The craft beer industry is growing rapidly, especially in SEA, and the number of local Cambodian craft brewers has grown exponentially in a short amount of time. There are lots of positives for the craft brewers to be based in the Kingdom, but the industry is still small, albeit with huge potential.
(Feature Photo Credit: Cerevisia Craft Brewery)
Cambodia Craft Brewery Industry: (Part One)
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.
You can read the second part of the series here.
Craft beer meaning
Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘craft beer’ as beer made using traditional methods in small, independent breweries. This meaning is probably already outdated as craft beers for decades have meant big business and many of the smaller independent brewers have been swallowed up by international alcohol conglomerates as the rise in consumption and popularity of crafts continues.
In fact, the rise of microbrewing began in both the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1970s and it has taken off in SEA over the past decade, with Cambodian craft and microbrewers really starting to launch around 2017 (even though some have been around longer).
There are also a variety of popular craft beer styles like IPAs, Stouts, Ambers etc and the lines are endless with experimental and seasonal production batches, as well as particularly strong crafts often in demand.
There is a whole new set of vocabulary attached to the craft beer business too; with microbreweries, nano breweries, craft breweries, farm brewers and brewpubs all part of the diction.
Asian craft beer industry 2020
The Asian beer market is massive. China became the worlds leading beer consumer in 2013 (reaching consumption of 50 million litres) for the first time and even saw its number of domestic brewpubs double between 2010 and 2013! But there are huge craft beer industries in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and many more Asian nations.
A big reason for the explosion of the craft beer market in Asia and SEA, in particular, is the desire of entrepreneurial brewers to elevate the standard of beers available but also many of the countries saw a relaxation of existing brewing laws which made it easier for smaller batch volumes to be produced. The industry is also catering to a bigger international demand while educating local palates on the flavours and process available.
Craft brewers run the entire gauntlet of setting up businesses, engaging with local and international suppliers of raw materials, logistics chains and distribution, training and empowering local workforces and contributing to the economy.
Growth of craft beer in Asia
According to a report by Euromonitor International – “Beer volume consumption in Southeast Asia is expected to grow at a healthy CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) of 5% up to 2023, with the Philippines and Vietnam being the key growth drivers.”
Some of the key drivers are the growing expendable income of the local population and a desire to try new things, says the report. “The need to cater to consumers who desire unique tastes, coupled with rising disposable incomes in Southeast Asia, has contributed to the premiumisation of beer in the form of craft beer.”
The room for the industry to grow is still huge where the current craft beer by volume is less than 1% in Southeast Asian markets.
Another report suggested that the entire Asia-Pacific (APAC) beer market until 2024 is being driven by the emergence of craft beers & microbreweries. It also indicated that the introduction of gluten-free, low calorie, low alcohol, and non-alcoholic beers will expand the market.
In SEA, Thailand and Vietnam have been leading lights for the growth of craft beer and for the latter, the beer industry has seen double-digit growth for a number of years. However, production in Thailand has become more expensive and stringent.
Thailand’s regulations require brewers to brew 10 million litres of beer annually and the startups need to have over 10 million baht (over $300K USD) in financial capital, which is often unrealistic for small-scale brewers.
This has led to several Thai beer producers moving their operations to Vietnam which is seen as more conducive to doing business and more affordable. There has also been some spillover to Cambodia.
The alcohol consumption taxes in Vietnam are two-tiered- import and domestic consumption.
In addition, in Vietnamese alcohol taxes are:
- Import tax (from five to 80 per cent depending on the type of free trade agreement)
- VAT (10 per cent).
- Excise taxes (up from 50 per cent to 65 per cent from 2018).
(They run the same exciting and challenging gauntlet as craft distillers, you can read more about Cambodian craft distillers of gin, vodka and more here.)
Cambodian Craft Beer
One of the favourable factors driving Cambodia’s craft beer growth has been the increasing restrictions and pricing of some its SEA neighbours and the relatively low start costs in Cambodia.
In Thailand, where the craft beer industry has grown enormously, local producers are under constant pressure from the Thai government’s legislation and they even resort to importing craft beer from regional countries like Cambodia and Vietnam. Thai beer production regulations “demanding minimum production levels skew the market towards beverage conglomerates, making it harder for smaller outfits to enter the market.” For the local craft market to thrive, the same needs to not happen in Cambodia.
There is also a near lack of Cambodian Government regulations regarding limiting alcohol sales or advertising, which is not the case in Thailand for example. A 2016 Asia Foundation report added that “There is no minimum drinking age, no limitations on the sale or advertising of alcohol and Cambodia has some of the lowest taxes on alcohol products in the region.”
In a recent event in Australia, discussing the effects of COVID-19 on the growth of craft beer, Boortmalt Asia Pacific regional merchandising manager Simon Robertson said there had been positive growth in the beer market over the past six years, up until 2019. He added, “that growth was predominantly dominated by the South East Asian markets with key growth seen in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, plus Pakistan and Brazil.”
Some of the processes and regulations Cambodia will need to improve upon is the clarity over import tariffs, excise tax and cold storage shipping costs to be reduced which may attract more regional players, and allow local brewers to grow and export.
The Bangkok Post said in May 2020 “While Cambodia offers competitive prices and remains a popular destination for Thai brewers, irregular shipping schedules and fewer options in terms of ingredients and batch sizes make Vietnam a more attractive choice.”
Cambodia’s major beer producers
The major Cambodian beer brewers are dominated by a few companies who generate huge profits.
- Cambrew Brewery (the Carlsberg-owned company produce or distribute Angkor, Klang, Bayon, Carlsberg, Asahi and Guinness etc. The brewery is based in Sihanoukville)
- Cambodia Brewery Ltd (also known as CBL, they are owned 50% by Heineken and produce ABC, Anchor, Heineken beer Tiger, Black Panther etc. They have two breweries in the capital of Phnom Penh. In June 2020 they announced the approval of a new brewery in Phnom Penh at a value of $87 million.)
- Khmer Beverages ( formerly Khmer Brewery – owned by Chip Mong Group and they produce the Cambodia beer brand and Barley Black. They upgraded and expanded their facilities in 2017 to the tune of USD $120 million.)
- Kingdom Brewery (one of the oldest craft and larger-scale beer producers in Cambodia.)
- Hanuman Beverages (a new player in the local market, in 2020 the company announced it was building a $160.6 million brewery in Kandal province. It had previously opened a microbrewery and brewpub in Phnom Penh in 2019).
A 2019 report by VOA Cambodia said that between 2011-2015, beer imports alone rose sharply in Cambodia from a few million to 40 million litres and that the industry generates around $30-40 million annually from import tax revenues for the Cambodian government.
Popular Cambodian Craft Beer Bars
There are now bars dedicated to craft beer in Phnom Penh, Kampot and Siem Reap, with some of the craft breweries also servicing as a mixed brewhouse venue where they brew on-site and customers can purchase their beers at the in-house bar in Cambodia.
Below are some of the more popular craft beer bars in Cambodia:
Phnom Penh Craft Beer Bars
The cosy two-storey bar, hidden down the alleyway off St 51 in BKK1 in Phnom Penh is full of charm and craft beer aficionados. There is a great selection of revolving crafts on tap at Embargo, but strongly supporting the local craft scene as well as international and regional producers. The upstairs area is great for board games and the in-house arcade system while downstairs is quaint and the walls throughout adorned with murals.
Botanico (Cerevisia Craft Brewery)
With a few locations in the capital, Botanico is the same brains trust that brews Cerevisia craft beers.
- Botanico Wine & Beer Garden is the original location near Independence Monument on Street 29 which also now has fresh coffee from Feel Good Cafe as well as a food menu and craft beer selection. There is live music on weekends and Trivia Nights.
- There is a location on the riverside on St 144, The Craft Beer Garden $ BBQ which also serves food from the same owners at The Vine (burgers and Wok and Roll) and a selection of craft beer.
- Botanico opened a new location in August 2020 at the temporary Odom Garden (No.160 Norodom Blvd – next to Topaz restaurant). The pop-up venue may only be around for 12 months but this space is a welcome relief from the hustle of the city and the park has a dog park, children’s area, and of course craft beer as well as other drinks and a food menu.
Box Office has probably the largest number (20) of craft beers on tap in the Kingdom and a rotating selection of Cambodian and regional craft beers on offer. There are also bottled and canned beers from around the globe and different daily deals available and the venue also hosts live music and comedy nights. The Sunday roasts, in particular, has a great reputation as does the pub fare.
5 Drunk Men
With great riverside views in the capital, 5 Drunk Men has evolved slightly while it has been open but still has a fridge full of craft beers from Asia, and of course Cambodia. There are darts machines and a full menu but sadly no craft beers on tap.
Other locations in Phnom Penh also sell craft beers, such as Hops Brewery Craft beer Garden or the taprooms at Riel Brewing. An increasing number of hotels, bars and restaurants are also now stocking and supporting the craft beers produced in Cambodia.
Kampot Craft Beer Bars
The once sleepy town of Kampot has always had a great reputation for food and now its local craft scene is also developing. Stumble Inn has the largest selection in the riverside town and proudly supports Cambodian and regional crafts with a decent selection of beers on tap, in bottles and cans. The pub also offers Mexican and Americana food.
Siem Reap Craft Beer Bars
Siem Reap Local Brewpub
The Local offers half a dozen guest Cambodian craft beers on tap and on rotation. They are also a microbrewery/brewpub in Siem Reap and brew small batches of craft ales.
Cambodian Beer Home Delivery Services
During COVID-19, innovation was a spurred on in Cambodia in several industries. Along with the acceleration of digital platforms and payments services, online shopping and home delivery as well as the food delivery app businesses all boomed in the Kingdom.
These are just some of the more popular craft beer delivery services available in Cambodia:
Beer Bar Tuk Tuk
In the beer and alcohol industry, Cerevisia Craft Brewery setup a beer tuk-tuk that could visit customers at home, all while maintaining social distancing guidelines. As restrictions and fears have eased off, the popular tuk-tuk service is no catering for events or home parties with the brand’s kegs on tap.
Drinks on Wheels Cambodia (KH)
Drinks on Wheels is a delivery service platform that launched in June 2020 and allows customers to select from a range of products including Cambodian wholesale and craft beers. The service is currently available in Phnom Penh with plans to expand the business nationwide before the end of 2020.
The team behind the business is Singaporean with 20 years of experience in the industry. Co-founder David Ghani told the Khmer Times “We are the first dedicated alcohol delivery platform in Cambodia, boasting an inventory of over 400 products. Our goal is to eventually have every beverage available in Cambodia on the website, as well as promoting responsible drinking and general education of the effects of alcohol consumption.”
Other home delivery options include food delivery apps who provide a selection of beers and alcohol in Cambodia.
Stay tuned for part two of this article, where we list all the current Cambodian craft beer producers and speak to some of them to get their insights on setting up and running a craft beer business in Cambodia.