Bishkek-based writer Chris Rickleton's wonderful recent Eurasianet article about the booming domestic beer scene in Kyrgyzstan left me thirsting for more information. Rickleton, a former editor of the Bishkek-based English-language tourism and culture magazine "The Spektator," which was founded by Tom Wellings, was kind enough to answer some follow-up questions that I sent him. Our exchange is below:
1. How did you come about this story?
Wherever I live or travel to, I always make a point of trying local produce, be it beer, cheese or otherwise. In Kyrgyzstan the cheese situation is pretty dire, but happily, local beers aren't bad at all. Moreover, in the nearly four years I have been here, the number of local brews available at cafes and 'beer stations' like Pinta has grown noticeably. In 2008, it was difficult to find anything besides Russian beer on the shelves in grocery stores and Arpa was practically alone in flying the Kyrgyz flag in Bishkek's cafes. That just isn't the case anymore. I was particularly interested by the rise of microbreweries like "Venskoye" and "Chuiskoye" that have managed to stay in business over the last few years, despite political turbulence and a struggling economy. A lot of the news that comes out of Kyrgyzstan is bad news, so I wanted to do an article on what appeared to be a local success story.
2. Were you able to pinpoint anything specific that helped launch this Kyrgyz microbrew moment?
It’s dark and a little creamy, not as sweet as many post-Soviet beers, a smooth and nutty brew that should make any Kyrgyz beer lover proud.
Aside from its taste, Chuiskoye Temnoye Pivo (Chui Dark Beer), named after the region in northern Kyrgyzstan from which it hails, has one distinct characteristic that keeps local beer connoisseurs snickering: The label prominently displays a marijuana leaf. Chui Valley was almost a brand name in Soviet times, known across the union among pot smokers and teetotalers alike.
Today drug officials on both sides of the valley, in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, battle small plantation owners, hashish traffickers, and kids out harvesting wild weed on the side of the road.
A company representative, who would only identify herself as Saltanat B. and would only respond to questions by email, told EurasiaNet.org that the microbrewery, thirty minutes west of Bishkek, only produces the draft beer for a small local market.
Sorry, international beer fans, you’ll have to come to Kyrgyzstan for a heady glass of Chuiskoye.
Asked why the company chose the easily recognizable pot leaf, Saltanat said, “Extractive substances of hops have a calming, sedative, and even disinfecting effect."
And then she added: "It’s just a advertising tactic.”
That’s a pretty bold gimmick for a country where smoking a joint can land you behind bars for two years.
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