A new Cambodian brewery is hiring

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 ceo@kingdombreweries.com

Me Tarzan, YOU-Beer

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.

ABV: 5%

Location: 330ml can. Found at Lucky Supermarket, Phnom Penh. Further distribution unknown.

Phnom Penh Microbrew

Man Han Lou Gold Beer, Phnom Penh

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

The case of the disappearing beer

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

Anchor Smooth Pilsener

Anchor Smooth Pilsener

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

Gold Crown Beer

Gold Crown Beer, Cambodia

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.

Five (Cambodian) foods you should eat before you die

I generally don’t jump on the meme bandwagon. When one of my favourite food web loggers, Austin at RealThai tags me for it, and Robyn at EatingAsia jumps on as well, it certainly can’t hurt to be seduced this time.

In 2004, BBC published a voter-recommend list of “foods to to eat before you die” which mostly proved that democracy does not work. Huge food blog Traveler’s Lunchbox pointed this out recently and sent out the call to food bloggers to nominate something better. Being the pimp of Khmer cuisine that I have become, here is my list of Cambodian foods to eat before you meet your untimely, but not wholly unexpected, denouement.

– It’s a little hard to wax lyrical about any food that is both the color grey and made from gutted, mashed then fermented animals. But if Cambodia was to replace the architectural ruin on their national flag with a foodstuff, prahok would be the most representative and versatile but the least visually appealing. You can eat this fermented fish paste raw, cooked, as a dipping sauce, and as a crucial ingredient in many typical Khmer foods.

Samlor Machou Yuon – Delicious sour soup and geopolitics, together at last. “Samlor Machou” refers to the whole genus of typical Khmer sour soups. “Yuon” refers to Vietnam or Vietnamese. Whether or not “Yuon” is a racial slur is a subject of huge debate, but it does show that when it comes to food, Cambodian people are passionate about their place in the world, and simultaneously defensive and acknowledging of the influence of other cultures’ cuisines on theirs. All of this in a tamarind-sour soup, no less.

Kampot Pepper – If you thought that all the French left behind in Cambodge was the seeds of bureaucratic corruption, madcap defamation laws, and some decaying colonial architecture, then think again. Never in my life have I been tempted to eat a spoonful of unadulterated peppercorns straight out of their plastic bag. Both fresh and dried Kampot pepper induces this sort of madness. Describing pepper as decadent seems to be something that was lost in the High Middle Ages: a decadence that the manganese rich soil of Kampot has managed to retain.

Fish Amok – If there were two words of French origin with “mousse” in them that I could never say enough, one would be “mousseline”. However, describing fish amok as a “mousseline fish curry” does not capture the clever subtlety of the dish, which balances fresh turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, krachai and palm sugar with the almost uniquely Cambodian ingredient, slok gno leaf (Morinda Citrifolia in Latin). Not to mention that most Khmer people tend to prefer a more liquid, un-mousse-like amok.

Cambodian BeerCambodian beer will always have a place in my heart, right next to that blood fluke that I caught while swimming in the Mekong. It’s certainly not all that bad, only most of it. What Cambrew and Cambodia Brewery do well is consistency. I’ve got no doubts that they could brew excellent beers given a larger budget, but the market for a quality brew in Cambodia would be so minute that there is no incentive. You shouldn’t expect much when you pay $10 or less per 24 cans, and frankly, it pays to come down from the ivory tower of hand-pulled real ales to fraternise with the locals.

For those of you reading closely, the other French word would be “pamplemousse”.

Khmer: The National Alcohol Beverage

Khmer Beer

Brewer: Some guys out in Daun Mann

As I opened this bottle of cold Khmer, I was reminded of an edition of the blog Steve, Don’t Eat It!. Not content with eating corn smut or the original Steve Urkel breakfast cereal ten years past its use-by date, Steve decides to brew his own prison wine (or “pruno” in the American prison vernacular). He refers to the Jim Hogshire 1994 classic “You Are Going To Prison”:

One of the problems you have right away with making wine in prison is the difficulty getting yeast. It’s a strictly forbidden item and you might not be able to get any. In this case you can improvise the by using slices of bread, preferably moldy (but not dry) and preferably inside a sock for easier straining.”

The initial aroma wafting from my Khmer smelled as if it had been created with moldy bread strained through a sock. A sock that Satan himself had been wearing on a particularly loathsome day in the sulphur mines. The rotten egg notes continue through to the flavour, where they seem to cut through the mouth-puckering sourness and overwhelm anything else in this beverage. The brew has a slight natural effervescence which only serves to make things worse. Alcohol by volume was listed as 4.5%, so there wasn’t much hopes that a few swift gulps could anaesthetise my tastebuds into submission.

There are at least one hundred uses for the ubiquitous sugar palm tree in Cambodia and this is the very worst.

If this beverage was jailed, it would be for: Grand Theft Hydrogen Sulfide

Availability: Bottle only, in drink stores.

See also: Taipei Times interviews the Khmer beer manufacturers.

Take your stinking paws off my stout, you damned dirty ape!

New to the Cambodian blog scene, Details are Sketchy reprints the Cambodia Daily’s monkey o’ the day scoop: jealous ape hooked on stout.

Forestry officials will investigate reports that customers at a Battambang province restaurant have been plying a pet monkey with multiple cans of ABC Stout after it developed a taste for the eight-percent alcoholic drink, an official said Wednesday.

Three-year-old Mira recently started drinking at least three cans of stout per day, apparently to cope with jealously caused by waitresses pretending to flirt with male customers, according to Rath Sorphea, owner of Sorphea Restaurant in Battambang district.

Too much monkey-related news is never enough.

Previously on Phnomenon: ABC Stout

Cambodian Beers a No-Show

Despite being entrants since its inception and proudly displaying their medals on the bottle, none of Cambodia’s breweries entered the 2006 Australian International Beer Awards. Regionally, BGI, Chang Light, Beer Lao and Myanmar Beer all made an effort, with Chang Light receiving a bronze in the International Lager – Other section.

For a full listing of the 2006 winners and losers, read the AIBA catalogue of results. For anyone loosely interested in small breweries, the list of exhibitors at the end is a good wrap up of the rapidly expanding list of microbreweries in Australia.