Bintang Beer, the Drink of Champions

Indonesia can boast everything that Zappa dreamed of – except that the archipelago hasn’t gone nuclear. The Republic of Indonesia isn’t exactly a virgin when it comes to brewing beer, and she prides herself on three locally-created ales – the ubiquitous Bintang Pilsener; Bintang’s cheaper, more bitter sidekick Anker; and Bali’s niche, sickly-sweet Bali Hai. But if push comes to shove? It’s PT. Multi Bintang Indonesia’s Bintang beer – brewed under the watchful eye of Holland’s drinks company, Heineken – that has always won over Indonesia’s thirstiest hearts and throats.

It’s Everywhere, Chief

Fittingly, bintang in Indonesian means ‘star’. And in this country, it’s a champ. The beer’s Heineken-style, red-starred logo can be seen on merchandise across the length and breadth of the archipelago: from cigarette lighters and baseball caps to the flashing beacons outside some of the country’s darker karaoke bars – and to the walking beer adverts dressed in Bintang T-shirts and tank-tops that criss-cross the hot streets of Bali’s Kuta.

Bintang stubby holders for sale in Ubud market, Bali, Indonesia
Bintang stubby holders on sale in Ubud Market, Bali.

The Making of Bintang, Indonesia’s most famous beer – by PT Multi Bintang Indonesia Tbk (in Indonesian).

Bintang, Bintang Zero and Bintang Radler

Bintang beer is a brave attempt at a pale, American-style lager – boasting a malty, hoppy finish not far from its parent ale, Heineken. It isn’t the weakest beer in the world: weighing in at a hefty 4.7%, it won’t take many in Indonesia’s tropical heat to make you wish you’d stuck to the fruit juice.

PT Multi Bintang Indonesia Tbk also brews a local version of Heineken for the Indonesian market – while Heineken’s step-daughter Bintang now comes in three flavours. There’s the standard, full-alcohol pilsner that decorates bar-tops from Sumatra to Flores; the newer, Muslim-friendly, alcohol-free version aptly named ‘Bintang Zero’; and the newest, lemonade-like ‘Bintang Radler’ – weighing in at a mummy-friendly 2% alcohol.

Get Your Bintang Shirt On

Many of the world’s keenest beer enthusiasts have swilled Bintang around their highly-trained palates and arrived at verdicts ranging from: “Very weak taste”, to “Good fizz and a fair amount of malt; a very light beer that pours a lighter shade”. Let’s face it: Bintang isn’t about to win any top awards at the Oktoberfest. But much can be forgiven after the first cool mouthful on a hot day.

If you’re from the UK, try ordering a bottle in one of the further-flung corners of Indonesia: it’ll be reassuringly warm, just like back home. If you’re from the USA, and you arrive during a power-cut, you might want to ‘get local’: ask for some es batu (‘ice-block’), chip away at it until it fits in your glass, let it settle for a moment… and sip. It’s an acquired taste, but it’s refreshing. And it rehydrates you, too.

Bintang T-shirt for sale in Ubud Market, Bali, Indonesia
Bintang T-shirt for sale in Ubud Market, Bali, Indonesia.

Bintang: The Verdict

More than a few international travellers have emptied a bottle or two of Indonesia’s fizziest: from the darkest corners of Jakarta’s nightclubs to the brightest Sumbawan beach. The honest verdict? As a tropical lager that has been designed for cool refreshment over flavour, it wins every time.

After all, it’s usually the only beer on the menu.

Bintang bottle and glass
A cold Bintang waits to be poured into its owner’s glass.

Glossary

  • bintang – star
  • bir – beer
  • dingin – cold (‘Tolong, minta satu bir Bintang dingin’ – ‘Can I have a cold Bintang beer please?’)
  • es – ice
  • selamat minum! – cheers!