous or early arrival people from Asia across a frozen ice-mass bridge to Alaska, when I recently visited the Denali National Park in Alaska. Except for medical or religious reasons, Asians love alcohol here and in their homelands.

Alcohol has been our companion since an early stage of human history. It was to warm up the body from the inside in cold climates, to invigorate the soul or morale, or to communicate with something supernatural for advice on a disputed matter or problem hard to solve by themselves. The role of alcohol was inherited in each race or nation or religion relating to the degree of allowance or inhibition. Generally speaking, Asia has been liberal or tolerable to alcohol drinking. When supply was limited, drinking took place only at ceremonies, festivals, family occasions or social functions. Today drinking becomes more common and delightful while its supply becomes readily available.

Beer appears most popular in Asia today. It is an ideal drink for refreshing or replenishing energy from busy daily routines because of its relatively low alcohol content, effervescent bubbles and smooth swallowing. The least hangover (if moderately consumed) the following morning is also significant. Japan, as a predecessor of an economic progress, has gone from the traditional heavy drinking of sake to beer as a proof of this theory. So be it for the rest of Asian countries as well as Asians here. A cold, light Pilsner type is their beer, which is most appreciated in warm climates in Asia. In 1904 Germans started brewing a Pilsner style (present Tsingtao or Qingdao) when colonizing a northern Chinese territory. This Pilsner tradition was inherited by Japanese during its occupation there. Later American style beers like Budweiser or Coors became almost universal in Asia, and San Miguel in Philippines, Tiger in Singapore, Singha in Thailand, Hite-OB in Korea, Kirin in Japan, and Carlsberg or Heineken at many locations. Some of them, you can enjoy at respective ethnic restaurants like Hite or OB with BBQ beef bulgogi. Orion in Okinawa may be also known among military returnees from there. Craft beer has not been fully blooming yet. It may take a little bit more time for diversifying beer taste, which may come with the economic progress.

Wine is still in a cradle there. But China has grown to be a major importer of expensive wines in Asia. In the case of Japan, wine, mostly imported, is expensive because of import and alcohol taxes, and is only a fraction of the total alcohol beverage sales. Drinking taxes, they joke. Wine, dry white wine in particular, must go well with seafood like sushi or sashimi. With my sake business experience here in our market, though, ethnic beverages tend to be promoted only in respective ethnic markets. 

Distillates and spirits, in a Chinese expression “Fire Drink,” are often used for mixed drinks preferred by females, which are gaining power in this macho Asian alcohol market today. Other traditional ones like Shaoxing (Chinese), Machori (Korean), sake (Japanese), or numerous local naturally fermented drinks are still preferred particularly by males who may be losing the ground to rising females. In this globalization and economic progress, Asian alcohol consumption has been swinging more to beer, and then will go further to mixed drinks, and a little bit more to wine down the road.