Beery Nepal – Commercial Offerings

You may be saying, right now, the same thing I heard over and over when I explained that I was heading to Nepal and that one of the things I would be doing would be to check out the beer culture there. I got a lot of “Huh?” I’ve checked out the beers in other places that are not famous for beer, so I can assure you I was undaunted. My rough goal going in was to visit all of the breweries that I could and see what I could learn about any local, traditional drinks that may be related to beer. So forget Everest, and join me for a new Nepali adventure! From local breweries to beer-lover pubs, to local concoctions, to Himalayan homebrews, this is the first of two stories delving into what I learned about beer culture in Nepal last Fall.

Beer-like drinks have been brewed in Nepal for centuries, with a tradition dating back to the Newar people. Traditionally, beer was (and still is) brewed in homes using local ingredients such as rice, millet, and herbs. Late in the last century, commercial brewing took root and in recent years, a craft beer scene has emerged. All of Nepal’s breweries seem to be experimenting in their own ways to try to catch the craft beer wave.

locations of breweries and taprooms in this story – click on map for interactive Google map

This installment will focus on commercial beer and my next story will be about traditional and homebrews that I encountered. The history of commercial beer brewing in Nepal is relatively young, but it has seen some interesting shifts and developments over the past few decades. Before the 1970’s, commercial beer was mainly imported from India and other countries although limited government licenses severely restricted the availability of foreign brands. The first large-scale commercial brewery in Nepal opened in the 1970’s producing Star Beer, the first national brand of Nepal. I couldn’t determine the current status of United Breweries Nepal, the successor to that original commercial brewery but it still shows up on the map in Hetauda, south of Kathmandu. I never came across Star or any of the other brands they make or made.

Since those days, several more breweries have been established in Nepal. I never found what I thought was a single, authoritative source about the beer industry there, but I pieced together information from a variety of friendly people who were willing to share what they knew. The best I have determined so far, there appear to be nine breweries operating in Nepal, half of them located in the plains Southwest of Kathmandu. If you are a reader who can bring greater clarity, I invite you to make comments to share what you know.

Gorkha Beer

Some of the early brewery activity seems to be spin-offs of breweries in India and concentrated on licensing of international brands such as San Miguel which became popular and is still available. In the late 1980’s, Gorkha Brewery was established as a joint venture between a Nepalese company and the parent company of Carlsberg, the famous Danish brewery. It was not easy to make contact at Gorkha and I finally walked into their offices in central Kathmandu and was persistent. I wound up with a helpful meeting with Shilpa and Utkrista in the marketing department to get the lowdown.

Gorkha initially focused on brewing and marketing international brands like Tuborg and Carlsberg, but later launched its own successful local beer brand, Gorkha Beer, in 2007. They are also the brewer of San Miguel in current times. Gorkha is the big boy among Nepalese Breweries with an estimated 70% market share of all beer sales.

The customers for beer in Nepal fall into a few segments that drive the types of beer being made and how beer is marketed. As I understand it, the biggest segment is for high-alcohol beers for people who want the biggest buzz possible for their rupees. Taste is not the main selling point for these beers. The spectrum includes “Extra Strong” (8% or more ABV), “Strong” (6-7%), “Premium” (5% +/-), and “Craft” which tends to be lower ABV but can vary. Higher ABV beers tend to be sold in bigger bottles (650 ml is common) and are less expensive. Premium and Craft beers typically cost more and are marketed to domestic customers who are more interested in taste and to tourists.

Although craft beer is only a small slice of the market in Nepal, the Gorkha folks told me they have their eye on it and they have developed Gorkha Ruby Lager which they label and market as a “craft beer”.

Yak Brewing – Barahsinghe

The Craft beer scene has been emerging and growing in Nepal in recent years. It is a tough environment from what I heard due to licensing issues, taxation issues and limited domestic access to quality ingredients. I visited Yak Brewing Company, a craft brewery in Kurintar, known for its “Barahsinghe” brand (a Barahsinghe is a Swamp Deer). Their modern brewery sits on a flat area above the Trishuli River about midway along the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara. They have a nice little German-themed beer hall opening to a scenic outdoor terrace. They are the only brewery in Nepal that has a set-up for public brewery tours.

Yak is arguably the most adventurous of the Nepali craft brewers in terms of experimenting with and offering a variety of beer styles. Founded in 2016 by a group of friends who wanted to turn their passion for good beer into a business, their products seemed pretty easy to find in stores, restaurants and pubs in the more populated places we visited.

The brewery is a modern facility and Head Brewmaster Clemens Neumann, a German ex-pat educated in classic German brewing technique was kind to take the time to show us around. Yak takes obvious pride in sustainability features built into their facility including equitherm technology from Krones. The technology re-uses heat by recirculating it and reusing it throughout the mashing process. The result is a 30% reduction in energy usage. Shout out and thanks to Ramchandra Ghimire for setting up our visit and welcoming us to Yak.

The Yak range includes styles like their dry-hopped Pilsner, a Dunkel Weizen, a Yaktoberfest, a Hazy IPA, and a Belgian-style Witbier.

Yak Brewery Visit

Sherpa Brewery

Sherpa Brewery is said to be the first craft brewery in Nepal launching in 2015. The story I was told is that the founder, Phurba Sherpa, was inspired by feedback from foreign tourists and visitors about the limited beer options in his home region of Solukhumbu and he decided that craft beer would be a good thing in Nepal. Craft beer was a foreign concept to Nepal which was (and still is) dominated by mass-produced lagers.

The Sherpa range consists of five beers that can occasionally be found on draft at restaurants and pubs around Kathmandu. Sherpa has a few taprooms in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and the Chitwan region and I was lucky to have one near our apartment in Kathmandu so was a frequent visitor – more about that later. Khumbu Kölsch, Himalayan Red (kind of an ESB), Sherpa Pale Ale, an IPA, and Everest Stout make up their core range.

Try as I might, I struck out when trying to visit the Sherpa Brewery at Khairahani, near Chitwan National Park southwest of Kathmandu. Like all of the other breweries except for Yak, they seemed to ignore attempts to make contact and didn’t seem to be very interested in my beer hobby. I went so far as to go out to their brewery address and knock on the gate one day but I only raised a grumpy caretaker who didn’t seem to speak much English. Their brewery location is in what appears to be a walled grove of trees out in the countryside. It did not look too lively.

Yeti Brewery

Right next door to the Sherpa property is the Yeti Brewery, another walled property. I had also struck out on making any advance contact there to see about a visit, so I banged on the big metal gate with a peep hatch. A guard with a surprised look peered back through the hatch to shoo us away. I was traveling with Nepali friends Man and Lama who proceeded to have a long conversation with the guard. Since we weren’t going away, the guard finally called the brewery office to ask what to do with us. We were eventually invited in and the big gate swung open revealing an expansive yard with the brewery buildings hundreds of meters ahead of us.

After the long walk to the buildings, an aide brought us to the brewery office where we met Manish Shrivastava, the General Manager of the operation. I cannot imagine a more welcoming host who was generous with his time and showed us kindness in touring us through the 360,000 Hectoliter brewery and answering my many questions. The automated brewery commenced operation in 2017 and is just now finishing up a major expansion. After the tour, Manish invited us to sample the full range of Yeti beers.

Yeti is a Nepali-owned company that prides itself on being the fastest-growing of the local breweries. They estimate that they have achieved about 17% of the domestic market. Manish explained that the managing partners are two friends who are beer lovers and businessmen. They brew and market multiple brands of lagers including Yeti, Arna (“wild water buffalo”), Kingfisher (through a licensing agreement with United Breweries Ltd.), Shikhar, and Seven Sins with most of their focus on the Strong Beer segment. These are all light lagers. They did make a dark lager but Manish said it never really found a market in Nepal. The brewery does look to innovate, and Manish had me try a test beer they are working on he called Yeti Wild.

They do not currently keg their beers, but are keeping an eye on that as draft infrastructure spreads in Nepal.

Arna 8% is an extra-strong lager that is sold in a .33l bottle, an innovation when it was introduced. Arna Lite somehow reminded me of an American brand aimed at consumers on the other end of the spectrum from the extra-strong segment (rhymes with “dud fight”). Manish said that there is also an export market for their beers to Nepali expat clusters in Japan, Australia, and the UK. He said they are interested in expanding exports to the US.

I asked Manish why the various breweries have congregated in this part of Nepal and he told me that quality water, available manpower, and convenient logistics for importing raw materials and nationwide distribution are all important factors. They have two wells on site and a treatment plant that produces three streams of process water – separate streams for cleaning, steam heating, and brewing. Their power plant makes use of rice hulls for fuel. Yeti’s barley comes from India and hops from Germany.

There is a lot of space in the yard of the Yeti brewery and Manish told me that, in addition to providing space for future brewery expansion (they have room to double), they also want to create a visitor center and beer garden. The location seems good as the nearby Chitwan National Park is a major tourist destination.

Manish told me he thinks it is pure coincidence that Sherpa Brewery is right next door. Manish said the Sherpa project was already in progress when Yeti started building but there is not much communication between the places.

Yeti Brewery Visit

Other Breweries in Nepal

Raj Brewery is affiliated with Jalakhel Group of Industries (JGI), a major player in Nepal’s alcoholic beverage industry. I had a very kind invitation from a brewmaster there to visit, but the location (near the birthplace of Lord Buddha) was farther West in Nepal than my travels would take me on this trip. The brewery is equipped with German technology and expertise and was established to cater to the premium-quality beer market in Nepal. They have a partnership with the German brewery Warsteiner to brew and distribute Warsteiner in Nepal. They also partner to brew and distribute locally brewed Budweiser and Fosters Lager and they import and distribute Corona Extra, Leffe, Hoegaarden, and Stella Artois. Raj has two local brands – Mountain Ice and Namaste

United Breweries in Nepal is still on the map, but I could never get a firm grip on its current status. Maybe a reader can fill in the blanks in a comment. As I mentioned, it was the first commercial brewery in the country but its flagship beer, Kingfisher, is now produced by license to Yeti Brewery.

CG Brewery is a part of the Chaudhary Group, a prominent Nepali multinational corporation. Once known as the Sun Gold Brewery, they brew and distribute Nepal Ice, Natura, Leopard, Magna, Real Gold, and Mustang and were the first brewery to export beer internationally, reaching markets like Hong Kong, Japan, the UK, USA, and Australia.

Mount Everest Brewery Private Ltd. (MEBPL) in the Chitwan District makes Everest Beer and Golden Tiger Beer. I came across Everest beer (a pale lager) frequently but never encountered a Golden Tiger.

The Himalayan Brewery is located in a beautiful-looking area close to Kathmandu in Godawari, but I never succeeded in finding anyone to speak with there. Kathmandu Premium Lager, a pilsner, and Iceberg Extra Strong Beer.

Craft Beer Places

Brewpublic in Patan, Kathmandu was hands-down the #1 destination I came across for beer lovers in Nepal. It is a small taproom established by a couple of serious beer lovers and I was fortunate to spend time and have a few beers with one of the owners, Kusang Tamang. In addition to Brewpublic, Kusang is involved with the distribution of Sherpa Brewery draft beers to pubs and restaurants throughout the area so he has a heavy finger on the pulse of the craft beer scene in Nepal. I got connected with Kusang through a contact I made with Chuck Nyeshang, the admin of a Facebook group called Nepal Beer & Wine Community.

Brewpublic has been around since 2019 and I met more beer lovers and got more beery ideas from people I met there than at any other place in Nepal. I met local beer lovers, ex-pat beer lovers, local people who work in the beer business, home brewers, and other nice folks during my stops there and enjoyed the beer-fueled conversations about things like, “When and how will there be an all-Nepali beer made with ingredients sourced entirely from Nepal?” I also was invited to a home brewers’ fest which I’ll write about in the second installment of this story.

The pub has a wide selection of craft beers, including both Nepali and international brands. Their tap beers are all Barahsinghe even though Kusang is involved with Sherpa taps all over the city – a bit of a quirk that maybe will change someday The business is twinned with an eatery owned by the same guys called Wok ‘n Roll so there is a good menu of available pub fare as well.

The ambiance is industrial-chic and the seating extends out into a street-side terrace. The pub is located within a walk from Patan Durbar Square, a major cultural tourism district. There are several other beer spots within walking distance as well.

Czech Pub in the Thamel District of Kathmandu was a quirky find because the beer attraction is an excellent draft beer from a small brewery in Czechia. Imports are not uncommon in Nepal, but an excellent draft import is another matter. The story of the pub is an interesting one, too.

The main founder, Subin Thakuri grew up in a rural village which he left in 2000 to begin work as a trekking porter and eventually advanced to the job of mountain guide. Through his work, he became connected with a trio of Czech travelers and climbers, and together they hatched the vision for Czech Pub – a laidback establishment that combines traditional Czech elements with Nepalese touches. Their vision is to be a haven for both Czechs and locals, showcasing Czech cuisine and brews alongside Nepalese favorites.

The beer that caught my attention and taste buds is Primátor Premium from Pivovar Primátor in Náchod, Královéhradecký, Czechia. Primátor is a regional brewery in a small town that brews both traditional Bohemian styles as well as craft beers. The beer comes from Czechia to Nepal in small, Oxebar Mono PET Kegs to keep it good to serve. Of course, Czech Pub serves Nepali beers as well.

Nepal Micropubs are small taprooms operated by the same owner as the aforementioned Sherpa Brewery in several locations in Nepal. We frequented the location near our apartment in the Hattisar neighborhood of Kathmandu (didn’t make it to any of the other locations). The beer selection is Sherpa draft beers and some imports in bottles. The music at our place always seemed to be a great mix of blues. A few items of pub fare are available and a snack of wasabi peas & peanuts came with the beers. It was a fine place for regularly defeating my wife in a game of cribbage.

Beer Dhara in Thamel is a casual, hole-in-the-wall beer spot and bar. “Dhara” means “fountain” so I think you get the idea. A nice second-floor space overlooks the exotic chaos of a Thamel street while you enjoy your beer. Beer Dhara is one of just a few places I found that had both Sherpa and Barahsinghe taps.

Another place with both Sherpa and Barahsinghe taps — and Carlsberg taps (and beer towers) thrown in for good measure is Kyampa The Social Hub in Lalitpur. Kyampa seems like a series of repurposed shipping containers housing a cafe, food operations, gift shops, artisan pop-ups, and food pop-ups with a nice quasi-beer garden providing outdoor seating. It was easily pressed into service as a beer stop.

A place that wasn’t open last fall but that says it is coming soon is called House of Beers in Thamel. Hopefully, it will be a good addition to the beer scene.

Out tasting the beers

Hardcore beer snobs may not find what they are looking for in Nepal at the moment, but for more casual beer snobs like me, it is a fun place to explore. It isn’t the primary reason to go halfway across the world, but it provided a fun adjunct to the incredible settings, hikes, and other explorations there. I’ll be writing about all those things as I add more stories about adventures in Nepal.

Beer, hiking, and travel stories from Nepal

One response to “Beery Nepal – Commercial Offerings”

  1. Steve Avatar

    Namaste!! Awesome write up of the Beer culture of Nepal!! It was great to meet you, and look forward to reading more soon!! Cheer!!

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