The pursuit of hoppy-ness: Indonesia jumps on craft beer bandwagon

The many labels that Beervana brings in. Source: Beervana

IN Muslim-majority Indonesia, beer is not necessarily the beverage of choice for many locals.

However, in tourist-heavy destinations such as Bali and Jakarta, beer is widely available and cheap. To diversify the small market previously dominated by generic labels such as Bintang, Bali Hai, and Anker as well as pricier imported beers, the global craft beer revolution is inching its way into the archipelago.

The pioneer of the movement is Stark Beer, a company that sprung on the cusp of Bali’s thriving era in tourism. The Bali-based company claims to be the first and only craft beer producer in Indonesia.

Co-founder Bona Budhisurya told Travel Wire Asia, “We found there [was] drinkable natural spring water in Banyuning Village and we started looking for suitable land nearby to build the brewery.” The beer is brewed in the northern mountains of Bali.

In Stark’s catalogue of beverages are European-style wheat beer, an Indian Pale Ale, a low-sugar blonde lager, and most interestingly, mango and lychee ales.

“Indonesia is well known for its tropical fruits and we wanted to incorporate this unique flavor in our beer,” Stark Beer co-founder and chairman Jacob Suryanata told Travel Wire Asia.

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Stark’s entry into the market was relished by serious beer drinkers. Suryanata said tourists were receptive to Stark when they found out it was the only craft beer company in Bali and a pioneer in the country.

“Tourists are more aware of craft beer because it has developed in their country. So when they find out there is an Indonesian craft beer, they’re very excited and eager to try,” he said.

While it proved more difficult to educate locals about craft beer, the reception has been warm from the local Balinese, most of whom are proud to welcome a homemade craft label.

“They are so used to just drinking Bintang. However once they taste our beer, they agree our taste and quality are different from commercial beers,” Suryanata said.

However, locals have some way to go in learning about the work that goes into the production of craft beer, which will undoubtedly lead to greater appreciation of craft brews.

“Our current challenge is to educate people about what craft beer is and why it’s different to commercial beer,” Budhisurya said.

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As with any startup, there were hiccups at the start for Stark. Obtaining an alcohol license was tricky for the company, and took time to secure.

Water quality, too, was a challenge when establishing the production center.

“To make good beer, we had to have a good quality source of water, as water is an essential ingredient.” – Suryanata

Water in areas near Jakarta is often polluted and undergoes a tedious filtering process. However, refuge was found in Bali, where clean water was accessible.

“We were able to find a good quality water source at the bottom of Mount Batu Agung in Singaraja, which is four hours away from Kuta. And we built our brewery there.”

It’s also a test to look for experienced local workforce, Budhisurya chimed in. “Since there were only three other breweries in Indonesia before, brewing expertise is very hard to find locally,” he said.

With Bali’s main source of revenue being tourism, most of Stark’s stock gets snapped up on the island.

Also riding on the craft beer wave is Beervana, a company that imports, sources, ships, distributes and promotes overseas craft labels in Indonesia. Its goal is to bring in exemplary brews from around the world for both locals and tourists.

“We see a great opportunity in Indonesia actually, and the number of drinkers is much bigger than statistics would indicate,” founder Aaron Grieser told Travel Wire Asia.

“Our market research showed a large and under-served market with limited variety and high growth rates in the premium sector we focus on.”

In Indonesia, where most locals know beer as a “blonde lager”, Beervana has helped steer locals to take on a more diversified palate.

“When they discover the new universe of craft beer – it’s like removing a blindfold. It’s still early days, but we are seeing a more enthusiastic adoption of craft beer than we saw in Thailand,” Grieser said.

At the moment, the Bali market is an obvious one for the company, but plans to expand in Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung are underway.

Despite a relatively niche and young market for craft beer, Grieser hopes to see more local producers in the country.

“Indonesia has an ancient history of production of local spirits.  It’s ingrained in traditions up until modern times. [This is an] opportunity for Indonesia to take up her traditions and apply them to making modern beer,” he said.