Brewed in Nepal

It’s hardly surprising that I see eye to eye with Arvind Das Joshi.  A person who sits on the SIRC Board can hardly be a bad person, now can they?

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Arvind joined the SIRC Board about the time I left SIRC after my 5-month stint there in 2014, and I only met him briefly at the ASCoN conference in Kathmandu, December 2015.  That’s not a lot of time to get to know a person.  We share careers in the business world and became facebook friends some time ago, slowly getting to ‘know’ one another (as much as one can) through comments and reactions made on facebook.  So it was with delight (at least on my part) that we managed to arrange to meet in person last Friday.

I have discovered I am a bit of a production process geek as a result of my work here in Sri Lanka with the VEGA/BIZ+ project, working with smallholder / family run businesses that process or make things …. a far cry from the service industry that is my area of expertise in Canada.  An added bonus to meeting Arvind was a tour of Himalayan Brewery, a business he owns and operates with his wife Neeta.

Himalayan Brewery is located in the village of Godavari, some 30 minutes drive from Sanepa in the unspoiled foothills on the edge of Kathmandu Valley.  Godavari is the home to the National Botanical Garden, has some great hiking trails through the uncut forest and a nice picnic area by the river.  The area has got seriously good clean air and a pristine River Godavari, sacred to the Hindus.  It is from this source the brewery gets it’s unspoilt water, and pays the local community for it’s use.  Pure, unsullied, crystal clear water is the secret ingredient to Himalayan Brewery’s really good beer.  Not easy to find in the Kathmandu Valley let me tell you – clear water that is.

Photo credit Nepal Tourism

River Godavari.  Photo credit Adventure Nepal Eco-Treks

Bought some six years ago, Arvind and Neeta have injected energy and professionalism into the 35+ year old brewery, having hired a Master Brewer from Chitwan, Nepali (surely one of the few Nepali Master Brewers??) and modernized much of the aged equipment, allowing production and sales to be increased three-fold over this short period of time.  The brewery produces three types of beer, each with a distinct taste and alcohol percentage to suit its broad range of customers.  My favourite is Iceberg.

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An additional small distillery was set up on the grounds of the brewery site last year and the premium  EXE Vodka is distilled there.

exe-vodka

Future plans are to continue to grow the beer market share by cashing in on the micro-brew craze and produce small-batch craft beers, including wheat beers – the first of it’s kind in Nepal.  Research is also underway as we speak on developing a distinctive whiskey – I have no doubt it will rival many a Scotch and Irish whiskey.

What interested me a tad more than the brewery itself, is the way in which Arvind and Neeta run their business.

Previously, the primary way to make a living in the village of Godavari was to work in the marble open quarry in the nearby hills.  I say hills as this is Nepal and the local hills are 10,000 ft+ in elevation.  They’d be known as mountains elsewhere.

Injuries were rampant and could be fatal, and the impact to the flora and fauna of the local area was significant.  Significant enough for a group of activists in 2001 to petition the Nepali Government to shut down the quarry.  By 2015, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the activists, and the quarry was closed.  Good news for the environmentalists but bad news for the locals whose primary income came from working the quarry.

Segway to the brewery where business had started to grow and production and sales began to rise around the same time.  Himalayan Brewery now hires some 200 local villagers, and they try to hire at least one family member from each household and do not discriminate on gender.  Having both skilled and un-skilled positions, the business commits to growing and upskilling their staff as the business grows.

Arvind tells me he has noticed the village become more prosperous since the brewery started to pick up some speed:  there’s a new barber in town, a tailor, a mobile phone store and a motorcycle repair shop as well as many corner-store-like shops.  I saw healthy well dressed kids in uniforms leave a well-kept school while in the village.  The village itself was clean and litter-free (garbage dumping is a huge problem in Nepal).  So, although Himalayan Brewery is a for-profit entity, it’s got it’s Corporate Social Responsibility down pat.

I know the VEGA/BIZ+ project I am working on here in Sri Lanka, makes these kind of management commitments mandatory for the businesses we partner with.  Both direct impacts (jobs) and indirect impacts (using local suppliers, financially supporting the local economy, improving workplace skills etc), are carefully monitored.  So it was gratifying to see Arvind and his team do this as a matter of course, and not because some higher power demands it.

Kudos to Himalayan Brewery.  All the more reason to drink their beer!!

I really enjoyed my visit to the brewery, and catching up with Arvind, discussing all sorts of topics while stuck in the Friday evening traffic in Kathmandu – the time just flew.  Thanks Arvind.

And now for my fellow production geeks, this slideshow is for you, although my point-and-click camera does not do it justice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

About Kate Coffey

After 25+ years in the investment management industry, I packed in my job and spent 2014 living and working in Nepal and Bangladesh, and visited some other places in between. It took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and it's people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Sanga foothills. Since 2014, I have continued my warm relationship with SIRC and worked closely with my friends there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes to date. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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