A Beer Importerís Memoir

Updated: 17 May 2018 | By:

It all started 6 years ago over a few drinks when my cousins and I decided that we should open a bar, but we did not know what sort of a bar this was going to be. Then early one morning I received a phone call from Aaron. “We are going to open a craft beer bar!” Back then there were no dedicated craft beer bars that we could look to locally to see if craft beer would be an easy sell and of course no local importer that we could buy the beers from. It became obvious that we had to import the beers ourselves as well.

Apart from setting up our first outlet, we needed to learn how to import alcohol from various countries. We had to contact the breweries to find out what was required to enable us to import their products into Malaysia. From freight terminologies to how beer reacts when being shipped in a dry container versus a refrigerated container, this was all very alien to us.

As with all businesses there are bound to be challenges starting up. We needed a coldroom warehouse to keep the beers, and these things are not cheap. We also had to apply for multiple business licenses just to start trading, license for housing alcohol and license for distributing alcohol. And as you can imagine, these licenses were not easy to obtain.

Stone Brewing Beers
Stone Brewery from the U.S. entered Malaysia market through importation.

It was certainly difficult in the beginning but we managed to survive and get through our first order of a full 20 foot container from Australia. That was a lot of beer as we soon found out when the container arrived and we could not sell the beers at our outlet fast enough. So the next logical step was to start distributing and that was about to prove to be a daunting task too.

One of the biggest problems we face when importing direct from breweries is that we have to pre plan our orders months in advance. It normally takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the container to arrive and a month to finalise the order with the brewery, but we also have to add the time it takes for us to clear Customs. That’s the part where the timeline isn’t fixed. It can be a week, it can be 3 weeks or at times a month or so. This will disrupt our supply to our distributed outlets and also our cashflow. Let me remind you that most of the breweries do not do credit terms. It’s cash before shipment, the beers will not leave the brewery if the full amount hasn’t been paid.

After all the groundwork had been done, we needed to sell these craft beers to café’s, restaurants and supermarkets. This was another challenge because it was as difficult as trying to sell a fridge to an Eskimo. Nobody knew what craft beer was and why these beers were more expensive than even the imported German beers. We had to go door to door with samples and try convincing outlets that these are great products but because they were comparatively expensive, nobody would pick them up.

Is it much easier importing and selling beers now compared to what it was when we started? Well, there are the good days and the bad days. Up until today we still face some of the same problems that we faced when we first started, such as stock being held up at Customs for no apparent reason and the time it takes for us to clear Customs and sent to our warehouse. Some friends will always ask why are we still doing it? We do it because we love craft beer and we are addicted to the process. We do not see ourselves doing (or drinking) anything else. Welcome to the craft beer revolution.

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Alvin Lim My Beer Sdn Bhd

Alvin Lim is one of five partners who operate Taps Beer Bar, dedicated to serving craft beers from around the world, and MyBeer (M) Sdn Bhd, which imports and distributes craft beers in Malaysia. Apart from these, they also manage Takumi Craft Bar at Isetan The Japan Store in Lot 10.

They have been in the business for 6 years now and are at the forefront of driving the craft beer revolution forward. While craft beer is still relatively new in Malaysia, they hope that Malaysians will continue to embrace and care about the quality of beers that they drink.