Readers of The Crafty Pint’s Friday newsletter may recall plans for a craft beer bar in Kuala Lumpur serving a selection of Aussie and Kiwi beers. The brainchild of two Malaysian brothers who developed a taste for quality beer after moving to Australia, Taps is now open, bringing our local brews to a brand new audience – an audience that, according to the brothers, wasn’t getting the chance to experience the craft beer revolution.
“There is a real shortage of quality beer in Malaysia,” says Adrian Chong, “and the market faces even worse access issues than those that exist in Australia, such as difficulty in getting a license to brew, high taxes, and so on. A large number of Malaysians are only exposed to mass-marketed beer, with Carlsberg and Tiger being our VB and Carlton equivalents, and very few are aware of how great beer can be. We thought we could change that and hopefully get people talking and excited about beer while bringing proper, quality ales and lagers to Asia.
“It was also very important for us to maintain our independence and in that regard we have been called everything from brave to crazy to stupid.”
Their first shipment included beers from Mountain Goat, Holgate, Bridge Road, Red Duck, Kooinda, 3 Ravens and Mornington Peninsula Brewery. It marks quite a change from the Aussie beers previously on offer: other than very small amounts of one or two micros, it’s been Crown Lager and VB sold as premium imports at premium prices.
“I looked at brewers with bigger capacities and brewers which I personally liked at first,” says Adrian. “I chose Mountain Goat because they were bigger and I thought that the Steam and Hightail would be excellent introductory craft beers. I was a big fan of the 3 Ravens Black and the Kooinda Pale Ale and Full Nelson, so I thought I’d ask them. Holgate has always been a mainstay so it would be wrong to not include them. Red Duck was one of the beers that got me on my way to craft beer when i had them while travelling down to the Great Ocean Road and never turned back. I became a big AG fan [the brewer at Mornington Peninsula] after having the Mornington IPA. Bridge Road make some excellent beers and was a no brainer.
“It wasn’t all that hard to convince the breweries to sell to us. The bigger issue was coordination and trying to maximise variety in time for the shipment. If anything, the brewers were super excited and extremely helpful, particularly Jamie and Mick at Kooinda who very patiently explained everything to us first-timers – the most clueless bar owners in the history of man!”
Taps is located one of the more artsy, upmarket areas of Kuala Lumpur, where there is a variety of restaurants, bars and lounges, and is close enough to the heart of town to attract a mix locals, workers, expatriates and tourists. It’s a sleek, contemporary affair, with a row of taps hanging over the bar. With Adrian and his brother spending most of the year in Australia, the bar is being run by three of their cousins – Alvin, Mili and Aaron. There have been a few bumps along the way, but the bar has enjoyed a positive first Christmas, even welcoming Kjetil Jikiun, founder of Ní¸gne í to the bar when he was en route to New Zealand.
“We thought it would be the easiest thing starting a bar – but it turned out there were a lot of things we didn’t foresee. Staff, design, building and logistics were all challenges and the guys in KL have done a terrific job in getting the bar set up. It’s a very steep learning curve and there have been a lot of sleepless nights, but I think we’re nearly there.
“We hope to get the locals a bit more interested in craft beer, so that is our ideal target market. At the same time, we think we’ll have a fair few expatriates and tourists at our bar.
“That said, the only way to encourage local craft beer enthusiasm is to educate, and we hope to do that by giving them as many beers from as many places as possible. The good news is a lot of brewers are very passionate about educating people on beer and so we’ve had the great luck and honour of having Kjetil make a special trip to the bar. So hopefully with the passion and support with of everyone in the industry, both in Australia and the rest of the world, we can do what we hope to do, which is to educate Malaysians about better beer.”
In the past year, we’ve seen numerous examples across Australia where the passion of one or two individuals has helped towns and cities open up to craft beer.
Here’s hoping the Taps team has similar success in KL. With a second shipment of beers due to feature a range of Kiwi breweries as well as more Aussies, they should do just fine.