Boutique brews make inroads in beer market

Boutique brews make inroads in beer market

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Phnom Penh's Man Han Lou and Munich Beer Restaurant offer drinking alternative for the capital's thirsty beer-lovers

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

The Munich Beer restaurant on Sothearos Boulevard, one of two establishments that brews their own beer.

MICRO-breweries are a relative novelty, as well as rarity, in Cambodia. Chinese-run Man Han Lou opened in February 2007, while its only competitor, Munich Beer, started production in October this year. Together, they bring some much-needed respite to the narrow beer selection in the capital.

At Man Han Lou, four kinds of beers are sold. However, only two are in fact produced under the watchful eyes of the Chinese brewmaster in the vats behind a glass screen at the back of the restaurant.

The Gold beer is a lager with a fresh, malty taste and a cloudy appearance, while the stout is really more of a dark beer than something akin to Guinness, but not objectionable.

Following the assumption that mixing red and white wine makes rose, the lager and stout are blended half and half to produce the Red Ale. Surprisingly, and unlike the end product of a similar experiment with wine, this one actually tastes good. In fact, many patrons favour the ale.

The other variation, Jade Beer, has less appeal. Essentially the same as the Gold, Jade contains natural spirulina extract, a seaweed hailed by some as a "super food" but that makes the beer green. The unnatural colour the drink acquires makes you wonder how natural the additive really is. The change in taste from Gold is miniscule, but there is simply something wrong with drinking green beer. Such experiments had really better be left to keggers on St Patrick's Day.

The brewing process

Both the lager and the stout are made with Australian barley, Czech Xiangjiu flowers and German yeast.

Beyond showing samples of different types of roasted barley, staff at Man Han Lou are largely unable to give details of their "unique, traditional brewing process", as advertised in their brochure. If you are lucky, though, you might see the brewmaster in action behind the screen. Just don't ask what he is doing.

I think there is definitely a

market for micro-breweries in cambodia. We provide an alternative to the regular beers.

Munich Beer restaurant started serving fresh beer brewed on the premises some four weeks ago. Using no chemicals or additives, staff seem convinced their beer is good for one's health.
In addition, they claim that it can be drunk in large quantities without fear of a hangover, due to the relatively low alcohol content (3.5-5 percent).

Munich's Gold lager and a stout that staff behind the scenes refer to as ABC are produced using Australian ingredients and following a German production process.

The lager is similar to Man Han Lou's golden beer-cloudy and malty, but retaining a fresh edge. The stout rather lacks "stoutness" and is instead reminiscent of a dark beer with strong tones of chocolate and coffee coming through.

The process of making beer starts in the two bronze-coloured vats by the outdoor bar at Munich.

Exactly what goes on inside them is lost in translation. Once the process is completed, the resulting liquid is transferred to the steel vats indoors. At this stage, the yeast is added and the mixture is left to ferment under close monitoring for a few weeks.

Once declared ready, the beer is tapped from the vats directly into your tumbler. To ensure freshness, any beer not consumed within a month is discarded.  

"We offer a beer that tastes different," said Ly Sophea, marketing manager at Munich Beer.

"I think there is definitely a market for micro-breweries in Cambodia. We provide an alternative to the regular beers," he added, noting that feedback so far has been largely positive, with several returning customers.

"We are still assessing demand, but it looks good," he said.

Assistant brewer Chan Poly left a career in IT for a future in the beer trade. "I took this job because I like beer," he said. "When the German master brewer first taught us, I thought it was difficult. Now, it's routine. But I want to learn more. I definitely think there are good prospects in beer," he continued.

One problem facing both breweries, however, is the need to import the ingredients.

A novel concept

Beer-lover Ben Schultz at Man Han Lou says he likes the new concept of micro-breweries in Cambodia.

"It's variety, something different," he said before taking a gulp of Red Ale.

Another customer chimed in: "In Vietnam, almost every town has its own beer. It's surprising there is no similar tradition in Cambodia."

Both micro-breweries are also restaurants, with Man Han Lou serving Chinese, Thai and Khmer fare.

Munich Beer specialises in seafood in a traditional, though more up-scale, beer garden setting. It does not, however, have a single German dish on the menu.

While staff at neither Munich Beer nor Man Han Lou brewery seem to be able to explain exactly what they are doing or how - to the extent that one member of staff at Munich Beer claimed the beer was made using rice - both offer something a bit out of the ordinary at affordable prices.

 Regular tumblers at Munich Beer start from US$1.10, while slightly larger ones at Man Han Lou are from $3, with jugs starting at $7.    

Man Han Lou Restaurant is located at #456 on Monivong Boulevard, while Munich Beer restaurant can be found at  #86 Sothearos Boulevard.

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