There is more to local beer than Tiger. Doyenne.sg speaks to local microbreweries about craft beers in Singapore.
“Craft brews will likely stay on the radar of beer enthusiasts who are becoming more discerning and interested in the taste profiles of the beers they imbibe.”
Craft, a word that is used to describe beer by small and independent breweries in limited volume, is now associated with good quality beers and exciting new flavours. Thanks to the burgeoning craft beer scene, an increasing number of bars and taprooms have sprung up on our shores. These include Australian favourite Little Creatures, which is just one of the 21 microbreweries licensed in 2017.
A True Blue Singaporean Craft Beer Flavour?
Singapore’s reputation as a food mecca, together with craft beer’s room for taste experimentation, make for an ideal melting pot for the development of new, Asian-inspired flavours with a distinct sense place.
Yet, few breweries are tapping on local ingredients in their brews. With hops, malts, IPAs and Pilsners gaining momentum in Singapore’s drinking lexicon, flavours are still imported from countries like Australia, the US and UK. Most brewers also rely on western ingredients for their experimental beers.
Little Island Brewing Co’s Francis Khoo attributes this to Asian ingredients being spicier than their Western counterparts. “The taste of Asian spices and herbs are too intense and that intensity is not good for a beer, because it overpowers the other flavours,” he says.
In the right hands, Francis does concede that Asian flavours and ingredients can make great experimental beers. He fondly recalls a blonde ale in Italy, which contained coriander seeds. The flavour was subtle, hovering just below the radar, which provided a bit of a kick to an overall clean-tasting beer.
The 1925 Brewing Co’s Ivan Yeo is not as concerned about creating a craft beer that tastes unmistakably Singaporean. “Does it matter if it tastes like a Singapore beer?” he says bluntly. What matters more to Ivan is that local craft beers capture the culture of their locales – Singapore’s craft beer culture is about building a community.
Building a Craft Beer Community in Singapore
The spirit of community and family is ingrained in The 1925’s DNA. Mementos from Ivan’s family are openly shared with all. These childhood stories provide the background of the names of its beers, while old photographs are inspiration for the design of bottle labels. Through this openness, customers also come to be part of the brewing family.
For a regular’s birthday recently, the brewery served up a special menu of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. “Things like that give the additional touch of being personable. Not that we think it’s the best way to make money, I would think it is the best way to build relationships,” says Ivan.
At Little Island, a craft beer community is being built around great beers, good service and great food. On Saturdays, the rustic brewery hosts cookouts, barbecues and open rotisseries. Craft beer appreciation workshops and behind-the-scenes tours of Little Island’s onsite brewery will soon be added to the roster, all with the aim to provide a more holistic experience for visitors.
Francis does not discount the entertainment value of these programmes, which comes with shallow connotations that may be counterintuitive in promoting a deeper understanding of craft beer. Nevertheless, his goal is to introduce the beer making process in an exciting way, and not necessarily to help develop the craft beer industry in Singapore.
A Nascent Industry
With only two per cent of the beer market share, craft beer is still a nascent industry in Singapore. Despite the slew of online articles championing the rise and popularity of local crafts, Francis is more cautious in joining the revelry.
According to Francis, the Singapore government’s strict regulations on licensing and high taxes on the sale of alcohol creates high barriers to entry for microbrewers. The resulting lack of opportunities for wannabe artisan brewers to hone their craft, and a dearth of experienced talents stifle the growth of the industry.
That is not to say that Singapore’s microbreweries have low quality standards. Most of the commercial microbreweries are run by brewers who have cut their teeth by experimenting with home brews, polishing their skills slowly but surely. Therein lies the problem; the length of time needed for a brewer who learns independently to reach industry standards.
For Singapore’s craft beer industry to stand a fighting chance, Francis advocates the easing of government taxes to lower entry costs, as well as exchanges with foreign brewers and breweries.
This is where LeVeL33 is shaking up the scene. With Munich, and Italy trained brewmaster Gabriel Garcia at the helm, it recently collaborated with House Barons de Rothschild to produce a champagne beer, the first of its kind in Singapore.
Its current seasonal beer is another collaboration, this time with all-female-led Australian microbrewery Two Birds Brewing. Drawing on Two Birds brewmaster Jayne Lewis’ experience as a winemaker, the collaboration’s Golden Ale is as layered and textured as the wines she loves to drink.
Craft brews will likely stay on the radar of beer enthusiasts who are becoming more discerning and interested in the taste profiles of the beers they imbibe. But for the industry to mature and reach its full potential, more has to be done to support the endeavours of our local breweries to create a more innovative and vibrant craft beer scene.