Food-friendly brew adds to the fun
PHILIP Smouha has struck lucky with his new Australian beer, though there has been more than simple good fortune behind its success. It helped that Smouha, a Sydney-based fashion designer, came up with a highly unusual bottle. ‘‘ I wanted something that people would pick up and say: ‘ Wow’; something that would cheer them up, put a smile on their faces.’’
The result is the cleverly named Lucky Beer, an Asian-influenced lager in a distinctive plump green bottle in the shape of a laughing Buddha.
It’s a conversation starter on its own, but the beer is also going down well in bars and pubs across Sydney. (Smouha calls it a city beer.)
There’s limited distribution in states other than NSW although, curiously, it has reached as far as Los Angeles and New York.
In the Big Apple, it was the drink of choice at the Buddha Bar’s birthday bash, where David Bowie was the star guest.
The bottles are made in Taiwan but the beer is produced and packaged locally.
Smouha admits it pains him to see the bottles tossed away. Suggestions of a second life range from flower vase to candle-holder. His office in a fashion district of Sydney’s Waterloo is peppered with the chunky bottles, including the plastic prototype. He says he’s an ideas man, although not all of them work out as well as Lucky Beer.
Developing it was an exciting opportunity for Smouha. He came up with the recipe in conjunction with chef Darren Ho, formerly of Terroir restaurant at Hungerford Hills in the NSW Hunter Valley.
Ingredients include flaked rice, malted barley and Czech Saaz hops. It’s fermented at a cool temperature to produce a crisp-tasting lager with 4.8 per cent alcohol.
Ho, a cousin of Smouha’s wife, fashion designer Lisa Ho, describes the beer as ‘‘ very food-friendly’’, well suited to our sometimes ‘‘ filthy hot days’’. The rice is a key component (Ho says Budweiser is about 90 per cent rice) and it’s important that it’s in balance with the hops in terms of sweetness and bitterness.
At $6.50 a 330ml bottle it’s not cheap, but Smouha says he is still tinkering with the price in a competitive market. However, ‘‘ it will always be a premium beer’’.
Marketing, like the bottle, is not to be taken too seriously. Advertising slogans include: ‘‘ 9/10 Buddhists prefer . . . Lucky Beer’’, ‘‘ Luck is the inheritance of the chosen few’’ and ‘‘ Get Lucky, share the fortune’’.
Asian restaurants such as Sydney’s Vietnamese hot spot Red Lantern in Surry Hills, which has Lucky Beer on its drinks menu, are finding customers often prefer it to wine with their food. Red Lantern’s co-owner Luke Nguyen says he first came across the bottle in an Asian antique store and was immediately attracted by the funky shape, which he says has turned out to be a crowd-pleaser at his restaurant.
‘‘ It’s not like a big Australian lager. It’s perfect for our cuisine, with its light, clean flavour,’’ he says.
As for what to do with the empties, Nguyen has sent some to Vietnam to be turned into electric lamps.
Smouha’s Lucky Drink Company is a sponsor of Sneaky Sound System, a band whose fortunes have risen sharply in the past year. If you pick up a bottle, it might be worth giving the Buddha’s tummy a rub. You never know your luck.