Lhasa Beer

I'm always on the lookout for beers that come from exotic corners of the globe. So when I was reading my September 2009 issue of All About Beer magazine a few months ago, I noticed an ad for a new imported beer from Tibet, called Lhasa Beer. I immediately looked around Reno for the beer, mostly in the Asian markets and at Whole Foods, but I came up empty-handed. Flash-forward to Christmas, when I was visiting family members in Austin, Texas. My wife and I went to the main Whole Foods store there, and while I was looking around, I found that they sold this beer. I had to snag it and bring it back to Reno.

It is important to note that the Lhasa Beer that Americans receive in this country is different than the Lhasa Beer that Tibetans drink. Both are brewed by the Tibet Lhasa Brewery, founded in 1989 in Lhasa, Tibet, as a joint venture between two corporations; half is owned by the Danish Carlsberg Group and a Danish government development fund, and half is owned by a domestic corporation that is traded on the Shen Zhen stock exchange. However, the beer we get is specially designed for the US market, an all-malt Dortmunder lager with up to 30% Tibetan barley (with the remainder coming from Australia) and Saaz hops. The Lhasa Beer consumed in Tibet is a rice beer brewed with a lot of other adjuncts in it, and it is this beer, and others brewed by Tibet Lhasa (which, by the way, is the highest brewery in the world), that accounts for 70% of all beer consumed in Tibet. (Lhasa Beer, Ingredients, Brewery)

What's really cool about this beer is that its U.S. importer, Dzambuling Imports LLC, likes to make a point that 10% of their net profits are reinvested back into "direct philanthropic intervention in Tibet," calling it "good karma." While some people may think that this is just a marketing gimmick, I actually had the privilege of speaking to people in management at Dzambuling who assured me otherwise. They told me that the brewery employs 250 full-time workers, 3/4 of whom are Tibetan, and one worker's salary is sufficient to support one family. Each one also gets full benefits, health care, and a retirement program, and upper management at the brewery even gets housing. The brewery has working conditions that are on a par with a modern well-run American brewery (a photo of the bottling line is below). Finally, even though they aren't yet profitable, they are currently making contributions in support of educating children in Tibet. Good karma, indeed. (Brewery, Interview with Management)

Here come the stats:

Lhasa Beer
BREWERY: Tibet Lhasa Brewery Company Ltd., Lhasa, Tibet*
US IMPORTER: Dzambuling Imports LLC, El Cerrito, CA
STYLE: Dortmunder lager
ABV: 4.6%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 11.3° Plato (1045.62)
MALTS: Up to 30% Tibetan 2-row barley, 70% or more Australian 2-row barley
HOPS: Aroma: Saaz; Bittering: (some variety)
AWARDS: 2009 WBC Silver Medal (Dortmunder Lager)

*I count Tibet as its own country, even though China technically has administrative control over the region. I would count Taiwan similarly. It's not so much a political thing as it is an "exotic" thing.

Information on the first-brewed, malts and hops came from the Ingredients page, the ABV comes from the Beer page, and the award information comes from the Beverage Tasting Institute's review. The remainder of the information came from an interview with management at Dzambuling Imports LLC.

The first thing that hit me was this beer's strong pilsneresque aroma as it hit the glass. A deeper smell reveals a hoppy floral bouquet. The beer poured a yellow-golden color with a bright white head. The taste was carbonated and a bit hoppy for a 20 IBU beer. The finish was very crisp and light, leaving no trace of the hoppiness it originally had.

Lhasa Beer makes for a drinking experience that you can feel good about, both taste- and karma-wise. Pick one up wherever they distribute it, which will also include Reno and Las Vegas in the near future.

ཉེཔོནང (Nyepo nang)!