Cambodia: An unlikely place for craft beer lovers

Finding beer in Cambodia isn’t a difficult feat, even in countryside regions. Cambodian beer brands such as Angkor, Cambodia, Anchor, and Ganzberg dominated the market once upon a time and locals enjoyed the cheap beer drinking culture. 

The first microbrewery was established in 2007, but it wasn’t an easy start. Microbreweries remained a rare novelty and went largely unnoticed, until recently, when a community of expats and locals alike have taken interest in the subtle and delicate art of making craft beer. The love for this type of beer then slowly became a trend in Cambodia, and Phnom Penh was where it all started. 

A few pioneer players entered the craft beer market

The first distillery was founded by a German, and to no one’s surprise, was named Munich.  With the advent of Munich, there was now some needed respite from the narrow beer selection available to the residents of the country. Kingdom Breweries soon appeared and have been in the game since 2009. They still continue to be a strong contender in the craft beer market to date. They even won the prestigious Belgian Monde Selection Gold Quality award for its Pilsner brew in 2011. 

Kingdom Breweries Dunkel, Cambodia The Sampler/Flickr

Then came Himawari Microbreweries in 2012. Instead of producing multiple typical flavors,  they focused on crafting just 6 unique and exclusive flavors using only the finest malt and hops. They ended up sweeping the court with their three international award-winning brews. Cerevisia, whose name is a Latin word for “beer”, was co-founded by two Americans with the vision of making craft beer that was reminiscent of home. With a tagline saying “It’s damn fine beer”, it certainly showed the country what damn fine beer was, and helped grow the craft brewing community. 

And then… boom!

The strong craft beer communities in the neighboring countries of Vietnam and Thailand encouraged the brewing enthusiasts in Cambodia. They taught the locals how a 50-cent lager differs from a craft beer, with all the attention to detail and flavors that go into making it.

As the community grew stronger and became adept at the craft, they backed each other through strategic partnerships and marketing campaigns that saw the boom of the craft beer scene in Phnom Penh in 2019. With more high-quality beer becoming available, the locals started to realize its value and began shifting from drinking cheap beers to the more refined taste of a quality crafted brew.

Let’s have a drink (or two)

Introduce yourself to the world of craft beer in Cambodia at Riel Brewing. This is one of the best known and often recommended craft beer brands in Phnom Penh. With years of brewing under the belts of the two founders, they soon found success within the Cambodian beer-loving community. The apartment where the founders came up with the idea of making craft beer was converted into a taproom where craft beers are served to participants of the Phnom Penh Hidden Bar Tours. 

Of course, you can head in without being a part of the tour. Try their milk coffee stout and something off the food menu! Ask for recommendations if you’re not sure what you want. The owners are friendly and always up for a chat and can teach you a little bit about the craft.

Himawari Microbrewery is located inside Himawari Hotel Apartments, a 5-star residential complex for residents and travelers. Pair your drink with a signature dish from the Oyster Restaurant. We suggest going for Mekong, a blonde ale low in bitterness with a distinct floral aroma. Can’t go wrong with the Apsara Gold or the Gem & Jade either. What makes your experience perfect is not only the combo of beer and delicious food, but also the terrace overlooks the Mekong Delta. It’s a great place for a quiet chit chat.

©SukkhaP/Flickr

Cerevisia Beer Garden is located away from the busy streets and offers patrons a calm, riverside experience.  There are 6 beers on tap (their own), which rotates weekly. To go with the drinks is a menu of international favorites such as smoked ribs, BBQ wings, burgers and tacos. On a clear night, they pull the roof back so you can look up and thank the heavens for such good beer.

If you’re looking to learn a little bit about the art of craft beer making, then head on over to the Kingdom Breweries Taproom which open for tours that almost always ends up as a night out full of unlimited free-flow drinks on tap. Don’t forget to pair with their signature burgers and fries! Tours happen Monday to Friday from 1:00 to 5:00 PM.

Pub Street am Tage in Phnom PenhMarco Verch/Flickr

Craft beer also goes great with a little bit of theater and art. Which is exactly what The Box Office offers. In addition, the bar regularly hosts events such as stand up comedy and pub trivia nights, especially during Sundays where the combination of brewed beers and ciders pairs well with the roast dinner.

If variety is important to you, then at Embargo, variety is what you’ll get. Whereas all the brewers only serve their own beers in their taprooms, the founders of Embargo started their bar with the intention of serving a wide selection of brews under the same roof. Craft brews from Riel, Cerevisia, and Himawari can all be found here.

They also have a bottle selection with almost 40 different beers from Cambodia and around Southeast Asia. What if by any chance the brew you’re looking for is not available? As co-founder Jeff Baker repeatedly says: “If you come in another two weeks, we’ll have a different selection.”

That’s all the more reason to stay longer in Phnom Penh. We hope you enjoy your craft beer tour and have a (for lack of a better word)… brewlliant time. Bottoms up!

Piumi Rajapaksha

Piumi Rajapaksha

Third-culture kid, hailing from Sri Lanka. Currently residing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and refuses to leave because of the good food. You'll probably find her wandering aimlessly through the city with a coffee in hand looking lost, but she never is.
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