I usually go rogue during the #8BeersOfChanukah and allow at least one or two foreign beers to make their way onto my craft beer Menorah. Usually, it’s a product you can still find at the LCBO, or something we’ve picked up on our travels. This time, I dug very deep into my tickle trunk of beer, and found something truly unique to share. For this 8th night of Chanukah, I cracked open a 500mL can of Dragon Stout from Ser Bhum Brewery, a craft brewery from the remote and elusive Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The stout clocked in at 6% ABV, and the brewery is located at a dizzying 3150 metres in altitude.
You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of Bhutan. The tiny Buddhist nation of 807,000 people sits landlocked in the Himalayas, between the remote Indian state of Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. There are only 2 airlines that service the tiny country, connecting it with Bangkok, Kathmandu, Delhi, and a small handful of Indian cities. Getting there is half the experience, and visitors are subject to a mandatory daily tourism tax. So why would anyone want to visit this remote corner of the world? Well it offers unspoiled beauty with stunning views of the Himalayas, clean air, Buddhist temples unlike other parts of Asia, and the country measures its success in Gross National Happiness, a concept I found mesmerizing from the moment I learned about it. In fact, I have a debilitating crush on this country, and it is number one on my lengthy bucket list.
The Ser Bhum Brewery is the country’s first craft brewery, located 12 kilometres outside the capital of Thimphu along the well-travelled route to Punakha. The brewery overlooks an archery range, which is the country’s national sport. Image a craft brewery overlooking a hockey arena here in Canada, and you’ve pretty much got the idea. The brewery has actually been on my radar ever since they were in their initial planning stages a few years ago, and I’ve been keen to try their beer ever since I heard of them. Would it be good? Who knew – but it would be a nice change from the frequently skunked light lagers I’ve encountered in neighbouring China and India. So when a colleague was headed to Bhutan back in September, I pleaded with her – would she be so kind as to shlep a couple of cans home for me to try? She was strangely happy to oblige with my unconventional request, bringing me back a can of their Dragon Stout as well as the flagship Bhutan Glory Amber Ale. It seemed only fitting that we enjoyed them together during the first Chanukah party I have ever hosted, and possibly the first one I have attended in at least 25 years. Unfortunately, my notes from last night are not the most legible or detailed ones that I’ve taken, but I think I have enough to go on.
Appearance: Dark, rich brown colour with a rapidly fading tan head.
Aroma: Espresso and dark chocolate.
Taste: Rich dark chocolate on the palate with espresso and toasty coconut notes. Sweet molasses backbone with burnt toast and a mild hoppiness on the finish.
Aftertaste: Lingering notes of burnt toast and dark chocolate.
Food pairing: I remember walking around my kitchen, noshing on the spread. Smoked salmon? Check. Latkes? Check. Chocolate turtles? Check. Brie and crackers? Check. I don’t know what it paired best with, but I sure am glad I ate all of the things. All. Of. The. Things. Pair it with classic Bhutanese dishes, such as… um… happiness?
Overall: Very pleased to see that this stout was quite true to style, with warm toasty notes. In a country that is not known for their beer (there appears to be only a small handful of craft breweries in Bhutan, quite well spread out), this one seems to be the largest craft brewery and the easiest to get to once you’ve gone on the epic quest to visit the country. If you’re in Bhutan, check it out and bring me back a few cans, would you?
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