Cambodian craft beers delight expats and tourists alike

Published:  13 May at 6 PM
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Expats in Cambodia are now enjoying locally-brewed craft beers.

Would-be expats who see Cambodia as a totally unfamiliar slice of Southeast Asia might be amazed to know its market for locally-produced craft beers is growing fast. The craving for alternatives to the easily obtained local beers has produced an entirely new market for the real thing, carefully created by enthusiasts and now becoming the latest and hopefully long-lasting fad.

Tourists as well as an increasing community of Western expats first created the demand for similar beers to those available in the home country, and nowadays Cambodians are as enthusiastic as Westerners, eager to try out each new offering as it hits the rapidly-growing market. Over the past five years, the number of Cambodia’s microbreweries has increased from two to twelve, much to the joy of expat devotees as well as their Cambodian equivalents.

The new microbreweries are devoted to producing something very different from the usual beers available in Cambodia’s equivalent of the corner shop or local bar. Some take their inspiration from German beers, others are creating demand for American or Australian-style beers and others are including local brews. The new kid on the block is Embargo, due to launch in Phom Penh next week with a selection of overseas craft beers and long-term popular local brews.

Entrepreneurs are finding the craft beer scene an attractive option well apart from all the usual new ideas, with brewers choosing Cambodia as the markets in Vietnam and Thailand are saturated. For many breweries, craft beers are catering for a growing market, with an expected increase in the numbers of expats as well as tourists along with increasing numbers of Cambodian middle class drinkers. The ease and low cost of setting up a business is another strong attraction.

Starting up a craft brewery has its challenges, including the need to import the majority of the ingredients including grains, yeast and hops from overseas. Cambodia’s customs procedures are inconsistent and very slow, and importing small quantities of anything is expensive. To get around the challenge, several breweries are grouping together, and bulk ordering means cost-sharing. Staffing can also be an issue, with few people experienced at this game. Recent tax hikes on alcohol didn’t help, with taxes on locally brewed beer now standing at 30 per cent.

However, going for quality rather than quantity is working, with fans happy to pay more to get a better-flavoured drink. Riel’s newest offering blends the usual ingredients with toasted coconut, and Cerevisa offers a craft beer brewed with local honey. In addition, it’s cheaper to start a small brewery in Cambodia and it’s also legal, which it isn’t in neighboring Thailand, with 90 per cent of the craft beers brewed in Cambodia ending up in Thailand and Singapore.
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