By Brian Spencer
The challenge for Alvin Lim is getting more Malaysians to hit the booze like his 67-year-old mother.
“My mom loves to drink, but she was always drinking your Royal Stout or your Tiger beer,” says Lim, who with four family members owns and operates TAPS Beer Bar in Kuala Lumpur. “Then we started bringing in these craft beers, and now she’s drinking Kooinda Black IPA every time she comes to the bar, so I think we’re doing our job. We’re a just bit ahead of our time.”
With their two-year anniversary approaching in December, TAPS remains the only bar in KL offering an extensive range of imported craft beers on draft: 14 microbrews are poured from a custom-made tap system designed by Lim’s uncle, an engineer at Shell. It’s a fancy contraption befitting a fancy lineup of beers rarely seen in this part of the world; at the time of writing, for example, the tap list included Monk’s Elixir and Kvindelob 10K (Mikkeller), Wit and Bitter (Nogne O), Blossom (To Øl), Red Rice Ale (Hitachino Nest), and Dead Pony Club (BrewDog).
Procuring demand-exceeding-supply beers from the likes of Mikkeller and To Øl hasn’t been easy for a comparatively oddball operation like TAPS. Microbreweries simply aren’t used to distributing to Malaysia.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get their confidence because they’re very sensitive about their products and whether they will be taken care of or sold properly. A lot of the breweries weren’t convinced of the way we were doing it,” says Lim. “So we started off with Australian breweries since my cousin is familiar with the industry around Melbourne, then got the Aussie brewers to put in a good word.”
Since TAPS deals with breweries directly and handles all import logistics, it also doubles as a distributor, another task with a unique set of challenges given that most pubs have exclusive agreements to serve beers from the region’s major breweries. “We cannot offer any monetary rewards or extra goodies to come along with our beers because the smaller breweries don’t give any,” he says. “We only sell to people who are willing to take the beers and don’t expect special treatment or special rewards from us.”
For now, that means TAPS delivers craft beers to a modest number of food & beverage outlets in KL, including trendy mid-range restaurants like Daikanyama and BAIT, bistro/music hall The Bee, and specialty bottle shop Ales & Lagers.
Though TAPS has established itself as a legitimate operation in the eyes of their suppliers, they need to still do the same within KL’s local beer-drinking community. Expats, predictably, haven’t been the problem: Lim says that foreigners accounted for roughly 70-percent of the bar’s business during its first year.
“We still find it a challenge to sell craft beer to Malaysians because the general concept around here is just that beer is the cheapest way to get drunk,” says Lim. “That being said, we have seen an increase of local people coming to the bar.”
That increase has amounted to an expats-to-locals split now closer to 60-40, but Lim and his colleagues are obviously still hunting for more Malaysian regulars. After all, mom can only drink so many Black IPAs.
TAPS Beer Bar is located at One Residency, Jalan Nagasari, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. +60 3-2110 1560. Open Mon – Thurs 5pm – 1am, Fri – Sat 5pm – 2am, and Sun 12pm – 1am.