Over five years ago, the craft beer scene in Malaysia was almost non-existent. Then, a little bar called Taps Beer Bar came along, and changed things.
It wasn’t easy at first – the bar struggled to make ends meet for much of its first year. Almost at their wit’s end, the founders of Taps decided on a risky roll of the dice – coming up with the first ever Better Beer Festival (BBF) in 2011.
Although it was a relatively small affair, that first edition of the BBF drummed up enough support from Malaysian craft beer lovers that it helped to sustain their belief that there IS potential in continuing to beat the craft beer drum in Malaysia.
Fast forward five years, and Taps now has two outlets and a craft beer distribution arm called MyBeer, and next month, they will organise the fifth Better Beer Festival, their biggest one yet.
This time around, MyBeer will be joining forces with culinary partner Tiffin for a craft beer extravaganza from Oct 7 to 8 at White Box and The Square in Publika KL @ Solaris Dutamas. The two-day event will feature over 100 unique craft beers from all over the world, including Australia, Japan, the United States, England, Scotland, Denmark, Vietnam, Singapore, Belgium and New Zealand.
During a media preview event at Taps Beer Bar’s outlet in Plaza 1MK, Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, MyBeer co-founder Alvin Lim said that it was time to expand the festival beyond their doors, as they think that more Malaysians are starting to enjoy proper craft beer.
“We’ve had customers coming in unsure at first, and would stick to the more accessible craft lagers,” he said. “But over time, you’d see them coming and their orders changing to other styles, like pale ale, stout, porters…”
There will also be Meet The Brewers sessions with brewers from Japan’s Hitachino Nest, Vietnam’s Pasteur Street Brewing Company, and Australia’s 2 Brothers Brewery and Hawkers Beer; as well as beer appreciation sessions, including one with Brewdog global brand ambassador Kerry Allison.
One of the more intriguing stories of the Better Beer Festival is that of Pasteur Street, Vietnam’s first ever craft brewer. Co-founder John Reid, who was also at the media preview, said that in 2014, the craft beer scene was almost non-existent in Vietnam.
“There was no craft beer at all, not even any imported from the United States,” he said. “I would go out and scour the city for some better beers, but there just weren’t any.
Fed up of drinking the same commercial beers all the time, he and brewer Alex Violette decided to set up their own craft brewery in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City to make the beers they wanted to drink instead.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to develop something in Vietnam. And we also decided to take things further by using locally sourced ingredients to create Vietnam’s first craft beer.”
Among the beers they currently brew are the popular Jasmine IPA, a crisp, refreshing session IPA with a distinct floral yet hoppy nose; the Toasted Coconut Porter, an easy, drinkable porter, with lovely toasted coconut notes; as well as the excellent Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout, which had wonderful toasty cocoa notes on the nose, mocha chocolate malt on the entry, and a creamy, rich body.
While the expats in Ho Chi Minh City took to their beers immediately, it was harder to convince the locals of the virtues of craft beer.
“Initially, the Vietnamese people were coming in, tasting our beer, and saying, that’s not beer!” Reid recalled with a laugh.
“But it’s always awesome to see people who taste our beer for the first time and that look on the face when they realise that beer can taste good! To me, that’s what craft beer is all about – it’s about exploring and trying new things.”
Right now, the challenge is to instill that sort of spirit and curiosity towards craft beer in Malaysian drinkers, and the Better Beer Festival is the perfect place for beer lovers, whether beginner craft beer drinkers or seasoned beer geeks, to enjoy the wonders of craft beer.
Compared to previous BBF events, this edition also looks set to have more of a festival feel, with Tiffin (by Freeform, the folks behind events like Urbanscapes) providing a selection of beer-inspired food, and other craft beer purveyors like Paus (a craft beer bar in Taman Tun Dr Ismail that specialises in Australian beer), and Belgian beer specialists Bruxale Connection.
“This partnership with Tiffin is an important step for us. They are bringing in all sorts of beer-inspired food that will, hopefully, match your palate along with the beers,” said Lim.
A Better Beer Starter Pack for RM70 (regular price) grants you a collectible festival glass, a welcome beer, three craft beer tasters and three sampler-sized food. Tickets for The Better Beer Festival 2016 and the Beer Appreciation Session are available at: www.betterbeerfest16.eventbrite.com. For information, visit the Better Beer Festival 2016 Facebook event page (https://www.facebook.com/events/1449806558366721/).
Michael Cheang thinks it’s about time Malaysia had a proper craft beer festival. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page (facebook.com/mytipsyturvy) or follow him on Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).