Whenever I travel abroad, I always make it a point to try the most popular beer from other countries. I’ve been documenting the growth of the craft beer in the Philippines, but I’ve never written about the country’s mainstream or commercial brands. Mainly, it’s because I feel like all Pinoys know these beers already. I mean, beer drinking is considered a national pastime! But I realize that foreign backpackers and first-time visitors to the country may not be familiar with these beers yet, so am listing them down just for reference.
Commercial beers don’t taste as good as craft beer, but are much cheaper and more widely available in most provinces and smaller islands around the country, making them a good choice for celebrations and extended drinking sessions. The most popular beer brands in the Philippines are produced by two large breweries: San Miguel Corporation and Asia Brewery. Here are 10 of the most popular mainstream beers you can find in the country. I’ve ranked them in reverse order based on my personal preference.
10. Beer Na Beer (Pale Pilsen)
Beer na Beer is Asia Brewery’s flagship pilsen beer meant to compete with the leading brand. In fact, the bottle, font and design used looks quite similar to San Miguel Beer. Beer na Beer is a fizzy beer meant for the country’s hot weather. It’s kind of tasteless and there’s too much carbonation. It’s one of the cheapest beers around but usually isn’t served in restaurants and can only be found in a few grocery stores and sari-sari stores.
9. Colt 45
Colt 45 is a lager originally from the United States but is under license in the Philippines under Asia Brewery. This is an inexpensive premium strong beer. Like Beer na Beer, it isn’t served a lot in restaurants and is not that widely available except in a few grocery stores. I just tried it once to take a photo, but have never been compelled to buy it again.
8. San Miguel Super Dry
San Miguel Super Dry (5% ABC) is a light amber lager with strong, aromatic hop notes and flavors that give off an overall dry taste and an elegant quick finish. This isn’t as commonly sold in restaurants, though it’s available in select grocery stores. It’s not as popular as San Miguel Pale or Light though. No one really goes out of their way to order this.
7. Gold Eagle Beer
Gold Eagle Beer (4.55%) is one of the hard-to-find mainstream beers. I rarely see this sold in Metro Manila, but I’ve come across this in smaller provinces in the Visayas region like Guimaras, Capiz and Antique. Gold Eagle Beer is moderately light bodied and generally easy to drink. It actually tastes just like Pale Pilsen but with the very nostalgic branding associated with the 1990s when the beer was popular. Locals refer to this as “egol.” I’d actually rank this higher in terms of bottle design alone, except it’s really hard to find in the metro.
6. San Mig Light
San Mig Light or SML is the country’s leading low calorie beer with only 100 calories per 330ml serving and 5% ABV. It tastes very watered down but is easy to drink especially when paired with pulutan (beer chow). This is usually ordered by the bucket for extended drinking sessions. You don’t get that bloated feeling so much drinking this as the other beers. It’s good enough for afternoon drinking sessions when you have no other choice. Tastes much better ice cold. This usually costs P50-65 in restaurants or P300 for a bucket of six.
5. Red Horse Extra Strong Beer
Red Horse (6.9% ABV) is a beer with a distinctive sweetish taste balanced by a smooth bitterness and a strong alcohol kick. For those who want to get wasted quickly, this is the most popular beer of choice because of the higher alcohol content. Red Horse is widely available everywhere in Metro Manila and seems to be very popular in the provinces. Red Horse comes in a regular 500ml size, the smaller Stallion (330ml), Litro (1000ml) and in cans (330ml). Be warned, drinking too much of this can lead to really nasty hangovers.
4. Brew Kettle
Brew Kettle (5.3% ABV) is a locally brewed Belgian witbier-style drink suited for the Philippine climate. Take note, that’s “witbier-style” and not real witbier. Based on the name, branding and design of the beer label, you’d think this was craft beer, but if you’ve tasted the real thing, you’ll know it’s definitely not. Flavors are not that subtle. This has a very strong taste of spices of coriander and orange peel. But Brew Kettle is easy enough to drink and cheaper compared to the real good witbier. Brew Kettle is becoming more widely available in food parks and restaurants around the metro catering to younger drinkers. You can also buy this in grocery stores and select convenience stores. It comes in bottles and cans.
3. San Miguel Pale Pilsen
San Miguel Pale Pilsen (5% ABV) is probably the most popular and most widely available beer for the masses, commonly ordered in buckets in restaurants and bars. You can find this almost anywhere in the country. It’s your average, easy to drink pilsen. For first-timers to the Philippines looking for the most famous and number one selling beer here, this is the most iconic beer you can get. Try to get it ice cold. This usually costs P50-60 in restaurants or P300 for a bucket of six.
2. San Miguel Premium All-Malt Beer (5% ABV)
A better option to Pale Pilsen is San Miguel Premium All-Malt Beer (5% ABV), a smooth, full-flavored, slightly sweetish, golden, premium lager with balanced bitterness. It’s not as widely sold as the other San Miguel Beer variants and comes in green bottles and cans. It’s one of the best tasting options out there for commercial beers, though is more expensive (usually P80 in restaurants).
1. Cerveza Negra (San Miguel Dark Beer) (5% ABV)
Not everyone will agree with me that this is the best, but this is my list and I can rank beers however I want. Cerveza Negra is San Miguel’s Dark Beer, a full-bodied dark lager with rich caramel tones made from roasted pilsen malt. At 5% ABV, Cerveza Negra has the right balance of bitterness and sweetness and a creamy, frothy head. If you like stouts and porters, go for this. It’s not as widely available in restaurants as San Miguel Pale Pilsen and San Mig Light, but can be bought in selected grocery stores. It usually costs a bit more, about P70-80 in restaurants.
NOTE: San Miguel also produces San Mig Zero (2.6% ABV), a beer with only 60 calories designed for health and calorie conscious individuals who want to enjoy their beer guilt-free. It’s so tasteless, it shouldn’t be counted as a beer. They also have San Miguel Flavored Beer (3% ABV), which is beer with sweet fruity flavors (comes in Apple and Lemon flavors). I used to like this but now it just tastes like soft-drinks to me. They’re good enough for pairing with a meal though.
Some other mainstream Philippine beers, which have been discontinued and I can no longer find sold anywhere include:
- San Miguel Strong Ice
- Halili Beer
- Beer Hausen Pale Pilsen
- Max Premium Beer
- Stag Pale Pilsen
- Admiral Beer
- Manila Beer
- Manila Beer Light
I could be wrong though. If anyone has any news about whether these beers are still available somewhere, please let me know in the comments section.
Now that you’ve gotten the mainstream commercial beers out of the way, I highly recommend you try some ofour local craft beer, which taste much better and have really interesting branding and labels that show different aspects of Philippine history, culture and destinations. For a full guide and where to get local craft beer, be sure to check out my separate post: Craft Beers in the Philippines.