Inspired by marijuana, South Sacramento brewer creates Sac’s first Asian craft beer
Michael Le, founder of Asian Brothers Brewing Co., said he experimented for seven months to create a pale ale that would capture the “essence of the Hmong people.” Brewing the first Asian craft beer in Sacramento, he wanted to make the flavor distinct to a culture that has endured despite being scattered around the world without a nation or flag to rally around.
Then, Le had an epiphany, when his friend gave him “a really nice, thumb-sized nugget” of Mango Kush.
“I smell it and it’s like, wow this is some really good shit,” Le recalls. “And then suddenly, in my head, I’m like, this is it. This is what I want in my beer.”
The finished product is the Nyiaj Kub Pale Ale. Run—don’t walk—to try it. Although containing no marijuana, the beer smells like a top-shelf strain, contains dank and tropical hoppy notes and goes down super easy without any sticky bitterness.
After sniffing it for a week and smoking a little, Le felt the smell and taste captured that elusive cultural essence, because, he says, Hmong people are some of the most prolific marijuana farmers in America. More personal to Le is the beer’s name, Nyiaj Kub, which is also the honorary “Hmong name” given to Le, a Vietnamese man, by Hmong friends that frequent his South Sacramento restaurant, Anh Hong.
The name means “money and gold,” and Le was delighted to receive it along with traditional Hmong New Year costuming for him and his Lao wife. After being embraced by Sacramento’s Hmong community, Le dedicated his craft beers to his friends, naming the beer label Hmong Nation Beer.
“We can’t do anything about a country, nothing about a flag, but we can make a beer,” he said. “Wherever we drink beer, that’s our nation.”
Le said his brews are designed for the Hmong tradition of buying a whole case of beer, doing a grandiose toast, then commanding everybody with a bottle to chug. Thus, drinkability is paramount.
Le said the pale ale represents the “heart of gold” of the Hmong people, while his pilsner represents their “mind of steel,” which he equates with an unshakeable loyalty to one’s friends.
Crisp, sweet and with just a hint of maltiness, Le’s Pilsner the Bull is another winner. And the two beers represent the first wave of local craft beer that had been sorely lacking in South Sacramento.
Going forward, Le wants to increase distribution and, eventually, open a brewery with a restaurant, biergarten and acres of hop vines, so as to carve out a tiny portion of the planet for Hmong Nation…beer, at least. But first, he wants to brew the official beer of Hmong New Year celebrations that occur internationally.
To this goal, Le noted a good omen. Reportedly, some of Le’s friends have said the Nyiaj Kub Pale Ale smelled like the “harvest time” of those inspirational buds. For outdoor growers, that comes near the end of October, just a bit before the Hmong New Year.