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Finally, a 'beer' using Sabah's very own ginger
Published on: Friday, October 19, 2018
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Finally, a 'beer'  using Sabah's  very own ginger
Kota Kinabalu: Having acquired a liking for ginger beer while doing his Masters in New Zealand, James Wong Kein Peng often wondered why Sabah could not produce its own bottled version.Especially when Sabah is already famous as a State that produces high quality ginger from the Tambunan valley to supermarkets nationwide through Fama. That was a decade ago and might have remained a distant dream had the now qualified architect not pursued his idea. Thanks to him and his partner, commercial diver Matthias Liew, Sabah-grown ginger can now also be enjoyed straight from the bottle or as a cocktail enhancer.

Their "Uinah Ginger Beer" hit the local market three months ago and inquiries are already coming from Peninsula Malaysia and abroad. But that would have to wait until they move to better premises in Kolombong that can produce more than their current 4,000-6,000 bottles per month in Likas. "I absolutely loved drinking ginger beer and thought to myself if the Kiwis can do it, why can't we Sabahans since we even produce our own ginger," he told Daily Express.

It still lingered in his head until he partnered Matthias about a year-and-a-half ago to work on the recipe, which took nearly one year to develop. So many different processes and challenges needed to be solved, given it was a fresh natural product with no preservatives. They wanted to produce it commercially on a larger scale, he said. "Many times we thought of giving up as we met obstacle after obstacle in product development.

"We tested it with friends and the fantastic feedback made us wow 'macam boleh oh'! Shortly after, Matthias' wife Ju Winn (a digital designer from New Zealand) and Annie (Director at JWA Design & Build also running James' architecture business) came into the picture. He said that's when everything started to really get serious and pick up fast! "We can say we are something like a powerful double-couple team," he said. Wong is the brother of former Australian Finance Minister Penny Wong. Dad Prof. Francis Wong served as the Technical Advisor to the Kota Kinabalu Municipal Council (MPKK) for 20 years

"But more than that, we are all proudly patriotic Sabahans, and felt why do we Sabahans export so much of our resources out of our state in raw form? For example, we send our timber raw to China, it is manufactured to furniture, and we buy it back at thousands of per cent the price," he said.

He said as proud Sabahans they feel a deep desire to add value to their natural products. "By using the skills that we have acquired from different professions and industries, with good design and branding, we have shown we can develop a product that can compete on any international platform out there!

"With our new visionary Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal pushing for growth in the manufacturing industry, and which we fully support 100pc, we decided to dedicate our lives to developing new proudly Sabahan products, supporting local agriculture communities and boosting jobs and the local economy.

"So this is just the start, Sabah boleh!" On its catchy name, he said the brand name, 'Uinah' started as a joke.

"Because "Uinah" is kind of a Sabahan slang, a bit like saying "Wowwww... Or cool!" .

"We kept saying it a few times and it just stuck. But it was a perfect name, because we wanted something catchy as well as represent our brand as being proudly Sabahan," he said.

He said Uinah Ginger Beer uses the spiciest ginger found in rural parts of Sabah, such as Tambunan and Ranau.

It undergoes a brewing period of about two weeks to create that beautiful mature taste where the natural yeasts in the skin of the gingers have time to react with the sugars and ingredients.

"It is not an alcoholic beverage. We also go through the tedious process of forced-carbonation where we allow the CO2 to slowly get absorbed into the drink to give that zingy exciting taste.

"We have done countless tests against other internationally renowned ginger beer brands, and our customers say that ours taste better because we use real ginger, lemons and quality ingredients, rather than just mixing commercially processed powder form," he said.

Over the one-year Research and Development period, they tried so many different ingredients found locally, done countless tests, got feedback from many friends and family, and tweaked the recipe to what it is today.

"We observed the other big brands are just too sweet and taste very artificial and commercial. Our branding is very much tailored to our Sabah mountains, beaches, islands, rivers, forests, natural environment making it particularly exciting to tourists, because it is an authentic Sabahan product,".

Only the lemons are South African but they hope to eventually use Sabah lemons.

"We take pride in our product as Uinah Ginger Beer is locally handcrafted, does not contain added flavouring, preservatives or coloring. It is all natural," said James.

On the health benefits, he said their Uinah Ginger Beer is probiotic as well (as stated in their lab results).

"Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. They are often called 'good' or helpful bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.

"You just have to google the many benefits of ginger which include good for digestion, warms the body, treats sore throat and cough, boosts immune system, reduces nausea and travel sickness, lowers cholesterol, promotes detoxing, improves blood circulation, and anti-aging," he said.

Their target markets are tourists, cafes, restaurants, resorts/hotels, import/export, bars that make cocktails, weddings, events and functions, entertainment Industry, cinemas/gaming centeres, as healthier alternative to beer and alcohol, souvenir shops, retail, and sports/fitness centers.

"We want to develop our brand strong and deep and offer only one product for the time being to avoid confusing our customers. We are in the business of crafting and developing new products that can compete internationally that Sabahans can be proud of."

For now, they are content with occupying permanent booths at strategic locations.

"Our loyal customers can keep a close eye on our Facebook page where we announce our latest retail partners supplying our beverages and can get them there," he said.

At the soft launch two months ago at Jesselton Artisan Market, the 800 bottles ran out of stock at 2pm. Since then we have been flooded with online orders as well as enquiries from distributors such as cafes, hotels and resorts. At the next Jesselton Artisan Market event, sales doubled to 1,500 bottles!

"There has been an overwhelming response from the public and online, which we are extremely grateful for. It just goes to show Sabahans are proud supporters of exciting local brands," he said.

"Uinah Ginger Beer although a soft drink is not halal certified only because of the word 'Beer'.

"We get questions from everyone on the alcohol level. Although it contains only 1.1pc alcohol, according to Malaysian Regulations, any beverage containing alcohol below 2pc falls under the non-alcoholic beverage category," he said, just like Root Beer is not beer.

Wong said with more and more people coming back from overseas, like them, there is a huge opportunity to develop exciting products with the raw materials that Sabah has. - Larry Ralon



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