Everybody loves beer, and in this laid-back tourist town, beer is king. Cambrew Brewery in Sihanoukville, however, is not just about getting drunk. The brewery represents the country’s tumultuous history and the people’s resilience and ability to bounce back.
Businesswise, Cambrew Brewery is helping Sihanoukville stay economically afloat. It is Cambodia’s one and only brewery. Located on the northern side of Sihanoukville, Cambrew produces and distributes Angkor Beer, Angkor Extra Stout, Bayon Beer, Black Panther, and Klang Beer, as well as a few products for Pepsi. Quite obviously, Cambodia is proud of its own beer and has in fact declared Angkor Beer the country’s national beer. Its logo is the silhouette of Angkor Wat’s three towers. Angkor Beer is very popular in Cambodia and is now widely distributed overseas.
The brewery is historically significant because it has seen the worst that has hit this country, and somehow managed to bounce back. In 1966, the brewery was constructed and on November 13, 1968 inaugurated as the country’s first brewery, which was then called SKD Brewery (or Societie des Khmere Distilleries). It was originally operated by the government and did good business from 1967 to 1975. The brewery building was an important landmark, designed by the famed Cambodian architect, Vann Molyvann, who also designed the most important buildings and landmarks in Phnom Penh, the capital city, including the Royal Palace. The brewery represented New Khmer Architecture, which was quickly rising in popularity around that time.
The government decided to build the brewery in far-away Sihanoukville because experts said the water here had mineral contents that were perfect for brewing beer. The coastal city of Sihanoukville turned out to be a good choice, not only because the beer did quite well, but also because Sihanoukville was then gaining much attention in international trade for its very active port. Everything was looking up for Angkor Beer, Cambrew Brewery and Sihanoukville until Pol Pot entered the scene.
In 1975, Pol Pot rose to power, and his Khmer Rouge army took control of the country and all its growing businesses and industries, including the brewery. Pol Pot belongs to a list of world despots that have murdered millions of people in the name of their ideologies. The list includes Mao Ze-Dong, Jozef Stalin, and Adolf Hitler. The only difference with Pol Pot is that he ruled over a much smaller country and so the effects of his bloody dictatorship were more devastating. He is said to have executed more than 2 million people in a country that only had 8 million in total population. His dogma was to return to agriculture, and so all the other industries and non-agriculture-related structures were to him useless. Museums, national halls, hotels, the Royal Palace, and SKD brewery were all abandoned and left to rot. Even Sihanoukville’s beautiful beaches became ghost beaches.
After Pol Pot’s regime ended in 1979 thanks to the North Vietnamese army, the brewery remained idle for more than a decade. It was abandoned and useless until 1991 after foreign investors funded its rebuilding. It restored production in 1991 and slowly began to pick up sales in 1995. Cambrew Brewery is a clear testament that Cambodia and its people are capable of rising triumphantly from the ashes. The brewery hosts an open house for tourists on Wednesdays, 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.