It's a sign of good times in the Eastern Hemisphere: Beer is becoming more and more popular in Asia. The BBC reports that last year, residents of the world's largest continent drank a total 67 billion liters of beer, compared to 57 billion in the Americans and 51 billion in Europe.

Considering all of its people, you'd think Asia would have long had other continents roundly beat in beer consumption.

Although Asians are in the lead today, it's a fairly recent development; Asia did not surpass all other continents until 2007. Even today, it is behind per capita.

Good Times Roll

The fact that beer is gaining popularity faster than liquor or wine says something very particular about Asian society today: Things are looking up.

Due to marketing efforts and age group preferences -- or maybe it's just the fizz -- beer tends to be correlated with overall happiness. When people feel down, consumption is down too. Meanwhile, spirits like whiskey, rum and vodka see similar demand in good times and bad.

Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, a consumer research expert with Standard Chartered, told the BBC that beer is therefore a useful indicator of a country's economic health.

"People tend to drink beer in times of growth," he said. "[But] they drink spirits when times are good and when times are bad."

He added that liquor just doesn't seem to have the same "hedonistic" connotations as beer.

"It could be the fizz factor. It's the same element as a soft drink," he said. "When people are enjoying themselves they go for beer."

Drinking It In

It is true that China has enormous potential for economic growth these days, so the alcohol-to-economy correlation certainly seems sound.

A country's drinking habits can say a lot about it and its society. And global trends like trade patterns and recessions can have a real impact on a particular country's methods -- and levels -- of inebriation.

In China, for instance, a strong, clear liquor called baijiu is popular in business circles. Like vodka, it comes in low- and high-end forms. A study last year found that baijiu, and liquors like it, were increasingly prone to abuse by middle-aged men -- perhaps a sign of increased pressure on high-level execs during the global recession.

In Vietnam, well-heeled revelers have been known mix the powder of rhino horns with their drinks in an attempt to prevent hangovers. The expensive practice has come to signify a new class of status-seekers in the country, according to the Global Post, even as it worsened a rhino-poaching epidemic in South Africa.

And speaking of high-status beverages, how about that PBR? Imbibers of America's own Pabst Blue Ribbon, known as a low-end product stateside, were surprised to discover that a spinoff drink called Blue Ribbon 1844 was being treated as a luxury product in Asia. It was given a fancy new bottle and a sale price of $44.

That's not to say the United States has a huge stake in Asia's beer consumption. In China, Germany is the biggest source of imported beer, followed by the Netherlands and Belgium. But China produces the vast majority of its own beer for consumption -- it has more than 500 beer companies employing more than 234,000 people.

And in other countries, growth rates of volume of beer consumption are predicted to be particularly high in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Still, when it comes to beer consumption per capita, the global leaders are still euro zone countries like Austria, Germany and Ireland. In each of these countries, the average citizen drinks more than 100 liters of beer in a year.

But times are tough there -- so if beer really is connected to happiness, maybe Asia will eventually surpass those countries' sky-high per-capita rates.

Bottoms up!