Charles Guerrier (SEA Brew) Interview

Charles Guerrier is one of champions of craft beer in Asia. We interviewed the founder of the prestigious Asia Beer Championship & SEA Brew.

Update (25 September 2020): Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, Charles has recently launched the Asia Brewer’s Network – a resource for brewers and beer industry professionals around the region.

Craft beer in Asia is typically a national affair. There are only a handful of Asian craft beers that have had a significant impact (let alone consistent distribution) beyond their shores. Heart of Darkness and Pasteur Street Brewing Company are notable examples.

When it comes to people working in Asia’s craft beer scene, regional recognition is in even shorter supply.

True, many brewers and craft geeks have built personal networks through beer festivals, Facebook Groups, and countertops.

However, few have invested as much time as Charles Guerrier at developing the region’s beer scene and bringing brewers together from South Korea to Singapore.

Charles has been in the food & beverage industry for more than two decades, most of that in Asia-Pacific. In the meantime, he has become one of Asia’s most vocal champions for craft beer.

His work to connect the region’s notoriously divided brewer and lifting up the quality of their beer through events (SEA Brew), award shows (Asia Beer Championships) and advice, deserves a much greater audience.

Which is why it was a no-brainer for Charles to be one of Beer Asia’s first interview subjects for our #BeerTalks series.

Beer Asia’s Interview with Charles Guerrier

We heard you pulled your first pint in the UK back in 1988. How did your journey with beer first begin?

Ah, that was back in the day that you had to hand pump the bubbles into Guinness!

I was working part-time to top-up my college drinking fund.

I started working in bars full time when I arrived in Hong Kong in 1994 and shifted more to the craft side of the industry when I opened a Belgian Restaurant in Singapore in 2003.

That’s when my love of ‘alternative brews’ began.

You travel all over the world trying different beers and visiting brewers. Are there any brewers or countries we should be watching out for in 2019 around Asia?

The industry here is moving so fast that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on sometimes.

I think the region’s main movers and markets are now established (Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, China, Philippines, Singapore, Japan).

Thailand has a rapidly developing craft beer market, though no dominant craft brand has appeared yet – it will be interesting to see which brewer manages to stand out in an increasingly busy (and tricky) marketplace.

The new wave of Korean breweries picked up a lot of awards at the Asia Beer Championship last year, that’s a scene to watch particularly if they start looking to export as Korea is all the rage around the world at the moment.

Tell us a bit more about the work you do with Evolve.

We run projects through Evolve Beverages designed to support the growing craft beer industry such as the Asia Beer Championship and the SEA Brew Sessions, a series of brewers technical sessions designed to complement the main Southeast Asia Brewers Conference (SEA Brew) that we organize.

The brewers’ conference combines a conference and trade fair and is now the largest annual gathering of brewers in the region.

We are also currently working on a beer education platform which we hope to be launching later this year.

I am also a certified Beer Sommelier, which means I am able to conduct beer service training and audits and help bars, breweries and distributors with their craft beer programmes.

What are the most exciting long-term trends in Southeast Asia microbrewing?

Long-term trends are notoriously tough to spot without a crystal ball, I think the only thing we can guarantee is we’re going to see a lot of change over the next 2-5 years with brewers refining their offerings and more money being spent on bigger, more technically advanced brewing systems as the market grows.

I think we’ll see a taming of flavours as styles more suited to the tropics come to the fore (typically big American Style Double IPA’s are not suited to our hot and humid tropical climate).

More balance in terms of hop and malt characteristics as brewers skills develop and more fruity flavours as a greater range of brewing ingredients become readily available in the region.

We were excited watching the Asia Beer Championship you organised last year come to life. Tell us a bit more about why you set up the competition, and what came out of it.

The Asia Beer Championship was launched to provide good beer benchmarks for consumers and professional feedback to brewers.

We had 200 entries from as far apart as Jordan and Japan last year and we are expecting the competition to grow significantly this year as we shall be hosting the Awards Night at SEA Brew in September.

We received very positive feedback from the breweries that entered, the independent professional assessment on their beers was useful to them to help them refine their recipes.

As the competition becomes more and more established over the years we hope consumers will increasingly look to is as a guide for good beer and support local award-winning breweries.

What are your favourite beers at the moment from around the region?

There are now way too many great beers being brewed in the region to be able to list in a short answer without upsetting somebody for not including them!

All I’m going to say is I enjoy discovering delicious new beers on every trip I make around the region, be that in Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong or any other country – but whenever I find myself back in Ho Chi Minh City I always head for a Pasteur Street Brewing Company taproom at the end of an evening for my ‘Bedtime Beer’, the Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout!

For more #BeerTalks interviews with Asia’s craft beer pioneers, check out Beer Asia’s interviews with Tim Scott (Quan Ut Ut & BiaCraft), Andrew Strugnell (Riel Brewing & Distilling) and Phuc Tran (Hoprizon & Brewlliant).

By Oliver Woods

Oliver Woods is the founder of Beer Asia. He is a marketing strategist, co-founder of two ad agencies and craft beer enthusiast. Oliver is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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