After last year's devastating earthquake hit Nepal, an unexpected craft beer scene began emerging across the country. I headed to Katmandu to explore what's going on in the beer scene and trek through the Himalayas, and what I discovered was...
Photo via Flickr userFrode Ramone
I got a little drunk at the American Alpine Club annual dinner in New York City last January. It was an exciting affair, headlined by Reinhold Messner, the first man to free-climb Mount Everest without oxygen, and the two daredevils who scaled El Capitan this year.
At the live auction, I bought a two-week trekking trip to Nepal, and my wife Ellen happily agreed to join me.
This, however, was not the best year to plan a visit to Nepal. In April, 2015, a 7.5 Richter scale earthquake killed 10,000 people and destroyed many of the nation's Buddhist and Hindu temples. In recent months, a dispute with neighboring India has resulted in a blockade of Nepal's lifelines, resulting in crippling fuel shortages. There were mile-long lines at the city's gas stations. Our return flight home had to detour to Lucknow, India, to refuel.
But looking on the bright side, there was plenty of room in Katmandu's hotels, and the city's notoriously traffic-choked streets were relatively quiet. (Dodging motorcycles was a little less daunting than dodging trucks and cars). And though dozens of shrines were toppled by the quake, there are thousands still standing—more than enough to satisfy my hunger for Buddhist temples.
I was also interested in following up on a news item I saw earlier last year, which reported that the Nepali Congress passed a law making it easier for people to start microbreweries. Previously, would-be brewers were required to own 300,000 square feet of land (7.5 acres) before they could build a brewery.
The new law would also cut the steep fees for Nepali brewers.
It seems to me that the news of the craft beer revolution reaching Nepal is an indicator that the movement—inspired by America's new breed of brewers—is clearly spreading to the far reaches of the world. Nepal's first craft brewery is Sherpa Brewery, located in Chitwan, south of Katmandu near the Indian border, which opened in 2014.
I tried Sherpa's only brand, Khumbu Kolsch, at the restaurant at Asian Trekking, Ltd., the expedition company that managed our five-day trek through the Annapurna Sanctuary. Asian Trekking CEO Dawa Steven treated us to a lunch. Kolsch is a light ale style created by the brewers of Cologne, Germany, and seems like a reasonable brand to sell in a country that's been limited to light lager beers produced by its only brewery, which is owned by the Danish brewer Carlsberg. And Khumbu Kolsch, named for the famous glacier on the slopes of Mount Everest, is light and spicy with a refreshing, dry finish that's packed in half-liter cans.
Steven also set up a dinner for us with another craft brewery pioneer, Abhi Shek Shrestha, owner of Yeti Distilling Company, who is planning to open Yeti Brewing Company on land that's located between Katmandu and Pokhara in 2017. Currently, the distilling company produces Old Durbar, a Nepali single-malt whiskey and 8848 Vodka, named for the height of the world's tallest mountain.
Yeti is also the Nepali name for the Abominable Snowman.
According to Shek, who studied brewing at Heriot Watt University in Scotland, the government liberalized brewing laws but has yet to promulgate any new regulations, so he had to acquire 7.5 acres of land for his planned 80-hectoliter brewery. He's also planning to open a restaurant with 120 seats at the brewery. Shek also believes that Nepalese beer consumption is growing by 15 percent a year in the country.
"There are many people lined up to get a license, but there is a terrible bottleneck because the government has not yet written new regulations," said Shek. He's planning to launch a German-style wheat beer as his first offering, along with a lager and some ales.
Naturally, we packed Sherpa Beer for our five-day trek through the Himalayas and quickly realized that five days was about all we could handle. We started in Nayapul, a village near Pokhara, and climbed about 500 feet before we had to rest. By day two, we headed to Ghorepani, a 4,000-foot vertical ascent that featured a staircase with 3,300 stone steps, where we witnessed breathtaking (literally) views of Annapurna South, Dhaulagiri, Machapuchare, and Annapurna I and II. We stayed overnight at Tadapani and Ghandruk before returning to Nayapul on the fifth day. Our highest elevation was about 11,000 feet, and the beer was delicious.
We were happy to return to the incredible Dwarika's Hotel, a World Heritage Site in Katmandu, for four days before returning home. I have no doubt that by the next time I visit Nepal, there will be more craft beer choices.