Asia

How nights out in Singapore inspired Myanmars first microbrewery

YANGON: Friday nights in the late 90s were a ritual for Htin Lin and his friends – finish work or study and then start drinking beer.

At Brewerkz, a well-known drinking institution, they had discovered something different: Craft beer with complexity and character, unlike the simple lagers they were used to.

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“I was blown away,” Htin Lin said of that time some 20 years ago. “We were all single and we were on liquid diets on Fridays. Brewerkz was the place. Youd order a beer, youd talk about work, the industry, sports and then politics and then girls and then retirement.”

The group of young people from Myanmar spent years in Singapore doing this. They started to joke and dream about having their own microbrewery “somewhere exotic”, like Bali or Phuket.

“No one was really serious about it,” Htin said. But the idea somehow never escaped them.

The friends moved on from their life in Singapore, returned to Myanmar and started families. As the country started to emerge from the relative darkness of longtime military rule, opportunity knocked.

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Maung Zaw, one of the founders of Burbrit Brewery. (Photo: Jack Board)

“Myanmar was exotic, as a country opening up and people were saying its the last frontier in terms of economic development in Southeast Asia. There was a lot of hype at that time,” Htin said.

His friends started to lobby him, pressure him to take a punt on a microbrewery in Myanmar, something that had never existed before. Still, Htin Lin was reluctant to take steps to turn a lighthearted idea into a real business.

Eventually though, he became hooked on the idea. Years of “research” into craft beer as a consumer fuelled his passion. In 2014, he decided to apply for an official brewing licence with the Myanmar government.

“Instead of a formal application I included a lot of supporting documents with all the photos of breweries Id visited in the world and all the craft beer I drank and how craft beer was different to industrial beer,” he said.

One and a half years later he finally heard back. The application was denied and the dream seemed doomed.

Myanmar is a relatively young beer drinking market and craft beer is still seen as unusual. (Photo: Jack Board)

THE POINT OF NO RETURN

In early 2016 with a new democratic government sweeping to power, Htin Lin filed his appeal. Within weeks, he had a green light to start brewing.

“It was like 'wow', its great. And then my next feeling was, shit,” he said. “Now I had the licence, I no longer had the excuse not to do it. Then it hit me, this is the point of no return. I have to continue. I was happy.”

Starting a brewing operation was one thing, but convincing Myanmar customers to start buying and drinking their unusual, foreign concept beers was entirely another. It did not start well.

“It was my biggest nightmare at the time. Now we have the license but what if nobody drinks our beer? The first few weeks we didnt have anyone.”

Beer drinking in Myanmar remains a relatively recent phenomenon. Mandalay Beer, a fraught business operation, was the only option for drinkers until 1995 when Asia Pacific Breweries entered the market and started producing Myanmar Beer and Tiger Beer in a joint venture with the military government.

Burbrit was originally inspired by the craft beer range and tastes of Brewerkz in Singapore. (Photo: Jack Board)

Even today, beer consumption compared to other Southeast Asian countries is low. Data from 2015 shows per capita beer consumption at only 11.3 litres, compared to 27 in Thailand and 40 litres in Cambodia.

But with founding partner Maung Zaw as the operations chief brewer, slowly Burbrit Brewery started to take shape and win over a brand new market. After opening the brewery in January, 2017, now their operation and its associated Taproom in downtown Yangon – which started a year later – is a successful and growing business.

The Taproom has a familiar vibe to the Singaporean establishment that inspired it, with open spaces, wooden furnRead More – Source

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