So a Surfer Walks into a Bar in Bali…

Black Sand Brewery and a surfer’s quest to make good beer in Bali

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before

Canggu has turned from a mostly rice-paddy-and-surfer-suburb of West Bali into a hot bed for trendy expats looking to bring a bit of Western culture to the little Indonesian island everyone seems to love. (Sound like some other little surf town with a bunch of new residents you know?”)

One such expat (who actually is kind of a local since he moved to the island at the age of 10) has brewed up something to satisfy not only his love for ales and lagers, but also to have a place his buddies and their buddies from abroad can come to drink…and eat, and hang, until midnight. Hard stop at midnight at Black Sand Brewery.

It’s 6:35 p.m.

Whitney Houston’s “Dance with Somebody” is bumpin’ and the crowd is starting to gather. Tables are full in the open-air brew hall, beer is flowing, and the staff are rocking faded Balinese inspired Hawaiian shirts (which you can also buy there—I asked). Mattia di Bitonto (think he’s Italian?) cruises up to the bar to meet me, beer in one hand, the other waving at everyone around him like a mayor and Spicoli from Fast Times, all rolled into one.

He directs me to come behind the bar, then around the building through some dark alleys until we reach a set of well-lit stairs (only slightly creepy) leading to the office. Some other guy named Mattia Taschera (think he’s also Italian?) is sitting having a mini meltdown about the point-of-sale software being down. Other Mattia (Mattia numero uno) chats to stressing Mattia due and laughs, “Hey, maybe you’ll get a girl tonight and that’ll make up for your anxiety right now about the registers…And, this is how the recording starts!” as he realizes the tape is on.

Numero uno

Katy: Yes, yes we are. Hi, Mattia. So tell us a bit about how Black Sand’s Bio came about…The old surfer-walks-into-a-bar scenario. Did that actually happen? Or are you messing with us and trying to do a joke setup?

MdB: Nooo, I guess Marley [the woman who wrote it] wanted to incorporate the surf scene into the brewery somehow and came up with that little tagline, and we are in Canggu where the waves are basically just out front. So, what is it again? A surfer walks into a bar and has a terrible beer…Ha, so we now changed that to: A surfer walks into the brewery and has a good beer.

Katy: Well, there ya go. So how did the idea for the actual brewery start?

MdB: Okay, so the idea was actually my dad’s idea. He’s like why don’t we do a brewery? And, I’m like I always wanted to do a brewery because I love beer. I would travel everywhere like Oz and California and have good beer there. Because I grew up here; my parents moved us here when I was 10, and now I’m 28, when I was about 15 that’s when I started drinking beer. Cus’ ya know, there’s like nothing else going on.

Katy: Haha, apparently as all 15 year-olds do in Bali. Is there a drinking age here?

MdB: There is. As long as you can reach over the bar, you can order right?

Katy: You’d know better than me, my friend!

MdB: So yeah, I was drinking terrible beer—as 15 year olds tend to do—, and as I got a bit older I started traveling overseas and started to taste some good beers, then when I’d come back here and be like, “Man, this beer is terrible.” Over some time, when my Dad came up with that idea, I was like “Yup, okay I’m ready to learn, and we are gonna do a brewery.”

When I was about 15 that’s when I started drinking beer.

Katy: What’s the breakdown of your clientele, other than beer lovers. Expats? Locals? Tourists? 15 year-old beer connoisseurs?

MdB: I always like to please the expats first, because then they bring other people in. But so far I’ve been getting people in from all over the place. I’ve been getting people in who’ve seen our beers rated on apps that I don’t even know about. We’ve really been getting everybody, which is cool. And, this is what it is, it’s a place for everyone.

Katy: Yeah, so kind of like Cheers?

MdB: What is Cheers…?

Katy: What is Cheers? Stop it. Com’on. What did you grow up on an island!? Wait..okay, I forgot where we were for a second. Look it up, then we’ll talk. But, common “Where everybody knows your name..?” Does that song ring a bell?

MdB: Nope.

Katy: Ugh, okay. Wow. Anyways, I’ve been trying to get an interview with Mattia, but apparently there are two Mattias, which has gotten a bit confusing…

MdB: Okay, so you were talking to the same Mattia, but I thought you were two different people, haha. You were talking to me both times! I was so fried from work, because as people may not know, brewing beer is like a full time job already, and I’m kind of like doing everything with the brewery/restaurant, so I’m lucky I have other Mattia, who I hired as the GM, then I have chef Angelo cooking the good stuff in the kitchen.

Mattia Taschera

Mattia numero due

Katy: So, what’s second Mattia’s name, other than Mattia numero due?

MdB: Mattia Taschera and Mattia Di Bitonto, that’s me.

Katy: That’s a lot of vowels. Sounds really Irish… [MdB smiled and laughed, gesturing with his hands, as Italians tend to do] Tell me about the space—how did you find this exact location?

MdB: I definitely wanted to be in Canggu since it’s the spot right now. You can get the right clientele in here: Young crew of surfers, skaters, and families since the schools are here as well. Definitely on trend right now and has a bit of everything. And, I live within walking distance…

Katy: Oh, very carbon neutral of you commuting by foot.

MdB: Yeah, for sure. Haven’t filled up my bike in awhile!

Katy: How did you come up with the design of the actual brewery and restaurant?

MdB: So first of all, I wanted an open space. And, I wanted everyone to not feel like they were in Bali when they walked in, but somehow integrate Bali into it. I don’t know if you noticed the coconut wood on the roof?

Katy: Oh, yeah, look at that.

MdB: We’ve got the rice fields in the back, and the balinese plants all along the side wall. So I wanted industrial but bringing Bali into it a little bit. I didn’t want that closed space feeling; I wanted that tropical air for sure.

Katy: Tropical industrial. I dig it. And, the beer is brewed onsite?

MdB: [Takes a big sip and looks away*] Ugh, yeah we brew the beer.
*Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country and alcohol is not exactly welcome culturally.

Katy: Enough said. I guess we should talk about the beer then, cus’ that’s why we’re all here after all?

MdB: Yup.

Katy: Maybe taste it, later?

MdB: Did you try the Pale Ale? [he slides his warm glass he’s been clutching this whole time over my way] This is the American Pale Ale. It’s got American hops. The hops I have in here is actually called mosaic. Not sure exactly where it’s from, but we import them from the States.

Katy: Mmm, tastes like beer. Nice. Other than this one you’ve been sipping on, how many other varieties do you offer?

MdB: Right now I have four on tap. I’ve got a kolsch, German style, easy drinking.

Katy: Yup, had it, loved it.

I guess it’s gonna stay that way cus’ people are likin’ it!

MdB: Oh, you had it? Great. It’s just kind of like for everyone. Then I’ve got an Amber Ale, which is kinda, well I call it an Amber Ale because it’s almost like an English bitter. Real malty, almost on the sweet side. It turned out darker than I wanted [laughs], but I guess it’s gonna stay that way cus’ people are likin’ it! Then we’ve got the American Pale Ale, as you just tried. What did you think of it?

Katy: Tastes like America.

MdB: America, fuck yeah! Hahah. Then I’ve got an India Pale Ale, touch more bitter and more hoppy. So again, something for everyone, but I’ll be switchin’ up all the time. Like I’ve got a hazy session IPA, and then I’ve got a blonde ale comin’.

Katy: Ah, love a blonde. Who doesn’t, right?

MdB: [Gets a bit red and chuckles] Haaa, right. But yeah, I’ll always be switchin’ them up. I’ll always have four or five. Depends. Sometimes I run out so just three, but I’ve got other beers on tap as well. Local and imports. Ten taps—place for everyone, literally even other beers!

Katy: How inclusive, so 2019! As we’re chatting, what other locals do you have on tap?

MdB: Local? I’ve got Bintang, San Miguel Lite, I’ve got Bali Hai, and then the imports: Little Creatures from Oz, Deschutes from Oregon, and I’ve got Anderson Valley from California.

Katy: Ever hear of a little place called Montauk Brewing Company?

MdB: No. Wish I did though before this interview now that you tell me [laughs].

Katy: [Picks up the phone] Houston, get the guys on the line, tell them to give first Mattia a call down at Black Sand in Canggu.

MdB: Nice, yes. Let’s get em’ over here and do a collaboration! Easy, done. Good reason to come to Bali.

Katy: For sure. So, the food element. Did one of you get the drunk munchies while testing the beer and decide you needed to do a food element or is it a law you have to serve food with alcohol?

MdB: Nope, not at actual law—and no, not a drunk munchie situation. BUT as you know the level of food in Bali is really high.

Katy: Yes. PSA to the readers, it seriously is good eating here!

MdB: Right, so it’s really good food everywhere and brewery food wasn’t gonna cut it. It would’ve satisfied a lot of people but I really wanted to have good food to be another attraction, not just the beer. If it was just good beer, people would come twice a week, but because we have good food we can now have them come three or four times a week for dinner.

Katy: I actually heard about the food before I heard about the beer.

MdB: See, there ya go. My idea was to bring people into the venue multiple times a week, not only to get “drunk” or to just have a good beer in the afternoon.

Katy: Took a gander at the menu, and it is sorta elevated. Mussels with black chili and a sacra-religious fried pizza. How can you do that to the dough? What the hell! Criminal.

MdB: Haha, yeah. Fried Pizza is good!! We had pizza on the menu, then the other Mattia, Mattia 2 says ‘Let’s do a fried pizza’ cus’ usually the Italians do a fried pizza that’s shut, it’s called a Panzerotti. So we did an open one with fresh tomato and fresh burrata instead.

Katy: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?

MdB: Haha, nice. My favorite thing on the menu? Probably the burger. A brewery’s gotta have a good burger, right? I’m sure picky with burgers and I’d always go everywhere and dissect every burger.

Katy: Yeah, I noticed Bali’s not really the place for a beef burger. Tempeh, sure. Beef, negative.

MdB: Yeah cus’ no one knows how to make ‘em right except for here, haha. You gotta try the burger now…

Katy: Okay, okay. Twist my tofu-loving arm. What specifically about the burger?

MdB: I think in a burger, it’s bread to meat ratio, and the sauce needs to be right. The fries next to it need to be just crunchy enough, and then the build of it, it just needs to be correct so it doesn’t just like soak up and fall apart. The chef’s worked at Noma, one of the best restaurants in the world, so we trust him with the burger build.

The chef’s worked at Noma, one of the best restaurants in the world, so we trust him with the burger build.

Katy: Wow, that place is booked out like a year in advance. Impressive.

MdB: Yeah, he worked there for a year, so definitely knows his shit! [Laughing]

Katy: How the hell did you get him?

MdB: He’s my old friend from when I used to party in Kuta like ten years ago. He had a little pizza place down there, then moved to Jakarta for like 6 or 7 years, then Denmark, so I haven’t seen him in awhile until this came up.

Katy: Ah, little Italian reunion. Molto bene. So, if you weren’t drinking your beer, what would you be drinking? What’s your go-to?

MdB: My go to beer…Hmm. If I’m in Bali? If I’m in Bali, I drink a San Miguel Lite. Just easy drinkin’ everyday kinda thing. I’ll drink 20 of those in a night, but then get over it fast, haha. If I’m in California for example, I really like the Ballast Point guys from San Diego. I really like their Sculpin. Or Deschutes IPA. I’m a hoppy guy.

Katy: Hoppy, yup. I can see it in the eyes. Talk to me about Canggu—You grew up here, yeah?

MdB: Yeah, so I can tell you who’s fault the way Canggu is today…Dustin Humphrey, he is director of Deus [Ex Machina]. It was his fault, kinda like Canggu, ya know? I was only a little grom, well I was like 18ish. I was living in Seminyak, and then these guys, well you surf right? Ever seen “Sipping Jetstreams?” Yeah, well, that guy did it, then started Deus doing the custom built motorcycles and single fins and changed everything. People were like “Dude, you’re crazy. You’re building a place out here?” cus’ at that time is was all rice fields and nothin’ around here. But he built it and then it sparked it all. More and more cool cats started to come in. Surfers clocked in for the fun waves, and then it all evolved from there.

Dude, you’re crazy. You’re building a place out here?

MdB: But, yeah the main reason people came was the really fun beginner waves at Batu Balong, then Deus and that scene evolved from there.

Katy: Sweet, just got some history right there. For someone who’s never been to Canguu, describe your recommended 24 hours.

MdB: First 24 hours in Canggu…Hmm, well first things first. You hire a scooter and wear a helmet! Not a custom bike, ‘cus you want to look cool and not wear a helmet. Yeah, then you gotta go down to Old Man’s, The Lawn, La Brisa, Echo Beach. Yeah, all those. Actually take that back. Go to La Brisa first because it’s the most beautiful beach club in Canggu, then come to Black Sand and have a good beer.

You’re gonna go to the waves, go to a cafe, then come to the brewery, right? There’s not really any other answer.

Katy: I hear ya, brother. Any other last tips, or piece of advice for the readers?

MdB: Sure: Don’t change your money at little ghetto places ‘cus you’re gonna get ripped off [Laughing]! And, if you’re a girl, don’t go on the bike with your handbag over your shoulder, cus’ it’s gonna get snatched. I mean compared to any other place in the world it’s not gonna get snatched any more so, but just FYI.

Katy: Roger: No ghetto-ass exchange places and put handbags under the seat. Thanks, Mattia numero uno!

A Bali Boy in Brooklyn: “Yeah, I’ve been to NY. Never out to Montauk, though. I did surf the Rockaways during Sandy. Remember Sandy? Yeah, I surfed that. I stayed in Brooklyn no idea where. All I know is I had to take the A-train. It was pretty gnarly.”