PUTU WIRANATHA FROM KURA KURA BEER

Behind Kura Kura Beer there’s Putu Wiranatha that tries to find balance in everything he does. It accidentally resonates with his favourite story of Bali being in the back of a balancing kura-kura or turtle. We get the brewery grand tour at Plaga to talk with him about everything from the craft beer business and cultures to making time to enjoy life.

Beer brews in a busy morning at the place where fresh water straight from the island is combined with hops and grains to craft litres and litres of Kura Kura Beer. In Plaga, beautiful scenery of greeneries from forests and farms surrounds the brewery. It seems poetic how the busy place with sounds of machinery was balanced by Plaga’s serene natural beauty.

Putu guides us on a pleasant tour amidst work. First, he shows us how the water flows to the brewery through pipes that are blessed with daily Balinese offerings or canang sari. Then, we go straight inside the brewery where employees are busy working in unison—putting the “craft” in craft beer.

“We recruit locals of Plaga to work at the brewery, we want to make that culture of beer crafting in this region,” said Putu while we walk towards tanks filled with favourites and even a new secret beer.

We also meet Gary, the head brewer, along with his four-legged furry assistant Sayo—the brewery’s very own dog. Then we saw all the brewery processes such as mashing, boiling, and fermenting. From one of the tanks, Putu pour a beer into his glass to taste it and then asked us to taste the beer with him. Aside from carbonation, the beer was in its final form—prime to be enjoyed throughout the island and beyond.

Away from the brewery, we walk a breezy path towards a villa nearby with towering coconut trees and mountains that keep us company. Inside, Putu made us an espresso while we continue to talk about his craft beer company and the persona behind it.

It’s been two years since you launch Kura Kura, so how’s the experience so far?

It’s been quite the experience, a crazy ride and I learn so much. Don’t cut any corners and make sure your product is consistent…if we have a batch of bad beer that we have done in the past we just dunk it, we don’t try to sell it.

Also, don’t underestimate people’s curiosity and don’t underestimate people’s understanding of quality. When I started, I was scared that a lot of people never tried a pale ale, I thought they not gonna like the island ale because they normally only tried the commercial beer. That’s true for some people, but I was really surprised by how many people tried the island ale for the first time and how they really loved the beer.

I just really enjoy seeing how craft beer is starting to grow in Indonesia, what makes me happier is how it grows amongst people that never heard of craft beer before. That is what’s making me really brave to push and release our Indian Pale Ale (IPA) which is gonna be a hazy IPA, totally different from anything else that is currently on the market here in Indonesia. The people give me the confidence to make it.

Is craft beer a good business?

I think like any business, it’s never as easy as you think is gonna be. Not, that I ever thought is gonna be easy, but what I mean is there are always any unforeseen challenges in any business, especially if you haven’t done that business before.

Aside from being someone who really really loves beer with a hospitality experience, I have never been a professional brewer before. I definitely learn a lot about what it means to build a brewery.

Kura Kura’s name was taken from the story or folklore of Bali being in the back of a giant kura-kura or turtle. Does the name also encapsulate the essence of the brand itself?

Yeah, that’s something that my grandmother always tells me. I like how it symbolizes balance, she will always say that “too many buildings in Bali, it’s going to sink…” So if you don’t preserve the Balinese culture it’s going to become unbalanced, and the turtle would sink. I’ll always really resonate with that, that’s why I named it (Kura Kura). But it’s also relevant to beer because when you design a beer, you want it to be balanced.

Speaking of balance, do you see yourself as a balanced guy?

I try to be. Having a business takes a lot of time. So, I will always try to stay in balance, try to always exercise, try to spend time with friends as much as I can, and family time is very important. If you just work all the time you end up going crazy. Life is a constant balancing act. You’ll always try to stay balanced, it’s a constant struggle.

Is kura-kura or turtle also your animal spirit?

Yeah haha, I am a pretty relaxed guy. I like to take things slow and steady, so in some ways, I think so.

You discovered the love of craft beer in Melbourne, but being a half Irish that is relatively close to the whole pub culture, did it also inspire you?

Yeah for sure. Growing up we used to go to Ireland every year, my mom’s from a town called Cork—a very-very Irish town, the real Ireland! It’s really nice, you go to the pub and there are people playing traditional Irish music, everyone having a Guinness (stout beer) or whatever. Yeah, I think that’s definitely inspired me to have a greater appreciation of beer.

Europe have a much stronger, sort of ale culture, they have their stouts, and cast ales, and Ireland has a lot of that as well. I always really liked stout. I haven’t checked the craft beer scene, the last time I went there is 2016. But my uncle back in Cork is interested in craft beer, so I’ll always ask my uncle.

Your first beer drinking experience?

I had my first beer in Bali! Big commercial beer in Kuta when I was a teenager. It’s a totally different way of drinking than I do now. I think as people get more mature, their palates mature. The way which they drink, the purpose, and the reason for drinking is totally different.

I don’t think people drink craft beer to get shitfaced. People drink craft beer because it’s an enjoyable experience, they want to support their local community, and they want to get together with friends in a sort of more relaxed, fun setting—not just to smash any beer as possible and be totally blasted.

What brand of beer or beers back in Melbourne have you tasted that inspires you to eventually make your own craft beer?

There’s a pub across my house called The Lincoln in Cardigan Street that has a good craft beer program. They have 16 taps, with 8 standard taps from the commercial brand to craft beers that are still commercial like Stone & Wood and Balter. And then they have these 8 taps of craft beers that change every month, and I love that…I love trying new things.

Bali is synonymous with Bintang, the branding is everywhere. Do you want Kura Kura to be like them or on the same level as Bintang in terms of culture? Or do you want a different direction with it?

Yeah, I think we (Kura Kura Beer) really inhabit a very different space to Bintang. They are a big commercial brand and that is not our goal, we don’t want to be like them. Our goal is to always maintain our high quality, we don’t pasteurize. We only use top-quality ingredients. We don’t want to change that, and we don’t need to—that’s kind of what we always wanted to be. We are continuing to grow, but we want to grow in a sort of sustainable way.

We are a big fan of working with artists, just artisans in general—people that have a craft of any kind. We like to work with people like Martha, a blacksmith from Sounds Familiar Knives that make pretty cool stuff. Also like chefs, painters, and all kinds of craftsmen.

A day in the life of Putu Wiranatha?

Wake up. Exercise. Either I go to the office or brewery, make sure the wheels are turning so the train doesn’t fall off the tracks. At the end of the day, I just relax. Have a walk on the beach or just watch some films—I just finished the series Peaky Blinders. I also like to have dinner with friends, something that I try to do like once or twice a week—go down to a random restaurant, and have a few beers.

Favorite things to do in Bali?

I like going around to more remote parts of the island. Going to the beach just chilling, going to the mountains—having a relaxing weekend away with friends. I like going to Sarinbuana Eco Lodge in Tabanan. Super simple, small place, very nice, and chill.

I also like to scuba dive. The last time, I went to Lombok for my birthday trip, I found many turtles there! There’s a photo of me with like eight turtles—it’s meant to be!

 Your favorite places to enjoy Kura Kura Beer?

Honestly, I just like to go to a random beach with a six-pack or a bag of beers, that’s probably my go-to. The Lawn is also nice with its beautiful setting, the food is really good, and I like the music.

I am also excited for Old Man’s to reopen again. We’re going to work with Old Man’s pretty close to develop like a strong craft beer program. Not just have Kura Kura Beer, but other craft beers as well, have a lot of taps, and just really push the whole craft beer element.

How about favorite restaurants? Places to eat? Drink?

I really like going to Kaum at Potato Head. I always get the sambal selection, there’s this babi genyol or pork belly thing, and mie or noodle. Indigo for some sushi. I like Yuki, and also the steak house Plantation Grill. Warung Maaaak is my favorite for the local food. Bar Souvenir is my favorite cocktail bar. Some ramen at Ramen Dake and Hakata Ikkousha. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but ramen is probably one of my favorite food.