For Nepalis who have a deep love for their traditional liquors, the first beer in Nepal was produced only in the early 1970s. Back then, people only drank local liquors or rice wine popularly known as chhyang. But that all changed after Star Beer was launched; and now we have a total of nine breweries producing English style lagers.
One of them is Sherpa Brewery, a craft brewery which produces Nepal’s only craft beers. The terms ‘craft beers’ and ‘craft breweries’ are still unheard of in Nepal as the beer industry here is quite boring with the same players developing similar products in the market.
Sherpa’s craft in craft brewery
Since Nepal has only had two or three big players that used to provide very similar beers, opening a craft brewery was a no brainer for Phurba Sherpa.
Craft breweries are relatively small, independently-owned commercial breweries that employ traditional brewing methods and emphasise flavour and quality.
“In Nepal, they only produced lagers as the beer drinking culture hasn’t developed, a reason why we are bringing craft beer into the market,” says Sherpa, adding he got the idea of opening Sherpa Brewery after he heard foreigners complain about the quality of beer in the market in his home in Solokhumbu.
To understand the reason, he did some research and found out about ales.
Beers can be divided into two families – lagers and ales. The beers that are produced in Nepal are all lagers which have similar taste; but Sherpa wanted to give consumers a different taste.
The first batch of their beer Khumbu Kolsch was out in 2015 just before the earthquake; but Sherpa says people didn’t like the taste of the first batch. “We were told that our beer was too dense for the consumers’ liking and I believe that was because the people didn’t have a developed palate which is why we had to tone it down and make it a bit lighter.”
Craft beers are different from lagers and have a strong taste and a reason why beers from Sherpa Brewery is particularly different from the beers here in Nepal is the fact that they use barley imported all the way from Germany.
“Most breweries here use six-rose barley but we, on the other hand, use two-rose barley all the way from Germany and hardly use any added preservatives which is why our beer is rich in taste and flavour,” Sherpa adds.
The massive hurdle
As consumers were slowly warming up to beer from Sherpa Brewery, they faced a massive hurdle – the 2015 earthquake. “We were in operation for just over a few months when the earthquake hit Nepal and that stalled our business for a bit.”
Recovering from the earthquake, they faced another obstacle in the form of the economic blockade on Nepal-India border, imposed by India expressing its dissatisfaction with the constitution here, which hampered many businesses in Nepal. But that didn’t deter Sherpa, “I knew my product was different and believed that people would eventually warm up to it and that is exactly what happened.”
But there were other challenges too. One was to educate people and make them aware of his product. “Our motive is not to make people drunk. This product is for those who want to enjoy the taste of beer.”
Sherpa personally started to visit restaurants to market his product and most of the restaurant owners liked the product. They also opened to the idea of having beer in their restaurant. “That was a big help and after Kolsch was successful, we decided to bring another product the Himalayan Red, which is Nepal’s only mass-produced ale.”
They also brought draught into the market which Sherpa says is the only real draught in Kathmandu. “To maintain the standard, we have only given it to selected restaurants and over the past months I have received good reviews about the draught as well.”
When asked why they haven’t produced any bottled beer, he gives an interesting answer. “Beer’s biggest enemy is light; a reason why most bottles are translucent but as we wanted to be environment friendly I thought it would be good to go with cans which would preserve the taste of the beer along with the environment.”
As Nepal’s beer market is dominated by just two or few more players, it’s going to be hard to compete against them but Sherpa says that they aren’t his competitors. “I have a different product from them, a reason why I feel they’re not in competition with me.”
When asked if there will be more craft breweries in the future, he isn’t very hopeful. “It’s not as easy as people think. Many beer enthusiasts have tried but they know how hard it is. Doing it on a small scale is all right; but to scale up is a whole different ball game.”
Sherpa also shares that he is planning to bring more beers to the market which will give beer drinkers different taste to work with. “Hopefully in the next year, we can bring in different beers in the market.”
Photos: Sherpa Brewery