Sunday, December 15, 2013

What's brewing in Bali

The Search for Craft Beer in Bali
Searching for craft beer in Bali
"We are going to Bali," I said as I clicked the purchase button on the airline's website. In the back of my head I was hoping there was some good craft beer there, since my recent trip to Aruba proved unfruitful. It just seems the closer to the equator you get the harder it is to find a good craft beer. Aruba lies 12 degrees north of the equator, Bali is only 8 south and Indonesia was mostly Muslim; the odds were not looking good. I knew from a prior visit about 10 years earlier that Bali did have beer and the mostly Hindu population tolerated beer drinking from its large population of Western tourists and expats. That said all the beer then was Bintang, made by Asia Pacific Breweries, which is part owned by Heineken ("Bintang" means "Star" and it's in a green bottle, you get the point). The craft beer trend is global now though and I hoped things had changed, for the better.

Touchdown in Bali
Colorful fishing boats on Sanur's Beach
Bintang - A Balinese Staple
Some things had changed in Bali and some had not. The smell was the same: a mix of incense, rice cooking and trash burning. The temples were still beautiful and the fish under the waves were as graceful as the surfers above them. People still begged and stall owners aggressively hawked their goods. Bargaining is fun and things are pretty cheap. It was hot, but after a winter in New Zealand we welcomed it. People were friendly and the food was great. Part of the reason we were in Bali was to relax and detox after a week at the New Zealand Beer Awards and Choice Beer Week in Wellington, New Zealand. So, the first few nights we chose to stay in Sanur instead of Kuta or Seminyak which tend to be more party packed.
Like all the beach towns near Denpasar it was still busy with a mix of resorts, shops and restaurants but quiet enough to relax if you wanted to. The fruit smoothies were refreshing and flavorful but the beer was just refreshing. Bali Hai and Bintang were the only domestic beers to be seen and now and then Tiger, San Miguel and other Asian standards would be found on menus but unless you wanted a cold pilsner lager, you were out of luck. It was a nice intro to Bali but we were happy to move on to Ubud a couple days later.
Finally a local craft beer, in the shadow of a temple
Craft Beer at Last!
Ubud is inland, closer to the volcanic mountains and can get cooler nights and landscape greening rain. Overall we had nice weather and our house, nestled amongst the rice paddies just outside of town, was a great base for exploring the area. Ubud is the cultural center of Bali with lots of artists and temples all around the town. It was substantially busier than the last time I went, mostly thanks to the throngs of Eat Pray Love readers searching for mind and body cleansing experiences at the yoga studios and spas. I too appreciated the cheap ($10/hr) massages available where ever you went but what I really wanted was a nice craft beer! After scanning over a dozen restaurant menus we found one at Cafe Lotus, a peaceful spot in the middle of town surrounded by a lily pad pond and temple views. Stark Beer is on the north side of the island and just came on the scene in 2011. They make
The view from Cafe Lotus
a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen. I only could find the hefe but it was a welcome change. The level of enjoyment in your drinking experience depends a lot on surroundings and circumstance. In a blind taste test at home this beer was barely an average hefeweizen, a little lemony, a little sour on the finish, with a touch of clove spice. However, after four days without a craft beer, thirsty in the midday heat, with sore feet after walking all over town for hours, it was ecstasy.

Peaceful views outside of Ubud
Searching for Storm Beer
As much as it seems the thirst for craft beer is ever increasing it just goes to show that some places aren't quite right or just aren't quite ready to embrace it. Storm Beer looked like just what the doctor ordered. A typical small craft brewery, first on the scene in Bali, offering a range of craft flavors, like Golden Ale, Pale Ale and Stout. The website looked promising with several outlets listed as carrying their beer. The online reviews were mixed so I was eager to give it a crack myself. Upon arrival it was nowhere to be found. Information was scarce, and time after time every retailer listed on their website replied with the same answer: sorry, sold out. Rumor has it the owners had some disagreements and were sorting it out in court. All I hope is Stark fills the gap and can keep the craft beer movement alive in Bali. Who knows, maybe when we return there will be several local craft beers to try out.
Spa treatment - For $3 I just had to try it, it
tickles a lot but my feet did feel a little cleaner!


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