Cambodia itself is dotted with neon-lit signs advertising Angkor, posters plastered on the sides of wooden homes promoting Anchor and beer garden tables full of towers precariously filled to the brim with Cambodia beer.
However, in pockets of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and other urban hubs, tropical gardens and hipster hideaways mask a world of amber ales, porters, IPAs and honey pales. Welcome to the country’s craft beer scene, a trend that is slowly but surely taking off in the Kingdom.
The Kingdom’s burgeoning craft brewery scene is bubbling as Cambodians’ appetite for the range of beers grows. While a relatively new addition to the market, craft beer is quickly making its mark in Cambodia.
In just four years, the number of microbreweries has jumped from two to today’s nine, with an ever-increasing number of outlets pouring pints of the Khmer-inspired brews at their bars.
“The market is growing,” says Erich Phillips, founding partner of Cerevisia Craft Brewhouse, which started brewing in 2013. He adds that while expats and tourists initially touted the trend, locals are starting to catch on.
However, a major challenge is convincing Cambodians to fork over more than US$3.50 for a glass, compared with the usual US$0.50 to US$1 for a local brew. But attitudes are quickly changing as more breweries enter the market, bringing with them a range of locally inspired flavours and Cambodian-driven marketing campaigns.
A series of annual beer festivals and events have also been launched. This includes the Taste of Phnom Penh festival which launched in December and showcases a range of locally-produced food and drinks. And a Craft Brewers Association of Cambodia has been formed.
Himawari Microbrewery, located inside Phnom Penh’s Himawari Hotel, was the first major player in the craft beer game, starting operations in 2012.
As a champion of the movement, it brews four blends – Aspara Gold pale ale, Jem and Jade pale ale, Centenniale and Oats stout – in the microbrewery behind the bar. Speciality brews are also concocted throughout the year.
While these are bottled and sold to many of the country’s restaurants and bars, a great place to sample them while watching the beers being brewed is at the hotel, with 30 percent off all beers during its daily 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. happy hour.
Cerevisia boasts a collection of 15 recipes, which range from Rattanak ESB, a medium-bodied honey pale ale using Cambodian honey, to the Dark Star – a silky porter layered with roasted coffee and chocolate – and the popular Centurian, a light American pale ale with strong citrus notes.
Their brews can be found in various bars across Cambodia, with Botanico in the capital acting as their showroom. Set in an intimate sheltered tropical garden, guests can choose from their creations, order food or enjoy the other drinks on offer.
The latest entry to the market is Hops Brewery in Phnom Penh, which brews a selection of German-style brews, ranging from premium lager, wheat beer and full-bodied IPA, to red stout, using ingredients imported from Germany. These are served in its spacious craft beer garden, along with traditional German food.
Other breweries include Munich Microbrewery, which tends to produce more Khmer-style beer, which is light, sweet and has a low alcohol content.
So, if you happen to be a craft beer fan then fear not because there are plenty of options available across Cambodia to whet your appetite.