Think you’ve got what it takes to make a low-cost watery Asian pilsener in an industrial setting? Cambodia’s newest brewing group is hiring. From Probrewer:
Kingdom Brewery (Cambodia) Ltd., Southeast Asia’s youngest boutique brewery is seeking a Brewer to join our team in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. Responsibilities are recipe formulation, production of beer, QA/QC, stock management, packaging, distribution scheduling, maintenance of plant equipment general upkeep of the main brewery and other associated duties including training of the Cambodian production staff.
We look for a brewer who is fit with a hard work, hands on ethic and who is able to handle people of a very different cultural background. What we offer is a competitive salary and a very pleasant working environment.
Get your curriculum vitae through to email@example.com
A beer named after sheep, at least in a homonymical sense.
There’s a tuning fork on the can which is all that I’m guessing will differentiate this “special lager” from any other Asian lager. As with most of the less trustworthy beers, no point of origin is specified on the can. Thong Imex, the purported brewer, could be from anywhere; in fact the can mentions that they only supervise the brewing of this beer. No nation or specific company is responsible for what is to come.
Thong Imex Import Export says: “Made from 100% Premium malt Imported from Germany and Australia, YOU Beer has the wonderful flavor which is ready for you to celebrate with your friends anytime, anywhere. Manufactured using the most modern lines in the ASEAN. Imported and Installed by Krones and Huppman, the world famous brewing company.”
I say: Like most pan-ASEAN lagers, this one is straw-colored and has a perfunctory soapy head but unlike other beers from the ASEAN, this one has some chemical bitterness with a metallic, copper-y aftertaste. Hopefully that metal hasn’t come from the world famous brewing company, Krones and Huppman, or their modern but poorly maintained lines. The aroma is dominated by boiled cabbage and the taste of cardboard. I imagine this is what the Ukraine smells like in its most productive year.
Location: 330ml can. Found at Lucky Supermarket, Phnom Penh. Further distribution unknown.
I leave Phnom Penh for a month and a half to discover that firstly, there is a microbrewery that has been in operation for four months and secondly, that it is located not more than 200 metres from my house. There is some injustice that I leave Cambodia in a few days time.
Man Han Lou Restaurant, a gargantuan Chinese-Khmer eatery south of the Monivong-Mao Tse Toung intersection, has extended their lower level to include a mash tun and five shiny stainless steel fermentors for brewing four different beers: a pale ale (Gold); an amber ale (Red); a porter-cum-stout (Black); and a Green beer of unknown class. Their setup looks clean and temperature-controlled behind glass at the back of the bar. At night the restaurant is hard to miss, being lit in blue fairy lights like a low-rent Smurf casino.
The pale ale (Gold) is a cloudy change from the crystal clear local brews. It’s light on the hops and malt but unlike every other Cambodian beer, you can actually discern that hops and malt are used in its manufacture. The Black is a neutral stout at the bottom end of the alcohol range. It’s no Extra Klang. For a stout, it makes for easy drinking and a great beer to convert the non-stout drinking masses to the concept that stout can make for a top tropical heat tipple. Both the amber (Red) and the Green beer are undistiguished, which does beg the question of what colorant is used in the Green and for what purpose?
Price: Man Han Lou Gold Beer, US$2 for 400ml, others $2.50
Location: Man Han Lou Restaurant, 456 Monivong Blvd, Phnom Penh
Karakuchi! Thanks again to corruption, the Cambodian Government’s coffers have been left super dry.
Millions of bottles and cans of beer imported from Singapore and Thailand simply disappeared at the Cambodian border before being taxed, the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC) said in a report commissioned by two local breweries, Cambrew and Cambodia Brewery Limited.
“With weak governance and law enforcement, ‘contraband’ beer has … been booming,” the EIC said, adding that the smuggled brew accounted for 29 per cent of the country’s total beer market, far outstripping legal imports at 6 per cent.
The EIC says the Japanese beer Asahi, the cheapest foreign brand on the market, made-up the largest percentage of imported beer.
One of the strangest things about Asahi Super Dry in Cambodia is that Chinese-, Thai- and Japanese-brewed Asahi all make it onto the market at exactly the same price (around $9.50 per case). You can tell the difference between the Japanese and the other two before you taste them because the Japanese version has three rings in the lip of the can, as seen in figure 1 below, and the real thing will occasionally have Japanese promotional stickers on the cases and individual cans.
Figure 1 – Know your contraband beer
See: Cambodia losing millions to beer smuggling
Brewer: Siam Winery Co Ltd
Spy Black Wine Cooler – A delicious blend of the finest wine, sparkling mineral water and natural ingredients: the Siam Winery Co has the temerity to write those exact words on the bottle. Maybe the finest wine that Thailand has to offer actually is in Spy, hidden beneath Thailand’s finest sugar and edible industrial chemicals. It pours as black as it looks but with a faint portwine edge. As much as I was hoping for either “Guinness”, “Black Pudding” or “Coal” flavour, the chemical nose betrays the taste of faux-grape and sugar syrup. Alcohol by volume 7%.
Spy Ice Wine Cooler – Anything that is advertised as “ice” flavour that is neither based on crystal methamphetamine nor frozen water is cause for immediate suspicion. Ice is a naturally occurring crystalline solid and calling it anything otherwise is an affront to physics. Slight nose of lemon-scented car freshener. Syrupy mouthfeel. Like a drunken, van-less Mr Whippy had stirred a lemonade-flavored icy pole through a glass of stale Spumante. Altogether, the best Spy I have ever tasted and the clear victor. ABV 4%.
Location: Most larger drink stores, Cambodia-wide
Phnom Penhois love their coffee. I don’t love Phnom Penhois coffee but we have reached a mutually agreeable détente. I sneak off to get my Illy espresso to assuage my crema fixation at a frankly ludicrous price or brew my own at home with my emergency macchinetta, and don’t unduly hassle the locals. My tastes are for thick, rich and Italian thanks to my inherited Melburnian coffee fetishism. While the local coffee is both eminently drinkable and well caffeinated, it isn’t for what I pine. It is an issue of process rather than raw ingredient.
The Cambodian method could not be simpler. Boiled water is poured into a fine cloth sock containing a few hundred grams of finely ground beans, and the water and resulting coffee percolate into the purpose-made ceramic vessel below. From this master brew, there are four variations: hot or iced, with sweetened condensed/tinned milk or without. There is a marked preference for iced coffee with either sweetened condensed milk and/or for drinkers to add four to five teaspoons of sugar. This oversweetening is possibly to offset the general bitterness of the dark-roasted local beans and to cater to the indigenous preference for maximising calories per dollar.
Coffee brewed in the local manner can be found anywhere that you see one of those brown coffeepots and a string of the coffee socks hanging out to dry by their wire handle. Most small roadside breakfast vendors brew their own and larger chains such as T&Coffee World or the execrable Lucky 7 cater to Phnom Penh’s more affluent crowd. The above coffee was from the corner of st.432 and 155, who also roast Cambodian coffee beans, and was notable for the degree of smoke flavour that their personal roasting style added to the brew. Not a trace of pork flavour.
See also: Roasting Coffee, Phnom Penh-style, The best coffee in Phnom Penh?
One of the rare disappointments that I’ve had when hunting the provinces for Cambodian food is finding Cambodian coffee. I’ve been to the far northeast, met the growers in their villages, and then wandered about Banlung in search of fresh Java with increasing and unfulfilled desperation.
What I ended up discovering in my brief Ratanakiri-ward sojourn is that there is a disconnection between growing and roasting coffee within Cambodia. Rumour has it that a Cambodian roastery briefly existed in Ratanakiri until growers were offered a better price from Vietnamese buyers. Bulk beans are now shipped from Cambodia’s north east, processed across the border in Vietnam, then imported back to Cambodia as a finished product. While I can confirm the rumour with at least one bulk coffee vendor in Phnom Penh, it still has an air of disingenuousness about it because on a small scale, coffee is easy to roast. All you need is an oven, some patience and a good deal of practice. Or alternately, a popcorn popper.
Thus it was an embarrassing bitch slap to the face to discover that a café within walking distance of my house roasts local beans. The process is relatively simple. Sok (pictured) rotates the beans in a metal drum over white hot charcoal.
When they approach the correct degree of blackness (Phnom Penhois tend to prefer a black-as-pitch roast), Sok adds a cup of rendered pork fat, gives the drum a few more quick rotations to let the fat partly burn off, then dumps them onto a waiting mat to cool.
The coffee smoke is so rich that I’m surprised that I could not smell it from my house and I’m still not sure of the best method to remove it from my clothes. I’m not even sure if I want to remove it.
I find it comforting that even my coffee has meat in it, vegans probably less so.
Location: Corner of st.432 and 155, near Psar Tuol Tom Poung (Russian Market). Coffee is roasted in the afternoons around 3pm.
It says something very special about the Cambodian national psyche that the nation’s two most popular beers share the same name. APB, the now-owners of this pan-Asian trash beer, somehow convinced Cambodia to pronounce their pilsener “Anne Chore” instead of “Angkor”. In a more just and reasonable world, the correct pronunciation would be “aing churr” which approximates the words “barbecued sick” in grammatically nonsensical Khmer.
APB says: “Anchor was first brewed in Singapore over 70 years ago using German technology and brew masters. Anchor’s value-for-money positioning and its refreshing and signature crisp taste have clearly struck a chord with drinkers in over 10 countries in Asia.”
I say: With a little more fine-tuning of their German technology, APB could release the first beer that is both colour and flavour of a crisp mountain stream. Initial aroma of rotting straw counts as a redeeming quality because it confirms that I haven’t accidentally poured myself a glass of aluminium-flavoured soda water. Like a b-grade slasher film, there was no head or body, just the inescapable sweet aftertaste of corn syrup faux-blood.
Availability: Absolute ubiquity in Cambodia. In cans and draught.
See also: Angkor Lager
For those of you unfamiliar with the pantheon of Australian beer, Australia has a similarly named Crown Lager. For countless years, it masqueraded as a premium lager, thinly disguised behind its smug golden foil cap and flowery font. I still harbour the lurking suspicion that it is actually Foster’s Lager in a fancy bottle, but wouldn’t know, because Australians don’t actually drink Foster’s.
Sadly, you can’t polish a turd.
The best thing I can say about Gold Crown is that unlike Crown Lager, it holds no delusions of grandeur. The worst thing I can say about it is that it smells like boiled cabbage. Along with the light vegetable aroma, there is a little malt sweetness and it is slightly thicker than your average forgettable Asian lager. In 2004, Gold Crown received a bronze medal in the World Beer Cup in the European Style Pilsener category. According to my handy beer judging guide:
European Pilseners are straw/golden in color and are well-attenuated. This medium-bodied beer is often brewed with rice, corn, wheat, or other grain or sugar adjuncts making up part of the mash. Hop bitterness is low to medium. Hop flavor and aroma are low. Residual malt sweetness is low; it does not predominate but may be perceived. Fruity esters and diacetyl should not be perceived. There should be no chill haze.
In non-beer nerd speak: European-style pilseners should be as bland as humanly possible. Cambodia should consider itself proud to be home to another beer whose crowning achievement is a bronze medal in vapidity.
Cambodia Brewery says that Gold Crown is aimed at the “economy” segment of the market, which in Cambodia, is practically everyone that can afford beer. Those guys are marketing geniuses.
If I could crown this beer, I would dub thee: King Insipid Of Rotting End
Availability: All Cambodia, but tends not to be stocked in tourist/expat bars. Can only.
Brewer: Siam Winery Co Ltd
One of my friends in Australia was obsessed for a mercifully short period of time with creating a “lolly pie” by melting down lolly snakes (or Gummy snakes for my American readership) and then pouring the resulting lukewarm mash into a blind-baked pie crust. If I had intervened at some point and suggested pouring the hot candy sludge into a cheap 4 litre cask of red wine, the resulting candied wine beverage would be named Spy Red.
The initial nose of American grape jello with a hint of latex did not augur well. On tasting, the lightly carbonated faux-grape and raspberry syrup made me realize that if red Jelly Babies could urinate, I now know where they would. The 6% alcohol by volume is completely submersed under the weight of the sugar and synthetic additives.
The small label on the bottle is curiously informative, offering a practical recipe if you were keen replicate Spy Red in your own home:
Sparkling Water 41%
Citric Acid 0.2%
Natural Flavours 0.1%
Location: Most larger drink stores, Cambodia-wide
Price: Unknown, unceremoniously dumped at my house after a barbecue.
If this wine cooler was preferred by an enslaved mythical race, it would be: Oompa Loompa