Hospitality Innovation Brewing In Phnom Penh

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B2B spoke to Mr. Andrew Tay, Director of the Himawari Hotel Apartments and Microbrewery, about Cambodia’s first and finest brew house. Having seen the concept gain wide popularity in Singapore, Mr. Tay scoured the Singaporean markets to import a high quality brewing setup to Phnom Penh, capable of producing a modest 800 litres of beer or cider a month; and, of course, the finest brewer he could find: Mr. Neo Say Wee. Less than a year after opening in November 2012, the Himawari Microbrewery entered some world renowned International Beer Competitions and earned a bronze and silver medal from the Asia Beer Awards.

Mr. Tay sees the Cambodian tourism market moving away from its hallowed past as a backpacker’s paradise. New travelers come with money unbeknownst to this past generation and are happy to spend it on luxury and relaxation, and enjoying a cultural twist. Holiday makers come to the growing Kingdom sporting improved infrastructure, high class hotels and resorts, golf courses, malls, cinemas, fine dining and locally brewed boutique ales.

So can anyone start a microbrewery?

Although Himawari remains the only microbrewery in Cambodia in a hotel apartment, anyone can become a brewer with some reasonable knowledge of brewing and practice. A brewer could start selling his or her own beer on premises under a standard Cambodian restaurateur’s or bar/pubs licence. Himawari currently makes four batches monthly, 200 litres each, and the varieties change as they please. But every beer – from Honey Sap Ale to Dragon Fruit Cider, Wheat to Banana-flavoured Crafted Beer – is made with meticulous attention to detail, the finest possible inputs and a uniquely Cambodian twist.

As Mr. Tay notes, “anyone can brew beer, but not everyone can do it well…” At first, middle and upper class Cambodian consumers would come to the hotel bar interested to try the new beers but were surprised by the price. However, as they begun to understand the variety of imported ingredients involved and level of care necessary to produce international standard microbrews, they begun to accept the value of these new tipples. Soon these drinkers tasted the difference between cheaper local staples and Himawari’s finest brews.

In this respect, Mr. Tay notes that innovation is rising in the Cambodian hospitality market. Yet, it is not special for the region, considering the huge variation and quality of products well established in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. While expats and tourists, especially Europeans, are the main crafted beer drinkers, local demand is growing and the Himawari is seeing more and more special batch orders from Phnom Penh restaurants and individuals. As local consumers learn about the processes of micro-brewing and try the beers and ciders for themselves, their taste for variety is expanding.

When asked what advice he would offer new and innovative business ventures entering the Cambodian market, Mr. Tay stresses the need for patience: “Don’t rush into the market. Take time to understand the culture, both as people and consumers, and undertake wide and creative market research.” To bring a new product or concept to the Cambodian market successfully, you may need to educate the local consumers to your product or service. “Cambodians, like anyone else, have their own flavour. But we are seeing that they are more and more willing and financially able to try new things.”