Burbrit turns joke into success

After a successful debut in Yangon in 2016, Burbrit Co, Myanmar’s first craft beer maker, is now expanding the variety of beers in its stable to cater to local taste buds with the aim of turning a profit within the next five years, U Maung Zaw, one of the company’s four directors, said in an interview.

The new flavours include stout, which is a combination of beer and coffee; Nagarni gala, which is made from dragon fruit; beers made from Myanmar tea leaves; and Myanmar toddy-palm wine.

Since its establishment, Burbrit has produced 10 craft beers with different tastes at its microbrewery in South Dagon, Yangon, including German weizen, Shwe ale, Rangoon blonde, English bitter, Nevada pale ale, Irish red ale, Burma pale ale, Mandalay brunette, London porter, and mango weizen.

The brewery has 37 shops in Yangon and plans more in Loikaw in Kayah State, Mandalay city and Bagan in Mandalay Region, Nay Pyi Taw, Chaungtha in Ayeyarwady Region, Myeik and Kawthaung in Tanintharyi Region, Kalaw and Nyaungshwe in Shan State, and Monywa in Sagaing Region.

While a glass of draught beer usually costs K2500 in Myanmar, a small glass of Burbrit is K3500 and a large one is K5000. Despite being more expensive than other beers, Burbrit craft beers are gaining in popularity due their taste.

“The taste of Burbrit is very nice. Its taste is significantly different from ordinary beers. But it’s even more expensive than Heineken or Carlsberg. I love it, but it’s so expensive that I can’t always afford it,” said one customer, U Kyaw Gyi of North Okkalapa township.

Such consumers are one of the main growth challenges Burbrit faces today, said U Maung Zaw. “So we aim to make Myanmar consumers familiar with craft beer and produce other Myanmar-style beers within three years,” he said.

“Craft beer is quite different from ordinary beers, which need heating in the production process for preservation. Our beer is fresh because it doesn’t need heating. It always needs to be stored between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. Our main objective is to make it popular among consumers and produce beers to the taste of Myanmar consumers.” said U Maung Zaw.

It started as a joke

Burbrit was founded by four friends: U Htin Lin, U Win Kyaw, Guy Heathers, and U Maung Zaw, an engineer. The idea of making craft beer started when U Htin Lin and Heathers, who were colleagues at a biotechnology company in Singapore in the early 2000s, joked about opening their own microbrewery while having drinks at their regular craft beer outlet in the Lion City. U Maung Zaw, who met the pair in Singapore, also discovered a taste for craft beer during his years pursuing his studies there.

In 2013, U Maung Zaw and U Htin Lin left Singapore to return to Myanmar. In 2014, they submitted an application to the government for a beer license. But the government at that time had suspended licenses for new breweries. In 2015, they received a notification letter from the government that their application for a beer license was rejected, said U Maung Zaw.

“While waiting for our application to be processed, U Htin Lin acquired a thorough knowledge of brewing in America, Europe, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. We made all the proper preparations to set up the microbrewery so we didn’t want to give up easily despite the rejection letter. So we made further attempts after carefully revising the documents in the proposal,” said U Maung Zaw.

While they waited for a license, the four friends searched for land on which to build a brewery, purchased equipment and stockpiled raw materials so that they could start brewing as soon as they received a license.

“We received good news in January 2016 that the government would allow us to apply for a license,” said U Maung Zaw. The four friends were granted the license in December 2016.

“As soon as we received permission, we started brewing beer. At one point, we were brewing up to 1500 litres of beer but were worried about what we would do if none of the shops wanted to sell our beer, so we got the idea to run a shop of our own,” he said.

Burbrit Tasting Room, the first shop to offer craft beer in Myanmar, opened in January 2018 at the brewery in South Dagon Industrial Zone near Bailey Bridge in Yangon. It was opened with the idea of letting customers taste the beer after touring the brewery – a concept that proved popular with foreigners as well as locals.

No competition

Burbrit now produces around 15,000 litres of craft beer per month. The beers, which retail in hotels and restaurants in Myanmar, are available in kegs, bottles or cans. The company has also raised US$1.2 million to increase its beer flavours, but will need more money to buy the necessary equipment to increase production, U Maung Zaw said.

Will competition be a problem in the meantime? After Myanmar liberalised beer licensing in 2015, foreign beer brands such as Heineken, Carlsberg, Tuborg and Kirin entered the market with huge momentum. Other beer brands like Yoma, Black Shield and ABC have also been launched on the market.

Besides local beers like Myanmar and Dagon, cheap beers like Chang and Leo from Thailand have also entered through the illegal border trade.

U Maung Zaw said, “Although it is a huge market, I don’t see any competition. Every other beer out there is aiming for a cheap price, while we are a craft beer focusing on freshness. Since our aim is different, so is our market,” he said.

He admitted though, that Burbrit will have to raise awareness of craft beer among consumers and actively market its products. “Our aim is to raise awareness and demand for craft beer in Myanmar,” he said.

But more importantly, “we think that being the first craft beer producer in Myanmar is a success in itself and proves that an idea that started out as a joke between friends can come true if there is a will,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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