Rare-Ass Beer of the Week: Beer Lao (and Champa Garden)

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Beer Lao is a relatively recent addition to the global beer menu. Commercial brewing dates back only to 1973, when some French colonists partnered with local businessmen to start what eventually became the state-controlled Lao Brewery Company. The current beers were developed by head brewer Sivilay Lasachack, who replaced most of the imported barley with domestic rice, producing a less bitter brew more appealing to local palates.

Beer Lao Lager has a good balance of malt and hops with a dry finish. It's similar in style to other Asian lagers such as Phuket, Singha, and Tsingtao, but better, and matches perfectly with Laotian cuisine.

Unfortunately, at the moment, the only place around here where you can get Beer Lao is at Champa Garden in Oakland (2102 8th Av at 21st St), where it's only $2 a 330ml bottle. On the bright side, it's worth the schlep from SF anyway to sample Champa's famous rice-ball salad and other Laotian specialties. Best bets are the #14 Champa Sampler ($9.95), which includes the rice-ball salad, lemongrassy Lao sausages, and fried spring rolls, #16 Laos-style papaya salad ($5.95), #19 preserved pork ($6.95), and #25 grilled beef with roasted rice ($6.95). The Thai and Vietnamese dishes on the menu aren't as exciting. Champa also offers a small selection of great wines from Anderson Valley's Navarro Vineyards.

Any SF retailers or restaurants who'd like to add this tasty beer to their lineup should contact the importer, Kenneth Stutz of Stutz Olive Oil fame.

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