We talk to some of the leading and new craft beer producers based in the Kingdom of Cambodia. There are more than a dozen breweries, microbreweries, nano breweries and taprooms now listed.
How easy is it for them to do business in Cambodia though, and how positive are these entrepreneurs about the growth of the craft beer industry?
In this two-part series, we look at the potential of the craft beer market in Asia as well as the growth in SEA and Cambodia. We assess the possible road ahead for local producers and speak to some of the Cambodian craft brewers to hear how they have set up in the Kingdom addressing the positives and negatives.
Cambodia Craft Brewery Industry: (Part Two)
We counted over 20 craft beer and cider producers in Cambodia in our research for these articles. In the past, some breweries focussed purely on the export market, producing to order for the larger markets in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and others.
Himawari and Kingdom breweries can claim to be the first and oldest craft breweries in the Kingdom of Cambodia, but since around 2018 the competition has grown enormously and brewers are untapping the potential of the market in Cambodia.
You can read more about the market growth in Cambodia Craft Brewery Industry: Part One
Cambodian craft brewers
We reached out to a number of Cambodian brewers to hear about their businesses, their growth and experiences of doing business in the Kingdom. Some did not respond or want to be interviewed at this time.
Cerevisia Craft Brewery
Having launched in 2013, Cerevisia is an old hand in terms of the relatively young Cambodian craft beer industry. They have expanded to have three of their own locations in 2020 and even rolled out a mobile beer tuk-tuk delivery system during COVID-19 to deliver craft beer to customers homes in Phnom Penh.
Cerevisia translates as Latin for beer, and we were informed by the brewer’s owner and founder, American Erich Phillips, about the company’s roots in Cambodia. “Like many craft brewers around the world, we start with a love of beer and end with the joy of sharing it with others. My story is no different.
I didn’t come to Cambodia to start a brewery, but I found a community of friends who encouraged us to take our hobby and turn it into a business.”
Erich added “Our brewery started out of necessity, of sorts. In 2013, there were a limited few craft beers entering the market, and only 2 local microbreweries. I can recall the days of desperately visiting USA Donut in BKK for their rare bottles of New Belgium’s Amber Ale, “Fat Tire”.
The restaurant, Deco, had a secret stash of imported English Ales. It was a desperate struggle to find something that reminded us of home. In the first year, we brewed at home every Sunday just for the joy of brewing.
Oftentimes, we would host “Keg Cleaning” parties, which meant that we would invite a group of friends to the house and explain that the keg needs to be empty by the end of the night because we need it for the brew day tomorrow! Those friends around the kitchen table were the first to ask us to add our beer to their restaurants. We started our business by pure chance.”
How easy was it to register the Cerevisia business and beer products in Cambodia?
As I’m a guest in Cambodia, it’s important to follow the laws. We are proud to be a fully compliant taxpayer, contributing to the growth of the economy. The process was straightforward and simple.
Much like most things in Cambodia, it takes time and the capacity to accept or tolerate delays, or problems, without becoming anxious.
To register new products, we bottled our beer and took it to the ministry for them to test. Its simple and straight forward.
How optimistic are you on the future growth of the Cambodian craft beer scene?
Over the past 7 years, the food and beverage market has moved from a focus on expats, to a new and vibrant Cambodian middle class. Today, I see more Cambodian entrepreneurial spirit, franchises, and culinary curiosity. The blue ocean market is shrinking though. There are now 20 microbreweries in Cambodia and we receive imported craft beers from our neighbouring countries every day.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. COVID-19. I’m tired of talking about the “C” word, but it is an honest economic concern for this country we call home. I have heard of economists reporting on the impact of consumers trending down market; opting out of fine dining and choosing more often a casual evening.
If you’ve been furloughed, you might reach for a $0.50 lager, rather than a $3.50 pint. I believe that Cambodia’s economy will recover much quicker than her neighbours. Much like the global recession in 2008, Cambodia was less affected as a result of their comparatively fewer global market ties. Domestic consumers are travelling and buying, and as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, the tourism sector will rebound.
What products and services does Cerevisia offer?
We serve Damn Fine Beer for Damn Fine People. Joking aside, we are proud to share local craft beer in bottle and draft to your neighbourhood restaurant and private parties. Our beers are all-natural, with local ingredients.
Recently, we added our “Beer Bar Tuk Tuk” to respond to the COVID crisis. Give our Tuk Tuk a call and we will take cold craft beer on tap, right to your door!
The full range of over a dozen Cerevisia beers is listed here.
What would you say are the main pros and cons of doing business in Cambodia?
The boring answer is that breweries in Cambodia deal with challenges of supply chain and bridging a skills gap within an industry which did not exist a decade ago.
I love Cambodia, because of the community I see every day. I’m proud that Cerevisia Craft Brewery brings people together, either at Botanico, Odom Park, Craft Beer Garden on St. 144, or over a cold beer at your local restaurant.
If you know anything about the Muppets, all Kermit the Frog wanted, was to make people happy. As an owner of a brewery, I just want to be like Kermit.
Stone Head Cambodia
Stone Head Cambodia started brewing in Koh Kong, Cambodia in 2015 due to the tough Thai brewery laws which make Craft Beer production virtually impossible, and exported their craft beer. In May 2019, they started selling within Cambodia. Stone Head came from the Thai word “Hua Kheng”; which translated into English means, “Stubborn”.
Elliot Grace, Stone Head Cambodia’s sales and marketing director told us; “Our founders essentially set out in the search for unique flavours and styles, culminating in the range that we have today. They loved the sense of community and kinship found with drinkers who take pride in what they drink and have a shared passion for quality and craftsmanship.
The central aim was to produce the beers and flavours that satisfied their own personal tastes and be able to present them to other people as the way they like to enjoy beer – to share their tastes and creativity.”
What made you turn your attention to Cambodia?
With the growth in demand for unique, quality craft beer in Cambodia reaching beyond the traditional expat and tourism market; we felt it was the right time to also give Khmer beer lovers a greater opportunity to take pride in their choice to support a domestic craft brewer.
There were, of course, several craft microbreweries already operating and some imported brands, but the fact that new craft-focused operations were springing up all the time demonstrated a real opportunity in the sector.
We felt we had a range which offered something for everyone with the increasing popularity of craft beer in Cambodia too hard to ignore any longer.
How long did it take to setup Stone Head craft beer in Cambodia?
Approximately 18 months with 10 months to register the company with the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce (the Patent Tax etc) and around 3 months to set up the brewery. Following that, it took 4 months to brew the first beers. We get all products checked and passed by the ILCC (Industrial Laboratory Center of Cambodia).
We have a production capacity of 16,000 litres per month and our Cambodian operation has a team of 7 that runs independently and is wholly responsible for marketing, sales and distribution.
Our brewmaster is Thai, Mr. Sermsak Tangsiripatporn (who has a medical laboratory background). He has been with us from the start and has created the whole Stone Head product line.
How do you assess the market potential of craft beer in Cambodia?
As with many businesses, we are all seeing a dramatic effect of the current pandemic situation. Many of our hotels, bars and restaurants are temporarily closed; so we are not seeing as much demand from the hospitality sector as usual. We do sell in a number of retail outlets that remain open.
Crucially we also sell online via our website; providing free delivery within Phnom Penh.
We are still brewing normally to ensure we are stocked for when the business starts to return to normal and to respond to retailers’ demands.
We have several outlets in Kampot, Battambang, Koh Kong and Siem Reap. Our focus in 2019 was launching into Phnom Penh; setting up our organisational and logistical structures and establishing the brand in Phnom Penh. The positive impact has been such that several bars and restaurants around the country contacted us, who we now supply direct.
In 2020 we had planned to fully launch in Siem Reap; setting up a distribution hub. Whilst these plans are still our vision, we will need to assess the impact COVID-19 will have this year to all industries and businesses.
We have recently started a viability study on relocation. The aim is to expand our production to meet the growing needs of the Cambodian market as well as others. We are currently assessing options which may result in building a facility elsewhere in Cambodia.
It is early days in the process but we do expect to require larger production facilities within the next 2 years.
What are your most popular beers?
We have a range of 10 beers, broad enough to appeal to all nationalities and genders.
Through the use of Asian influenced ingredients and flavours, we are able to provide new experiences for all beer lovers be they seasoned drinkers or first-time experimenters.
For those seeking the traditional craft ale brew, we also have wonderful IPA’s, Pale and Amber Ales and Witbiers.
IPA’s are always a prominent option in any range. The uniqueness of our Smiling Evil Pale Ale is proving very popular, as are our stouts; the award-winning The Dark Side and our truly inspired Hazelnut and Chocolate Stout, which is an incredible beer experience.
We also have recently launched a trial batch of Durian beer which got a great reaction! We were also awarded the “World’s Best Beer 2017” by The World Beer Awards in London for our The Dark Side Stout.
What are the Cambodian craft consumers looking for?
I think consumers are always looking for choice and quality. Whereas they may not have previously chosen a mysterious cask ale; the opportunity now with bottles and cans allows greater flexibility and choice.
Here in Asia, there is both a large expat and tourist market, as well as an emerging local middle class looking for the uniqueness of taste; bringing people who are aware of the choices available elsewhere together, they will continue to demand the opportunity to try local craft beers.
Two Birds Craft Beer (Cambodia)
We spoke with Connor Cheney Kirsch, the Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager of BeerPro Import Export Co. Ltd. and is leading the TwoBirds Craft Beer project.
Previously the BeerPro range was available at Hops Craft Beer Garden. In 2019, they separated from Hops, moved into the FACTORY Phnom Penh, and are expanding their brewery.
Kirsch added “we now also have a state of the art beverage tasting area with pool, darts, kicker and beer pong, an event space with a stage and live music and a brewery shop.
We officially opened our space on the 2nd of August 2020. Next year (2021) we will expand this with our phase 2 plan of a beer museum, a brewing school, a laboratory, and a new brand of Craft Whiskey.
This move also marked the official launch of our new brand Two Birds Craft Beer, which was previously known as Hops beer or BeerPro beer. We started developing the TwoBirds recipes at Hops; so we have been brewing TwoBirds since around 2016, although we only launched the Two Birds brand with our move in 2019. We currently have 6 main products: Timeless Lager, German Wheat, Mighty Stout, Colonial IPA, Mango Cider and Snake Bite.”
Two Birds tells the story of a father and his son, who moved to Cambodia to pursue their dream – just like two German birds who migrated to a warm country in the South-East during the cold winter months.
Is there a strong beer brewing background with your family?
My grandfather (Willi Kirsch) was a passionate and hardworking entrepreneur with big dreams. The Kirsch family has always worked for breweries, juice companies, coffee roasters, bars, hotels, and other food and beverage related enterprises. However, Willi was the first person to own a company. He also had big dreams for his son and always talked about South-East Asia.
My father (Bernd Kirsch) followed Willi’s entrepreneurial footsteps. He has a Master in Brewing and Malting, is a qualified beer sommelier, a coffee roaster, a beverage dispensing system expert, a business economist, a safety engineer, and an ISO and HACCP consultant. For 20 years he has built and managed several brewery projects in Germany, South Korea, South Africa, Namibia, and Cambodia. He has also consulted other projects in Germany, Denmark, Brazil, Samoa, and Cambodia.
What projects has your family and BeerPro been involved with in Cambodia?
One of the large-scale brewery projects that we have built, managed and consulted was the Ganzberg brewery in Cambodia. This is also where we first started brewing in Cambodia. The Ganzberg brewery was the initial reason for our move from Germany to Cambodia. You might still find Bernd on a couple of banners throughout the country. Bernd even travelled to Europe with a suitcase full of beer to submit to contests and won multiple awards!
The Hops Craft Beer Garden, HH Hotel, and Hanuman Beverages (and more) were some of the other projects we were involved in. We have had a number of small and big projects and operate in Cambodia under the parent company name BeerPro Import Export Co., Ltd.
We consult other businesses, import/export machinery, and start-up/maintain breweries worldwide. We guarantee perfection with our signature “German Engineered Quality“ in everything we do.
How would you describe the brewing process in Cambodia?
Two Birds craft beer is a healthy mix of art and science. To stay true to our heritage, we follow the German purity law from 1516. All of our beverages are produced with the finest natural ingredients imported from German farmers. It is a premium German craft beer, made in Cambodia.
We advocate responsible drinking, which enables individuals to enjoy the flavours, techniques, and history of brewing.
What are Two Birds thoughts on the Cambodian craft beer market?
The Cambodian distillers and craft beer scene is very exciting and growing rapidly, just like the rest of the country. This motivates us to educate the public about alcohol. Next to offering exceptional beverages, we aim to support other businesses and to spread our passion.
It really is the Kingdom of Wonder and has become our home. You can expect to see a lot more of Two Birds in the future. We are planning to start more projects, further diversify our beverage production, and intend to expand our business across the whole food and beverage industry.
We are determined to use our expertise to branch out and to produce/offer all types of beverages and services. Our focus will remain on providing quality services, creating more jobs, and sharing our passion for beverages. Our goal is to have a positive impact on the local economy and to promote opportunities for development.
Two Birds have produced a range of half a dozen Cambodian craft beers by 2020.
Two Rivers Ale
One of the newer craft beer producers in Cambodia, we spoke with Two Rivers Ale owner, Edward Bayly. He is a young Australian brewer who has followed his dreams to brew in the Kingdom in 2020 and launched Two Rivers Ale as a nano-sized brewpub.
On their website, the small-batch craft brewery says “Two Rivers Ale aims to bring urban farmhouse ale to the bustling streets of Phnom Penh. Our beers try to innovate and push the limits of modern styles while staying true to the tradition of farmhouse brewing going back millennia.”
Bayly told us “prior to coming to Cambodia to open my nano-brewery, I was working in education in Australia. I had never worked in the food and beverage industry but had been brewing beer for myself, and any friends and family that I could convince to try it.”
He had spent half a year living in Phnom Penh in 2017 and fell in love with Cambodia. “Since then I had been trying to come up with an excuse to move back here. The fact that Cambodia has alcohol laws a lot more relaxed than in Australia only helped with the decision to commit to the dream of professional brewing here.”
What was the business application processes like for you?
I stupidly decided to do all the application processes myself. There were a lot of emails telling me that my application had been returned. If you can’t read and write Khmer, doing the registration processes is a right pain.
The whole process was somewhat confusing but achievable if you’re willing to keep at it. Don’t go into anything expecting for it to be straight forward and don’t waste your time by trying to do something yourself instead of getting help.
You are new to the local craft market- what have you noticed so far?
The COVID situation has really shaken the local beer scene, but I am very hopeful that the effects won’t last. We are already seeing an uptake in the business of people going out for beers. The local brewing scene is very friendly, which you kind of have to be when it’s such a small group.
I’m very optimistic about the future of the business in Cambodia, all of my customers are very supportive and it seems like I have found my niche in the local craft beer market.
What products and services do Two Rivers Ale currently offer?
We offer an ever-rotating selection of craft ales with a focus on the farmhouse and modern sour beers along with a very low-key bar to drink them in.
The local craft beer scene has exploded in recent years, as a result, there is a lot of competition to get your beer on tap at bars but that only acts to weed out the weak; the craft beer market doesn’t really have to compete with the macro breweries on price as the quality difference speaks for its self.
Some of the beers produced by Two Rivers Ale to date include an XPA, Kentucky Common, Phnom Penh Porter, Petite Sombre (Saison), Dragon Lips (pink sour is made with a combination of dragon fruit and watermelon), Continued Disruption.
What main benefits and obstacles do you see in doing business in Cambodia?
The low investment costs along with non-intrusive regulations are really what makes Cambodia such a good places to start a brewery but it’s not perfect, there are no domestic supply chains and the amount of consumers isn’t high but hopefully, these issues will fade with time as the market matures.
Remember to drink local!
Full list of Cambodian Craft brewers
This is the most comprehensive list of Cambodian-based craft beer producers. There are more than 20 listed in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot and Koh Kong.
Craft Beer Phnom Penh
- Riel Brewing: Run by an expat pair of Australian Tyler Bareither and American Andrew Srugnell, Riel Brewing is a popular player in the craft beer market with their brewery and taproom in Phnom Penh. They started the business around 2013 and have also launched collab (collaboration beers) with other Cambodian and regional craft beer producers).
- Two Birds: (See above for more information) Another relatively new addition to the local craft scene, they have quickly expanded, moved into a large premise at The Factory and have ambitious plans to grow. They have launched 6 crafts by late 2020.
- Elite Craft Beer: One of the few Cambodian owned craft producers, what started as a homebrewers hobby has developed in 2020 to a mid-range operation. After a rebranding and an updated brewing facility, they now offer their crafts in bottles and on tap.
- Cerevisia: (See above for more information). One of the longest-running craft beer producers in Cambodia, in 2020 Cerevisia opened more bars in Phnom Penh and offer bottles and growlers as well as their tuk-tuk craft beer delivery options for events and parties.
- Himawari: The brand started producing craft beer for its hotel in Phnom Penh, of the same name, in 2012 and still has a rotating selection of in-house craft beers on offer.
- Hops: A independently owned international beer garden, they also brew their own German craft beers which include a premium lager, wheat beer, Indian pale ale (IPA) and a red stout.
- Kingdom Breweries: One of the oldest craft beer producers in Cambodia (launched in 2009), it is by self-admission a medium-sized brewery which produces beers for the local and export market. They have created the brand Indochine Beer that has an IPA and a Wheat Beer.
- Harvest Craft Beer: A one-off product from the owners of a few well know bars and eateries in Phnom Penh, Harvest is a handcrafted small-batch craft beer.
- Two Rivers Ale: (See above for more information). Two Rivers have already put out a small selection of craft ales, brewed in the farmhouse tradition in Phnom Penh.
- Hypelab Big Drip: Another one-off production in 2019 (from a collection of artists), this beer is called the Big Drip and is a Wheat Beer with a custom-designed label created by a local street artist.
- Hanuman Craft beer: They launched in Phnom Penh with a dedicated brewery and in-house produced craft beers but have since announced a large-scale brewery to be built in Kandal to the value of $160 million USD.
- Bruntys Cider: Not a beer, but one of the few locally produced ciders in Cambodia, Bruntys Cider offers apple, pear and strawberry flavoured ciders in the Kingdom.
Craft Beer Kampot
- Flowers Nanobrewery: The first nanobrewery in the Kingdom, run by a Japanese expatriate in Kampot, their stock has been quickly rising as their range of locally produced crafts expand and the quality improves. They have also increased their reach and their beers are available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
- Freak Brothers: A little-known homebrewed craft in Kampot, Cambodia who have put out an amber ale and a brown ale.
- Kampot Cider: Another local bottled and produced cider but there is little information from this small-batch brewer based in Kampot.
- Baby Bird Brewing Co.: One of the new small-scale brewers to enter the Cambodian local market in 2020. They have introduced a Pale Ale brewed with fresh tangerines, farm-fresh honey, vanilla and lactose with plans to release a bigger range.
Craft Beer Siem Reap
- Fuzzy Logic: A well-known name in the Vietnam craft beer market, they started selling in Cambodia in 2019 and even opened a small microbrewery in Siem Reap in 2020. They have produced high-quality and award-winning beers such as their Thunderslap IPA and launched a hard lemonade in 2020 too. They also have seasonal crafts and a stable range of lagers, IPAs and double-hopped specialities.
- Siem Reap Brewpub: Siem Reap’s first microbrewery with its own restaurant & bar – they also produce their own batch brews of craft beer in Cambodia.
- The Local Brewpub: Another microbrewery/brewpub in Siem Reap who brew small batches of craft ales.
- Pour Decisions: A new addition in 2020, they have produced an AmMo IPA, Pipe Dream sour NEIPA, and a Scotch Ale.
Craft Beer Koh Kong
- Stone Head: Starting as a craft beer exporter bases in Cambodia, Stone Head has aggressively tapped the domestic market in the Kingdom and has a wide range of crafts available. There are plans to build a new brewery too. (Read the interview above for more information).