Man at His Best

Is Beer A Political Hot Potato?

What to make of the de facto banning of the Better Beer Festival.

BY jason tan | Sep 18, 2017 | Culture

So, the Better Beer Festival 2017 scheduled for Oct 6 and 7 in Solaris Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, has been cancelled after Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) rejected its application for a permit.

The organisers Mybeer (M) Sdn Bhd  have said they were told by DBKL to cancel the event due to “political sensitivities” surrounding it. Mybeer had applied for a permit on August 28.

In its article today headlined “DBKL haramkan ‘Better Beer Festival 2017’, Sinar Harian reports that Pas had objected to the event being held because it would anger Muslims in the country (“mengundang kemarahan umat Islam di negara ini”).

Mybeer is probably unfortunate that its third event coincides with rising speculation about the date of the country’s next general election that political observers say will see the fiercest competition yet for the Malay-Muslim vote.

That is not a legal reason to cancel a commercial event but a political one, and the Malaysian Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of association (and belief, but let’s not go there for now.) However, for various reasons, local authorities such as DBKL are not inured to politically expedient decisions by higher-ups and their need to play to the gallery.

The first Better Beer Festival was held in 2012 at Taps Beer Bar in Cangkat Bukit Bintang, and attracted some 200 beer enthusiasts. Presumably, the size and location of it, within one of the city’s party districts, meant it could go on.

Better Beer Festival 2016 in Publika

The Better Beer Festival gained a higher profile when it was held last year in Publika, in the city’s sprawling expat suburb of Mont Kiara. Some 3,500 patrons were introduced to 150 different labels of small-batch brews.

Ironically, Mybeer’s success with the Better Beer Festival seems to have contributed to its de facto banning by DBKL this year. Mybeer had planned to offer 250 labels of craft brews. It would have been quite the oasis of treasures for enthusiasts; beer hipsters are generally ‘quality drinkers’ rather than the downtrodden office bucket heads who must avail themselves of happy hours.

However, it's not the substance that's a problem, but compulsive behavior and its exploitation.

Coming after similar incidents (Oktoberfest in 1Utama, comes to mind), the Better Beer Festival 2017 is another notch on the wall in Malaysia’s recent history of increasingly expedient decision-making by the authorities. The number of beer hipsters makes for a small vote bank, but the role of a public authority is to make legally correct and fair decisions in the face of difficult popular opinion, however hot the potato.