Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brewer Aims to Put Laos on the Map

Recently I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" about Laos. He called it, and acknowledged it might sound hokey, unspoiled, off the beaten tourist path. This article concurs that Laos is not yet a tourist destination, though does point out that some tourists are there already. Many of them want beer, and the local brand is becoming quite popular.

The nation of six million people is nestled between China, Vietnam and Thailand. It has become a trendy destination for backpackers and adventure tourists, in part because of its slow pace and relative lack of exposure to the West.

Lasachack Sivilay, chief brewmaster at Lao Brewery Co. is counting on savvy marketing to overcome the beer's relatively unimpressive pedigree, in a bid to emulate Corona's rise to global stardom.

That rise began in the 1970s when Corona's brewer, Group Modelo SA, noticed that lots of empty bottles of the beer weren't being returned to distributors for redemption. The reason: After partying the weekends away at Mexican beach resorts, American surfers and college students were taking cases of the beer home with them. In response, Modelo started marketing Corona in a low-key, unconventional way, linking it to memories of sunshine and the beach.

Beerlao's rise has followed an unusual path. Most Laotians aren't big beer drinkers. In fact, Lao Brewery was founded by French and Lao businessmen in 1971 mostly to slake the thirst of French colonists.

What impressed me most was this: Sales figures are hard to come by in Laos's state-run economy, but Lao Brewery currently produces 200 million liters of beer a year, and it is the country's biggest taxpayer.

The country's largest paxpaer is a brewery.

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