by Luke Corbin
While the rest of mainland Southeast Asia has seen a steady increase in craft beer over the last decade, one country has missed out. It’s fair to say that options for locally produced, fresh craft beer brewed in styles other than the standard rice lagers and pilsners have been lacking in Myanmar – for a combination of cultural, logistical, religious and political reasons. But finally, as of January 20, 2017, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar decided to issue a new brewing license, allowing the country its very first microbrewery.
The Burbrit brewery is nestled in northwest Yangon beside the Pazundaung Creek, in an industrial zone replete with charming traditional Myanmar culture. As you while your way through the alleys from the Parami Rd bridge towards the brewery you will see teenagers playing chinlone, the traditional sport, beside sheds where workers carve teak chairs by hand.
Now the fish processors, carpenters, car-washers and other workers of the area have the option of being treated to an India Pale Ale over lunch, instead of the standard Myanmar macrobeers that dominate the beerosphere here.
The venue is gorgeous, with large riverfront views, mostly unspoiled by construction (a rare thing in contemporary Yangon). There is substantial outdoor seating and indoor seating for fifty to sixty people. Local artists have painted a number of craft beer-inspired murals in “street art” style, lending the industrial vibe an extra layer of cool. There are even flat screen televisions for those who want to stay inside with the air-conditioning and watch some sport.
Burbrit currently brews three beers. They include a German-style wheat beer, known simply as the “Weissbier” a darker-than-normal coloured Pilsner with a unique recipe, known as the “Rangoon Blonde”, and an American India Pale Ale, the “Burma Pale Ale”.
The Weissbier is best drink fresh, with lingering Bavarian banana yeast esters melding with a light chewy mouthfeel. The Rangoon Blonde is a slowly-fermented lager that is then flash-served without an extended maturation, giving a slightly fusel character to its light-caramel malt notes; truly a unique beer, and the brewery’s most popular. The third offering, the “Burma Pale Ale”, is very much a standard American IPA, a touch murky, with New World citrus hop character and a strong crystal malt character.
The brewery currently employs a 500L Braumeister brewing system, air-freighted from Germany, and has the capacity to ferment 1500L simultaneously. In good news for beer fans, the owners have already committed to expanding their equipment, with an expected quadrupling of fermentation capacity expected by late April 2017. All their brewing takes place on-site behind the tap-room and the stainless steel bling is on full display – if you come on a brew day, you can watch the entire process through the generous glass windows. The ingredients are all sourced from Germany.
The two co-founders of Burbrit are committed to fostering craft beer appreciation in Myanmar and are very much aware of the responsibility on their shoulders as the first microbrewery in the country. They brew according to the Reinheitsgebot and plan to distribute their beer on draught to select venues across the city. At present they are holding back from bottling until they are confident that their beer is being brewed consistently and the market is ready.
January 2017 will go down in history for beer fans in Myanmar as the month we finally saw light at the end of the tunnel of sickly sweet tropical stout and flavourless fizzy adjunct lagers. Exciting times are ahead for beer in Burma!
The Burbrit brewery’s address is No. D16, North Dagon Industrial Zone, 34 Quarter Extension, Yangon 11111. Taxis may have difficulty finding it – but it’s only a few hundred metres from the well-known bakery Bo Bo Min on U Wisara Rd, which most taxi drivers will know. There is also signage directing you to the brewery from the entrance of U Wisara Rd.
**Luke Corbin is a PhD Candidate at the School of Culture, History and Languages, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. His research focuses on beer culture and history in Southeast Asia and he is based in Yangon, Myanmar.