It's a different picture, however, in emerging Asia. China is now the world's largest consumer and producer of beer. At 42 million kiloliters, China's production has increased 104 percent between 1999 and 2009, according to the Kirin Institute. It now produces almost twice the amount of beer produced in the United States annually.
But the fragmented nature of China's beer industry makes it a tough place for investors, according a report by Standard Chartered Bank. "The two top brewers control just a third of the market. The brewery business is highly fragmented, with many small regional players," it said.
Instead, investors may find better opportunities in Southeast Asia, Stanchart's research analyst Nirgunan Tiruchelvam said. The region is experiencing strong beer demand, he added, with sales expected to grow at an average rate of 6 percent in the next three years. And the cash-rich Western brewers are paying attention.
"There are two principle drivers of beer demand in Asia. Number one — we see more young people entering working age. When that happens there is an increased demand for beer, and that's seen in a number of markets in the region," Tiruchelvam said.
He cited a change in the class demographic as the second reason. "More people are entering the middle class demographic and that is clearly the case in Thailand and Philippines, where the core of our recommendations are," Tiruchelvam said
What makes the region especially attractive is the valuation of beer companies in ASEAN. The region's brewers trade at a 20 to 30 percent discount to the world's largest brewers, making them "alluring acquisition opportunities", he noted.
His top picks are Singapore-listed Thai Beverage, which makes Chang beer, and San Miguel of the Philippines.
Stanchart expects Thai Beverage's stock to rise 37 percent over the next 12 months and San Miguel's shares to rise 36 percent. Both stocks trade at attractive valuations, according to the bank, with Thai Beverage at 11 times next year's earnings and San Miguel at 17 times. San Miguel, especially, has an extremely strong franchise selling 9 out of every 10 beers sold in the Philippines, it has been widely reported.