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Weekend Pint: Malai Kitchen

Patio at Malai Kitchen
Patio at Malai Kitchen
Malai Kitchen, Dallas

Where to find good beer

In the beginning, there were brewpubs. Brewpubs made and sold beer, and it was good. Later, the bottle was invented and the package brewery became the norm -- more so here in Texas than other places, where brewpubs were not legalized until 1993.

Now a third category of commercial brewing is arising, that of the restaurant brewery. Technically and legally, these are still brewpubs with the same state license but they are not the expected craft beer-centric pubs per se, nor just upscale brewpubs with better menus. Falling equipment prices and widespread brewing knowledge have allowed a class of commercial, independent restaurants that are focused wholly their cuisine but also want the flexibility to provide exclusive house-made beers as specialty additions to their menu.

The Thai-Vietnamese fusion restaurant Malai Kitchen opened in Dallas' West Village a couple of years ago and has enjoyed some moderate success and critical acclaim so far. Owners Braden and Yasmin Wages opened a place to produce their favorite flavors found on their travels in Southeast Asia, and the food is quite good. Desiring as close to total authenticity as possible, most dishes and condiments are made from scratch and, likewise, they wanted to serve the indigenous beer with their food. Unable to find a domestic brewer of the style or anyone willing to work with a restaurant's tiny quantities, they decided to brew it themselves.

The style is called bia hoi, which is a light rice lager ubiquitous to the streets of Vietnam. Sold by roadside bars and street-corner vendors, bia hoi is made and delivered daily like bread and the leftovers dumped out (at respectable establishments) at the end of the business day. As such it is only lightly fermented, usually in the 3-4% ABV range, always served refreshingly ice-cold for their tropical climate and is notoriously cheap (US-equivalent of less than 25 cents per pint).

Five-gallon batches of bia hoi are made daily in Malai's kitchen, as well as two other beers. The other year-round tap is a Thai-P-A, an exceptional American IPA brewed with great complimenting flavors of Thai herbs, and the third beer is a seasonal rotator usually with a similar Asian influence. Although pint prices are on par with other beer bars, the bia hoi is a bargain at about half the cost ($3), and growlers can be filled at the bar. Just three beers, that's all (commercial brands also available).

The taste? Made with up to 50% rice, the bia hoi is surprisingly much better than commercial American light beers, which tend to be more neutral than flavorful. It is light yellow, fizzy and slightly hazy with a rather substantial body compared to domestic equivalents like Bud Light. The flavor is sweet, grainy and just a little nutty, and has that extremely fresh-brewed taste (re: unpasteurized) that makes it very quaffable in hot weather without being immediately forgettable.

NB: Other local restaurant breweries so far include Kirin Court in Richardson, whose house beers are little more than an afterthought, and Twin Peaks has recently built their own brewpub in Irving to supply all locations with their own branded beer. However, neither have executed the restaurant-brewery concept as seamlessly as Malai Kitchen.

Recommended pint: Thai-P-A

Malai Kitchen
3699 McKinney Ave #319
Dallas, Texas


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