For foreign visitors in Cambodia used to imbibing swill out of ugly red-and-gold cans, Kingdom Breweries’ simple, relatively stylish branding is hard to ignore. We first saw the serif, blue-and-white logo on the side of a street food cart in Siem Reap and were immediately intrigued: Could this be good beer?
The convenience store next to our hostel coincidentally stocked some of the brewery’s offerings, and a quick taste-test in the street revealed that the beers were in fact more delicious than the watery lagers and chemically-tasting dark beers produced by the likes of Cambrew and Khmer breweries. Of course, we had to find out more.
Kingdom Breweries is located in the Cambodian capital Phnom Pehn in a former Nestlé factory on the Tonle Sap River. Despite the plural in the name, there is only one brewery, and despite the craft beer image, Kingdom is more of what you’d call a “boutique” brewery—pumping out high-quality beers at a rate of 1,800 bottles per hour. We got to see it all in action on one sultry December afternoon when we popped in for a tour.
The excursion began the way every brewery tour should: with a beer. We were brought up to Kingdom’s taproom, an inviting space with lazy, colonial vibe and great views out onto the water. The taps were out that day in preparation for a big New Years event, so we were given a choice of a bottle or can of the company’s four current brews: their classic pilsner, dunkel, Kingdom Max, and Kingdom Dark.
There were four in our group, and for whatever reason everyone avoided the “INSANELY STRONG” Kingdom Max. The pilsner was crisp and smooth, while the dunkel was malty and slightly sweet. When poured out of the can, the dark brew was slightly more red than the dunkel, and had just a hint of berry flavour that did wonders to hide the 8 percent ABV (Fun fact: Cambodians like to drink their beer with ice, so many domestic beers come with higher-than-average alcohol content). A magical drink. Under the circumstances (it was hot, we were in Cambodia), they were all delicious and way better than the canned crap the rest of the domestic breweries do so well.
Our tour guide Zana gave us a rundown of the brewery. Kingdom started in 2009 with a German braumeister, something that a lot of the micro and macro breweries in Cambodia also claim. They’ve since lost the dude, though Zana wouldn’t really elaborate on why, and operations are now overseen by a Thai brewmaster with experience brewing in Asia and South America. Kingdom started out brewing beer according to the German Reinheitsgebot, but it’s unclear if anything but their pilsner is brewed that way these days.
After slurping our drinks down, Zana led us to the brewery and explained the basic process of turning ingredients gifted to us by Mother Nature into the joyous beverage we know as beer. The illustration on the wall was a bit underwhelming, but afterwards she passed around jars of malt and let us huff their grainy smells.
Next we were shown where the magic happens. Kingdom uses equipment from the Czech Republic, ingredients imported from Europe (which seems to be another trend for smaller Asian breweries), and water from the Tonle Sap to make all their beers. Zana said that they do not currently operate at full capacity, and also lease out production time to Asia Pacific Cider Company, who produce Bruntys Cider. We’d never heard of Bruntys before coming to Asia but, once we started to think about it, we’d seen Kingdom beer somewhere else… where could it have been? Zana said that the company exports to a couple countries around the world, including France and the UK, so somewhere in London there must be a pub stocking Cambodia’s “only premium beer”.
The brewery itself wasn’t anything special, though it was cool to watch all the bottles spinning through the production process, from empty shells to vessels full of joy. Zana noticed that we were enraptured by the machines, and offered us some beers straight off the line before they were pasteurised. The beers were ice cold and had yet to receive their labels or bottle caps, and the fresh, unpasteurised pilsner inside had a very slight haze to it. After just one sip it was easy to tell the difference between this and the finished product; both the smell and flavour were vivid and intense, and it had a creaminess to it almost like an unfiltered beer.
Back upstairs in the taproom, Zana offered us all another beer. When the question is “beer”, the answer should always be “YES”. She pulled out four unlabelled bottles from the bar fridge, and as soon as she popped the caps open, the most delicious chocolately smell wafted out. This was a chocolate stout, from a small batch The Boss had made—just because he wanted to. They tasted fantastic; maybe a bit heavy for pilsner and lager fans, but still not too sweet and not too bitter. It was some of the best beer we could have asked for in Cambodia.
Daylight was fading and we offered to leave so our guide could clean up and go home, but instead she offered us another beer. We took the opportunity to head out onto the balcony and watch an amazing sunset over the Tonle Sap River.
Another day to be happy we’re travelling.