How a Beer Smuggling Club Turned Into Jakarta’s Best Craft Beer Night

Indonesia has a surprisingly limited selection of beer. But one group is trying to introduce Indonesian beer lovers to some of the world's best small-batch brews.
December 6, 2016, 11:39am

Ade Putri Paramadita is serious about her beer. When she's not managing the Indonesian heavy metal band Seringai, Ade is hosting craft beer tasting nights with Beergembira. The events offer drinkers with a wide range of craft brews, as well as a lesson on what makes each bottle special.

VICE sat down with Ade to talk about how hard it is to find a good pint in Jakarta, and why a craft beer tasting night is so controversial in certain corners of the country.

VICE: So what is Beergembira?
Ade Putri Paramadita: Beergembira is a community. We do workshops and craft beer tastings. We want to educate people about beer. Here in Indonesia, the government never educates people about alcoholic drinks. All the do is ban, ban, ban …

They just want to say, 'alcohol is prohibited.'
Exactly. It's prohibited, but we don't know why. I don't want to persuade people to drink, but I do want to educate them about alcohol. Like here, these are the pros and cons of drinking beer. Make your own decisions.

Here in Indonesia, we are pretty late on this whole craft beer trend. How did this whole craft beer tasting thing start for you?

Yeah, so craft beer is definitely new in Indonesia. Regular beer comes from a macro brewery. You've probably heard of Bintang, Heineken, and other big beer brands. These all come from macro breweries, from big factories. But over in Europe and North America, beer is huge. It's part of their culture. Now there's this trend over there of micro breweries. It's a small business that only churns out products in limited quantities. And each beer is unique. Here in Indonesia, we haven't done this yet.

So there is a whole beer culture behind it?
There is. Over there, craft beer is made with pride. People are excited to get their hands on a really limited batch.

How did craft beer culture started in Jakarta?
My friends and I we used to have this thing called Smuggle Club. We would smuggle in beer from abroad. Like I would bring over two bottles, and another person would get two bottles and we would taste them together. If you just drink one whole bottle yourself, there's nothing more to it. But when you drink together, you can compare and analyze the taste. You've got something to discuss.

So your first craft beer was brought into Indonesia from abroad?
The first one I drank, and I remember it clearly, was toasted coconut flavor. You didn't even have to read the can to know the flavor. With my first sip, I could taste it, like vividly. There was also a chocolate coffee breakfast flavored stout.

Jakarta is a big diverse city. There are a lot of people who drink. But there are also a lot who don't. It seems like a weird question to ask about a craft beer tasting, but was there ever any backlash?
Yeah, when I first created Beergembira, a member of the House of Representatives 'attacked' me. Not physically, but with words. He was like why are you doing this? You're teaching people to drink alcohol. I told him we teach people about beer. Last year we did a campaign called 'beer lovers are not criminals.' We started this because a member of the House was on TV saying, 'we need to get rid of beer. It's causing crime to rise in Indonesia.' So we made a video of all of our friends who hold normal jobs, people who are successful, but still drink beer. We're not criminals.

You're trying to fight back against the stigma?
Yeah, it's really concerning that the government keeps trying to draft an anti alcoholic beverages bill. I read the draft. It's pretty serious. It says that if we as much as consume alcohol, we will be fined or jailed.

That's a pretty serious offense for a drinking a beer.
Well if you don't like being told what to do, what to eat, what to drink, the help us raise our voice. If we don't the people at the House of Representatives will just go, 'oh this ban is fine. No one has complained.' If this bill goes through, the only ones allowed to drink alcohol will be the foreigners. Not us.

You can find Beergembira articles and events on their website, and on Facebook and Twitter.