Craft beer’s popularity and prevalence across the Cambodian capital continues to rise, so AsiaLIFE decided to arrange a blind tasting of some of Phnom Penh’s finest brews. Words by Marissa Carruthers; photography by Enric Català.
While the craft beer trend has been sweeping across the West for the last decade or more, it is only in recent years that it has started to make its mark in Cambodia.
As an increasing number of breweries set up shop, we decided to assemble a panel of judges to put their taste buds to the test.
Taking in former sommelier and Hangar 44 co-owner Patrick Uong, entrepreneur and co-founder of the likes of Bar Sito and a string of ventures on Bassac Lane, William Norbert-Munns, AsiaLIFE marketing director and avid beer drinker, Jonathon Baxter, and myself – AsiaLIFE editor and someone who’s beer expertise is limited to cradling a warm pint in a British beer garden on a rare summer’s day.
With our blindfolds tightly tied, we tried and tested five craft beers and gave them scores out of five. Here’s what we found.
The beer test started off well with beer number one pleasing the panel’s palate. We found the drink light and smooth, with a slightly bitter aftertaste that was a bit yeasty. The “craftiness” of the ale shone through, with an almost smoky rye flavour present. “A real American ale,” is how it was described. While we were all in agreement that it tasted good, we were also of the same mind that none of us could stomach more than a couple of glasses.
It came as a semi-surprise that this beer was Himawari’s CentenniALE (ABV 6.5 percent). As a celebration of the commonly used Centennial hops, this American-style IPA is described as high in bitterness with a residual malt sweetness. 4/5
Our panel picked up on the faint scent of caramel and honey from our second offering. However, it had us baffled after tasting, and a debate raged over whether it was a stout or not. Hints of honeysuckle and bitter coffee were noted after tasting.
This was the one that had the panel most intrigued and for those who had it down as a stout, it came as a surprise that this was in fact Cerevisia Mandarin Pale Ale (ABV 5.7 percent). Described as a “Bavarian sensation” with an even nose, the medium body, pale ale comes with hints of sweet citrus, fruit and sweet malt, and boasts a smooth, even bitterness and crisp finish. 3/5
This beer sent the panel into a spin about our doubt over the previous beer’s identity, with us all in agreement that it was definitely a stout, thanks to the creamy bitterness shining through. We recognised notes of toffee and roasted coffee beans, with a silky smooth texture.
Relief ensued when this was, indeed, unveiled as a stout in the form of Cerevisia Dark Star Porter (ABV 5.4 percent). Described as a medium-bodied brew, layered with roasted coffee and chocolate, we weren’t far wrong with our guess – although it didn’t go down great with the panel. 2/5
The fourth drink was a unanimous flop for us blind tasters. Giving off a strong hops aroma, the taste was dull. Comments included, it has “no personality”, is suffering from an “identity crisis” and tastes like “dirty dishwater”. A definite no go for us, landing at the bottom of the score table.
When beer number four was revealed as Himawari Aspara Gold (ABV 5 percent), a couple of nods of acknowledgment were passed by unsurprised judges. As an Australasian-style pale ale brewed using Nelson Sauvin and Cascade, our judges argued against its description as a “light and delicate” drink. 1/5
After the disappointment of the previous entry, our final beer was a welcome relief. Bringing with it a lot more bite than its predecessor, the panel agreed that many glasses of this beer could be enjoyed. A subtle dryness was detected, along with a faint fruity flavour and hints of caraway. Light and balanced, this was an overall hit.
There wasn’t much surprise when this transpired to be Cerevisia Farm House Ale (ABV 5.5 percent).
The saison pale ale is described as light with a slightly sweet and bitter bite, with notes of mango, peach and lemongrass. 4/5
With number five and one both scoring four out of five, and there only space for one winner, the panel finally settled on our first beer, Himawari’s CentenniALE, which we gave the crown to.
Despite our preferred beer holding a limited drinking time with the panel, the flavours that came coupled with those few sips trumped the rest, with the smooth, flavoursome brew scoring top in our blind tasting test.