As you probably know, on Saturday, April 25, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal. It was the worst quake in the region in more than 80 years.
A 7.8 quake would be devastating anywhere in the world, but Nepal is especially vulnerable because it’s a mountainous country with widespread poverty, dilapidated roads, a delicate infrastructure and weak communication networks. Kathmandu (also spelled Katmandu) is the country’s capital and largest city, with a population of more than a million (the population of Nepal is about 27 million). It’s densely populated and most of its buildings are made up of unreinforced masonry, which easily crumbles in an earthquake.
My heart aches for the people of Nepal, and I fear the death toll will continue to increase in the coming weeks and months, especially as news trickles in from far-flung villages and as they continue to remove debris.
Last week, it was great to see some Bellingham businesses respond with fundraisers for the recovery efforts. Wander Brewing and Foundation Restoration teamed up, and Boundary Bay started selling and hanging prayer flags (that you can write messages on) to raise money. Boundary Bay is also planning an additional fundraising event in partnership with the Bellingham Farmers Market and Crystal Mountain Treks, so stay tuned for more details on that.
Even though the earthquake has passed, suffering will likely continue and recovery will take years. On a good day, Nepal’s economy — which is largely supported by tourism — is fragile. Not to mention, travel within Nepal is difficult. To give you an example, the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla (where many treks and climbs begin) only takes about 40 minutes or so, but to reach it by ground, you’d have to take a 12-hour bus ride and then make a week-long trek.
With Nepal on the mind, I thought I’d share my beer experiences over there during a three-week climb in the fall of 2013.
Over the course of three days in Kathmandu, I scoured every store we came across in search of new Nepalese (or regional) beers to try. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, most of the ones I found were unexciting light lagers, and many were either past their prime or had been treated poorly on their journeys from breweries to retailers (i.e., lots of heat and light damage).
Most of the beers I tried had similar flavor profiles: Lightly sweet with a one-dimensional malt profile, a faint and herbal-like bitterness, and lingering notes of corn. Unrefrigerated versions, which were common, were even worse.
Curiously, the freshest-tasting beer I had was a can of Everest Premium Lager while in Lukla. Apparently, trekkers and climbers drink a lot in Lukla, so the beer turns over quickly. Every arriving flight seemed to have multiple cases of Everest as part of the cargo.
Everest Premium Lager and Nepal Ice were by far the most popular brands that I came across, and they were also the best tasting. Bottles of San Miguel from the Philippines also were commonly found, and it was at least a drinkable beer.
During my two-week climb of Mera Peak, a 21,200-foot-high mountain in the Everest region, I abstained from alcohol because I didn’t want it to interfere with my acclimatization to the altitude. But after gaining the summit and then beginning our long and arduous, three-day trek back down (and sometimes up) to Lukla, I only had two things on my mind: a shower and a beer.
The shower wouldn’t come for a few more days, but my thoughtful wife surprised me one evening by buying me a beer in a village named Kote. I can’t remember which brand it was, but it was one of the tastiest beer experiences I have ever had.
At the end of our climb we tipped our guides and porters, which they greatly appreciated, but they seemed to appreciate the beers we bought them even more. One of our lead guides later told me that beer is a luxury for many porters because beers cost around $1 each, give or take, and average monthly salaries are only about $30 (US).
From what I gathered, beer isn’t really the “common-man” drink in Nepal, either. I mostly saw locals, especially in rural areas, drinking Chhaang, a relative of beer, which is typically made of fermented millet. It’s served in different ways, but I only saw it served hot (over fermented millet grains) in a bamboo cup (dhungro) with a straw (pipsing).
Even though I didn’t find any beer jewels in Nepal, I wasn’t expecting to and it wasn’t my main objective. I did, however, discover a beautiful country filled with incredibly warm people, and I’ll cherish those experiences forever.
Recovery from this heart-wrenching disaster will surely take a long time and require a lot of money. If you haven’t already, please consider making a donation – however small. Below are some recommended charities.
Boundary Bay Brewery is still selling prayer flags to raise money for recovery efforts. Also, stay tuned for a charity event that is still in the works.
Red Cross Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund
The following three organizations have 4/4 stars from Charity Navigator, and all three are among the 7 charities vetted by MSN: