In the last six years, the amount of beer per year consumed by Cambodians has risen steeply, according to brewmaster Bernd Kirsch, 45, Cambodia’s self-dubbed “ambassador of beer”. The German native saw the chance to conquer the Cambodian market with Ganzerg beer – “a clean beer brewed by German standards” – and start producing in December. Ganzberg is building a new brew house for an extra one thousands of hectolitres of beer for Kirsch to brew. Julius Thiemann reports.
So, forgive our ignorance, what does a brewmaster do?
In the brewery university in Bavaria, we learned a lot of chemistry and microbiology. Looking for the germs we want in the beer and others we don’t is what we do most of the time. The laboratory we have here has equipment in it worth a million dollars. But we’re not drinking all the time or stirring brew kettles. I believe that is what many people think a brew master does.
So staring into a microscope is all there is to the job?
Brew masters can also work in the milk industry, produce soft drinks, juices, coffee, which I have all done as well – it is all really interesting, but it is by far no match for beer. It is like this: if you come to work in the morning and make juice, you can sell it in the evening. But when you prepare beer, you have to wait for three to four weeks until you have the product. And when you want to change something in the production, you have to wait again as long. In addition to that, we work with yeast, a living raw material – our best employee, if you will. In every millilitre of yeast, there are 40 million employees without holiday entitlement and stomach ache.
What fascinates you so much about beer?
The first beer was created by chance. We know that from cave paintings dating back to 8,000 to 6,000 years BC where you see a woman who bakes bread and, next to the table she is baking the bread on, is a container with their drinking water. A lump of the dough falls into the water. Four days later her husband comes and drinks from the container with a straw and it had turned into some kind of beer through a spontaneous fermentation.
Back then, people began to notice that the average life expectancy rose dramatically. But it took a while for people to notice that this could have come from drinking beer. In the end, they found out like this: old people got older, but the child mortality hadn’t changed. When they had beer, they were wondering why they became so lightheaded and happy. The explanation was a ghost that possessed them, and they didn’t want their children to experience that. Eventually, the children were also given beer because people found out it made them live longer.
Why did beer reduce mortality?
That is explained easily. In metabolism, seven acids are produced – carbon dioxide, and alcohol to name a few. Germs don’t like that. Later with the Reinheitsgebot (“German Beer Purity Law”) hops was added, which are also antiseptic. This combination makes beer a drink where lethal germs don’t survive in. You can pour salmonella into beer, and after 10 minutes they are completely gone. In earlier days, people didn’t know that, of course, and thought beer had magical powers because it didn’t make people ill like water. It went so far that generals forbade their armies to drink water from wells and lakes but only beer. In old Egypt, there were alone 240 recipes for medicinal beer for internal and external use.
Do many people in Cambodia have a taste for good beer?
The moment you pour the beer on ice you cannot actually judge it anymore. But I don’t want to educate the people – very often it isn’t possible to cool the beer other than with ice cubes. I must admit that I sometimes drink beer with ice as well because you reduce the amount of alcohol when you are boozing a lot and don’t dehydrate in this heat as quickly. Still, I think Cambodians have started to value good beer. We also want to accelerate that a little by becoming ambassadors of good beer. Maybe if it’s on TV shows, then people will start valuing beer more. For the Cambodian market, you need a clean beer with a little less hops than in Germany. The more hops, the bitterer the beer tastes.
I heard that breweries in Asia put chemicals into their beer to keep it fresh for longer in the heat. Is that true?
It is not only because of the heat but also because it is difficult to get clean work in Asia. That doesn’t mean I am defending the breweries that put chemicals in their beer.
You don’t do that?
Zero, nothing – because I am watching out from the morning until the evening that everything is hygienic, starting from looking if people are washing their hands after going to the bathroom. I take care that there is always soap and sanitiser in the bathroom.
You are also one of the only 500 beer sommeliers worldwide. What is special about that job?
Whisky and coffee testers for example, take a sip, and spit it out again. But man has 4,000 taste buds on the tongue and the buds that taste bitter are in the back. We cannot spit out anything of the beer, otherwise we couldn’t judge it. It’s an amazing job.