Fermenting Cheer with Better Beer
“I’m all about the quality of the beer,” says Jim Jones from the newly-opened Yeti Taproom
by Evangeline Neve
Are you one of the over 1500 people who attended Nepal’s First International Beer Festival back in December, and have been wanting to get another one of those brews ever since? Or perhaps you didn’t go, and wish you had. Well, don’t worry: the Yeti Taproom and Beer Garden is now open in Thamel.
The location itself is pretty amazing—it sounds like a cliché to call it an oasis in the center of an ever-busier Thamel, but that’s exactly what it is. I’ve been there several times now, and still feel pleasantly surprised when I enter: how can turning down a narrow alley off Narshing Chowk lead me into such a peaceful, green open space?
Over a couple of tasty beers with owner Jim Jones—who organized the beer festival, and with several local partners, opened this place—I get a chance to discuss what brought him here, and his future plans. My first question was simple: how, with his background in IT, did he become so involved with and passionate about beer?
“I’ve been a home brewer since 1991. The part of America that I grew up in drinks the most beer per capital—Wyoming (along with Alaska). Everybody made their own beer, wine, whiskey. Somebody was always making something weird and you were always drinking,” explained Jim. “After college, someone I worked with started making his own beer, and we began brewing together. Eventually, he quit, but I kept brewing. I’ve always been fascinated with beers. After a few more years, I started making wine. I went through this phase when I was fermenting everything.”
While Jim was trekking here in 2015, he needed emergency eye surgery; as he was recovering, the earthquake hit. “I never had any intentions of doing this, there was never a plan,” he insists. After helping with relief efforts, he visited other parts of SE Asia with the Nepali tour operator he had originally come here with. After seeing all the jam-packed craft beer bars and breweries in other countries, he told Jim, “I think you should come back to Nepal and open up a brewery!”
From the original plan to open a craft brewery—still on the cards, by the way—it evolved into importing craft beers, mostly from the U.S., which are sold both at this lovely venue and over 20 restaurants and hotels around Kathmandu, plus a few in Pokhara. In the last year, his market has expanded, and includes locals, tourists, and expats. As would be expected from someone in his line of work, Jim sees great potential for the future of beer in Nepal, anticipating that it will go the way it has in the west—towards more selection and craft-style beers. And, he hopes, towards more small, local breweries that use indigenous ingredients to make their beers.
With over sixty different beers on the menu at the moment, it can be hard to know where to begin, so I asked Jim his recommendation for a beer novitiate who doesn’t know where to start.
“I would recommend starting with one of two kinds,” he replied. “Either a very traditional pale ale, like 150 Lashes or a Denver pale ale, or a light Belgian Colette. Those two are the beer styles that made craft beer in America.”
And when the taps come in, which should be any day now, the Yeti Taproom plan to serve beer flights, a selection of four or five small servings of a variety of beers. In addition to this incredible selection of international beers, there are local brews too, of course. As a relative newcomer to the world of craft beers myself, I say, just jump in. You don’t have to know all about something to enjoy it, and in recent years, I’ve made a point of trying every new beer I encounter, asking questions and learning what ingredients are used and what I enjoy about which one.
Unlike my faulty memory for names and flavor profiles, Jim seems to have an almost photographic memory of the myriad beers he’s had over the years, and during our conversation, I’m constantly learning something new. For example, the final beer we try is a pumpkin-style beer called Autumn Maple. While drinking it, I learn that when the settlers first landed in America, they mistakenly thought they couldn’t drink the water. Their ships were stocked with beer and wine for the voyage, and Jim tells me the reason they landed in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, is because they ran out of beer. They had brought brewer’s yeast, but when they landed, there were no grains like they would traditionally have used, so they sought out indigenous crops. Apparently, pumpkins have similar residual sugar to grains, so the first American beers used pumpkin, making it a uniquely American beer. Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d like it, but as with everything I tried, it was awesome in a palate horizon-expanding kind of way.
“The irony to all of it is that I never thought I would do this, let alone overseas. Ye, here I am, selling beer at the top of the world. Eventually, I still want to make beer here, that’s still the long-term plan.”
For all our sakes, I sure hope he does!