Olivia Parker
Jun 11, 2019

Heineken, Johnnie Walker still Asia's favourite alcohol, but some markets put local way ahead

While the international giants have a firm hold on some parts of Asia, homegrown brands such as Moutai in China, McDowells in India and San Miguel in the Philippines still win out with their home markets.

Tiger Beer's new retail space in Singapore's Jewel Changi
Tiger Beer's new retail space in Singapore's Jewel Changi


The winds of change sweeping through some brand categories in Asia have been mere breezes in the world of alcohol, with few spirit and beer bottle brands succumbing to their force in a significant way.

In the beer subcategory, the top three brands in Asia as a whole—Heineken, Carlsberg and Budweiser—remain unmoved in their positions from 2018.

Dutch beer giant Heineken is the favourite in seven Asian markets (Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and New Zealand) and the second favourite in two more (Malaysia and Taiwan). It seems that investments the brand has made to expand its presence in the region over the last few years—it even opened a plant in the tiny Southeast Asian island of East Timor last year—are paying off: in the overall list of the top 1000 brands in Asia, Heineken moved up five places to 70. It remains the highest ranking brand of either beers or spirits on the top 1000 list, despite a slow but steady decline from its peak position of 35 on the rankings, back in 2004.

Heineken’s closest rivals in the beer tent, Carlsberg and Budweiser, slipped down the overall rankings by 17 places to 205 and 21 places to 285, respectively. While Carlsberg has hovered around this mark for the last five years, 205 is its lowest position yet. China, however, is a hopeful market for the Danish-originated brand: it currently ranks as the third favourite beer here after local Tsingtao and Budweiser. China became Carlsberg’s largest single market worldwide in terms of volume sold in July 2018 and saw rising demand for its premium labels, such as Tuborg. It’ll need to heed its rival Budweiser, however, which is consumed more in China now than in the US and is also seen as a premium foreign drink.

Further down the top 10 in beers, Tiger Beer, the Singapore-born brand now owned by Heineken, climbed two spots to fourth position but has been steadily falling in the overall top 1000 ranking since 2013. Last year saw its marketing team launch a ‘Made in Singapore’ focused-campaign (including its first retail space on top of Changi Airport’s new ‘Jewel’ shopping centre) to try and restore some local love for the brand, a smart move given the preference for homegrown names in other Asian markets. These include the Philippines, where San Miguel is number one and its high-alcohol subsidiary Red Horse number two; India, where Kingfisher holds sway; and Taiwan, which consistently likes Taiwan Beer the best.

Switching to the harder stuff, 2019 sees no change to the top four spirits brands in Asia, which remain, in order of preference, Johnnie Walker, Chivas (this evidence of the growing demand for Scotch whisky in Asia), Hennessy and Jack Daniels. Blended scotch whisky brand Ballantine’s jumped four places to seventh position, and also recovered 54 places in the overall top 1000 chart to 591, closer to its position before it dropped a dramatic 261 places from 2017 to 2018.

Closer to home, however, local Asian spirit brands remain hot on the heels of their international counterparts. Japanese whisky brand Yamazaki, which is owned by Suntory, was a new entrant to Asia’s top 1000 brands in 2018* (in 662nd position) and it moved up three places in the list of Asia’s favourite spirit brands from 12th to 9th place this year. It’s Japan’s second favourite spirit: Johnnie Walker ranks 10th in this market.

China, too, has no taste for Johnnie Walker, which falls 17th in its list of preferences. The country’s number one remains Moutai, a brand of baiju made in China’s Guizhou province. Now the world’s most valuable liquor distiller, it is attracting major investors who seek to capitalise on China’s growing taste for pricier goods. Another Chinese baiju, Wuliangye, comes second.

*This doesn’t mean than Yamazaki was not one of Asia’s top 1000 brands, but it was not included in the listing as an option before 2018.

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