Two Beer Country

Posted on December 28, 2015

Bhutan is a 2-beer country. But with 2 good beers, I suppose a person with a taste for beer need not complain. The original beer is Druk 1100, a hoppy ale type drink. It has a good beer taste, rich and satisfying on the palate, comes in a hefty liter size bottle and goes down easily. It is certainly Bhutan’s favorite beer, and when I’m in Bhutan it’s also my favorite beer. It comes in 2 forms, the original and most popular goes by the full name of Druk 11000, Super Strong Beer, with a red label. Recently introduced is Druk Lager, in a blue label. My taste buds are happier with the original red-labeled brew.

The army brews Druk beer, or to be more specific the AWP, Army Welfare Project, established in 1974 to provide benefits for retired military in the form of employment, pensions and loans. They make almost all the alcohol in Bhutan, which seems to me like a great endeavor for an army, and could also make a fine motto, ‘make booze, not war.’

The other beer is Red Panda, and it has its share of admirers, and I readily admit to being one of them. Red Panda has its own unique origin. The Swiss man Fritz Maurer, answered a newspaper advertisement in Switzerland, some 40 years ago for a cheese maker in Bhutan.  Fritz came, married a Bhutanese woman, assisted with the importation of milk cows from Switzerland, introduced bee keeping and honey farming and lonesome for wheat beer, developed a brew he named Red Panda.  Fritz is an institution in Bumthang where he settled, and throughout Bhutan is known and has been recognized by the King for his service to Bhutan. He can be seen at his inn, the Swiss Guest House in central Bhutan, where he first brewed Red Panda, and the only place it can be obtained on tap. The actual animal called a red panda looks like a large handsome raccoon, is related to the panda and native to the Himalayan region. Your best chance to seeing one is the picture on the bottle of beer, as they are both secretive and nocturnal.

The cheese and beer production permit one to consume raclette, a typical Swiss dish, quaff Red Panda, in a bucolic setting of apple orchards with mountains in the background. One might almost be forgiven for thinking they have been mysteriously transported to Switzerland; the mountains, the food, beehives, and the Bhutanese architecture which bears an uncanny resemblance to Swiss chalet style buildings.

Bhutan also hosts some imported beer. I guess it’s good for the reputation of Bhutanese beer that none of these are really good. Cans of Tiger Beer from Singapore are easy to find, though bland to drink, and numerous Indian beers, none of them the best India has to offer also make their way into Bhutan. A kingdom with less than 1 million people and 2 great beers is doing just fine.