A PATÉMAR MINI-SERIES : TASTEMAKER #01 : MR. PUTU WIRANATHA
Words by : Lens of Passion
What we do is amplified by who we’re with. Putu Wiranatha, co-founder of Kura Kura, a Balinese brewery launched amidst the pandemic, has found himself a great place to do this online interview with me. “I’m at this co-working space called Kinship right now. It’s an old garment factory in Berawa converted into a corporate space that brings together lots of creatives, entrepreneurs, web developers, graphic designers and marketing professionals,” he says and turns his lens to show me the urban industrial space. “It’s got great air-conditioning!” Putu is sitting in a room that is intentionally free-of-charge for local artists to use and display their work. He is teleporting me – I smell coffee and see a cool little Tokyo-style bar from Kinship’s spacious hall with a 40-foot (~12 meters) ceiling. When parts of the world are still in mud with the pandemic, Bali has moved on. “It’s easy to walk around and talk to people here. I’ve made lots of new friends,” he added.
Born in Australia, Putu is half Balinese and half Irish. He speaks with an easy-going American accent sprinkled with a hint of Australian vowels. As a third-culture kid myself, I ask him how he orientates on a daily basis. “I’m more Indonesian than anything else, but culturally I’m more from the ‘West’,” he says. When Putu was a baby, he learned to speak Indonesian first, but English is also his native tongue. Cork, his mother’s hometown, is a gorgeous place with a strong pub culture. “As a family we visited Ireland almost every year when granddad lived.” Putu’s father, a prominent figure in his life, is from West Bali, where the family celebrates the most important religious festival on the island, Galungan. At 16, his parents encouraged him to marry his extraordinary math scores with an engineering degree. “Whenever anyone’s good at math in high school, they just tell you to do engineering, basically,” he laughs. “Yeah, and you know, engineering’s job prospects are bright and wide. You can do tech stuff, finance, and so on.” Those stuff, didn’t end up getting chosen by him.A beer and life enthusiast myself, I’m honored to speak with the mastermind behind one of the fastest-growing beer brands in Indonesia who believes, “What the world needs now is more people doing what they love.” Cheers to that!
Q: Thank you for joining us in this miniseries co-created by Patémar and Lens of Passion. Today we’re going to chat about you, your journey, passion, sustainability and beer!
Thanks for picking me! Let’s do it.
Q: As we all embody multiple identities in the passage of time, this article wants to be encompassing knowing this from you, not what we think from what’s been written about you. Although I have read a lot about you and your project, I just want to ask from a completely humbling position – who would you say you are? In other words, who are you?
Oh my god, that’s a tough question. Right, let me think. I am someone who is trying to thrive, someone who is passionate about beer, and passionate about making cool ideas come to life. I feel driven about bringing together the best people to make sure great ideas come to reality and having fun throughout the process. I think, that’s who I am.
Q: You have a multicultural background. Can you tell us a little about your family and your upbringing?
Okay cool! This one’s easy! I grew up here in Bali and I lived here for the first 14 years of my life. My mom is Irish and my dad is Balinese. With my mom being an expat, I grew up in a multicultural friend group so to me being mixed was the norm. When I was a kid, my mom’s friend owned one of the only fax machines on the island so this “fax machine café” gathered a lot of international people together back in those days.
I think my childhood is great! I grew up in Poppies in Kuta area, which was a pretty iconic place but now it’s very much a place that got left behind, sadly. I think Poppies still has the most beautiful beaches and the authentic “Bali in the ‘90s kind” of vibe. My family moved to Batu Belig when I was 5, which at that time it was in the middle of rice fields kind of area and now it’s one of the busiest streets on the island.
I actually went to the local Montessori School founded by my mom 21 years ago. I was the first student there. She didn’t start the school for me although as a Montessori teacher, she really wanted me to have a Montessori education. When I was 14, I moved to Australia to go to boarding school for five years which I absolutely loved. I took a year off after high school to travel before going to University of Melbourne to study Civil Engineering. And whilst I was in Australia, I kind of had the idea to start a brewery because craft beer was really, really exploding in Australia at that time. I thought it was a cool movement and aside from the product itself, the community brought special and great people together. In Bali we’ve had relatively few options when it comes to beer so I was excited about the potential of what I could bring over here. I finished university in 2019, came back and started working on building the brewery!
Q: Who or what has had the strongest influence on your life story so far?
The first figure that comes to mind is my father. He’s also an entrepreneur and we build the brewery business together. You know, I talk to him every day about work and beyond that, we also have a very good friendship. I would even say that our friendship is better than our work relationship for sure. [laughs] He was ahead of the curve back in his time. A lot of Bali’s firsts were created by him such as importing wine and running entertainment venues.
Q: Passion is held dear at the center of the Lens of Passion project. We want to distil the not-so-subtle concept and make it digestible and relevant for more people. Today we’re going to talk about the fun start-up of yours but before that, without assuming, what is your passion?
At the moment, I’m very passionate about beer. I’m very passionate about getting people to understand that there’s better qualities of beer out there than just the mainstream ones. I think certain part of the Indonesian population is very quick to adopt new things, which is great. I’m passionate about Food & Beverages and building unique experiences.
Q: That must feel good, perhaps even getting up before the alarm goes off! So now, please tell us about Kura Kura – Sunset State of Mind. Your tagline and website bring me to a happy place.
Sure. “Kura” means turtle in Indonesian and the reason we picked this name comes from a folklore that tells us the island of Bali is sitting on the back of a giant turtle. Aside from that, turtles are very chill, very slow, and sunset hours are perfect to relax and hang out with friends. That mindset of good bonding times is very much our mindset. Our brand embodies tropical modernism that grows in contemporary Bali, yet world-facing.
Kura Kura started with the idea that we could create a very high-quality beer in Indonesia that didn’t exist before. We seek out to do that by acquiring the best equipment, working with great brewers and finetuning the recipes. We went through a lot of iterations fixing the recipes and really tailoring it towards the island of Bali and hot climate, you know, basically imagining what do people want to drink when they hang out at the beach or come back from the ocean at sunset? That sort of thing. Also, I think a very central part of our mission is to invite people in Indonesia to sample and enjoy the premium craft beer experience that we create domestically. A lot of people from developing countries generally think that imported things are better and while it can be true for some products, we want to convince and convey to the world that Indonesian made beers can be as amazing. Personally, I want to produce something that the locals are proud of. So far, we’re well-loved by the tourist market and the locals. Our plan is to export and show to the world that we can create high-quality products here in Bali.
Q: Very cool. And for the taste, you’re very selective and intentional about starting with 2 kinds of beer, an ale and a lager. How did they come about? And maybe share a preview about the third one?
Sure. So Island Ale is our flagship beer. It is a crisp and fruity pale ale with a lot of tropical notes. Some would call it an extra pale ale because there’s extra hops in there. It’s super drinkable at 4.9% alcohol and we were going for a perfect beer that suits the island vibe. And then we have a full-bodied German style lager also at 4.9%. We wanted to make it very distinct and different from everything else that was on the market, so we went with a flavorful and bitter experience. The third beer that’s coming out soon is going to be a 7.1% New England style IPA, hazy, hoppy and rich.
Q: Sounds simply awesome. I read that Kura Kura’s beer isn’t pasteurized.
Right, our beer is unpasteurized because we believe that the process can kill a lot of the flavors of the beer. To counteract that, we established a complete cold chain to make sure that our beer is always cold. Our warehouse has a big cold room and our trucks are refrigerated. We also work with our venues to ensure the low temperature is present to keep our products original and at their best.
Q: When did you start this project and how was the launch?
It was around January 2019 when I came back to Bali and it took about a year to enquire, research and find the right people and things. I would encourage anyone straight out of university to try to start a business because if you fail, you’re still young and you would have learned so, so, so much.
COVID hit right around our launch date, so we thought deep about the right move then. In the end we decided to launch anyway and I’m extremely glad we did because it was quite a big success in Jakarta and Bali even though there were no tourists here. Our market response has been very positive regardless.
Q: We believe that sustainability is achieved gradually in small lifestyle shifts. Slow and steady. part of this initiative is for us to rediscover the magic word “sustainability”. How do you interpret sustainability personally?
“Sustainability” is quite a strange word to me. I think the word is so broad and overused, it starts to lose its meaning. I feel like people associate sustainability with yoga, carrying a water bottle around and all these things but I feel like what’s actually going to make the world more sustainable is for the big governments to change the systems, you know, and make everything we do more low impact.
If I must dissect and address what it means to me personally, it’s mainly about lowering impact on the environment. A lot of the times that just comes with efficiency as well so there’s a really nice double benefit obviously – you can make your business more efficient while lowering your environmental impact. From an organizational standpoint, I think about how my work can support local communities. Kura Kura is one of the only providers of jobs where our brewery is – a very remote place with mostly farms around. We provide a much higher income to the people living in the area than what they would get from farming. We also try to minimize our waste by working with a local pig farm near our site that we give all our spent grain to. And for the cans sold at venues we work with, Sungai Watch, founded by one of my best friends actually, is our partner and they help pick up our cans and send to a reliable facility to process.
As an organization, we surely put in the efforts but at the same time I prefer to do these things quietly because I don’t want to patronize. Actions are better than words.
Q: We can see that you’re having a lot of fun creating Kura-Kura and beer is almost always synonymous with good times. At Patémar we believe in having a good time and still be responsible for the planet. What’s your take on the combination of these two concepts?
I believe it’s always important to think about your impact when you’re having a good time. Don’t overdo it. The planet is already under a lot of pressure.
Q: How is Bali, in terms of being a sustainable island?
I think there’s a very, very big contrast between certain groups of people and the vast majority of people who live in Bali. Most people are not that environmentally conscious, and I think this can apply to the rest of Indonesia where it is seen as acceptable to just throw your trash in the river, for example. Environmental problem at its root is a cultural problem, isn’t it? If nobody threw trash in the river, and there would be no trash in the river, right? I think it shouldn’t be up to charity like Sungai Watch to clean the rivers; there should just be no one throwing trash in the river in first place. So I think what Sungai Watch and other organizations in Bali are doing are crucial and effective from a standpoint of affecting cultural change more than actually improving the environment.
I think Bali is definitely at the center of sustainability initiatives in Indonesia. A lot of worldwide initiatives and innovations also come out of here but I wouldn’t associate Bali with sustainability. At the end of the day, it is part of a developing country where efficient and convenient recycling and trash collection systems are being developed, and there’s still a lot to educate when it comes to environmental awareness.
From an entrepreneur’s standpoint, I think it would make such a big difference if every business owner on this island did recycling but most of them don’t really think about that, you know. It’s like a tiny extra little bit of effort and it would help so much.
Q: What’s stopping business owners and people from caring you think?
The Balinese mindset is living in the moment, right? Which is great. But part of living in the moment is also not really caring enough about the future. I think people don’t associate throwing trash in the river and that trash showing up in the ocean where they’ll swim on Sunday morning…it’s just a habitual thing they think the nature is infinite.
Q: What’s your favorite pastime in Bali? Do you have a favorite spot on the island?
I love to hang out at Batu Belig beach and have a cold Kura Kura at one of the beach bars.
Q: What’s coming up next for Kura Kura and Putu?
In the very near future we have our IPA coming out! Also, look out for us to keep collaborating with the local community, fostering local creatives and yeah, growing the beer scene in Indonesia. That’s what you have to expect!
Q: Do you think Indonesian classic flavors like turmeric, nutmeg or ginger would work in beer?
I think they could be interesting! For now though we focus on introducing people to the classic styles from around the world first before getting too adventurous about it.
Fill in the blank
Bali is … missing our international friends! We want you all to come visit now please.
Simplicity is underrated.
I have a beer on a meh day.
If I could send a note to Putu in 2030, it would say,“Don’t get complacent. Always keep having fun, keep traveling, keep growing, keep meeting new people all the time. Don’t get stuck.”
What the world needs now is more people doing what they love.
Editors Note: The Patémar Mini-Series Tastemakers will be published on the first week of each months of the season. Stay tuned and follow our instagram @patemarshorts and @lensofpassionofficial to receive the latest update on our interviewees. #PATEMARTastemakers
See more Mr. Wiranatha’s work at @kurakurabeer