Singapore Bars Get Crafty with Beers


Singapore Bars Get Crafty with Beers

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Goh
Written by Kaur, Gurveen for The Straits Times on December 21, 2016.
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On returning to Singapore after spending 10 years in San Diego and Michigan, Ms Keira Herr and her husband missed the huge variety of craft beers available in the United States.

Tired of being “severely deprived”, Ms Herr and a friend decided to set up Draft & Craft, a southern Californian restaurant and craft beer joint in Circular Road.

Besides Californian food staples such as tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches, it serves artisanal beers brewed in small batches in the US.

In southern California, Ms Herr, 32, says bars with more than 20 types of craft beers are common, practically “on every street corner”.

She adds: “Comparatively, the scene is still very underdeveloped in Singapore.”

Well, the Singapore craft beer scene is certainly on its way.

Draft & Craft is part of a growing number of bars, restaurants and cafes including imported craft beers on their menus. At least eight joints with craft beers either bottled or on tap have popped up in the past year, with the majority of them leaving out mass-market beers such as Tiger Beer and Heineken.

The newest entrant, a new drinking hole called Tap Craft Beer Bar, opening in two weeks at Capitol Piazza in North Bridge Road, has craft beers on tap – a sign of confidence that the beers will sell well enough to have them on draft.

Craft beers are brewed in small batches by independent brewers experimenting with natural ingredients and using no preservatives, as compared with commercial beers, which are typically mass- produced in large brewing plants.

The craft beer boom has taken the US and parts of Europe by storm over the past three years and the movement is also catching on here.

Distributors and craft beer bars say this is due to more drinkers having sampled craft beers abroad as well as more sophisticated consumers looking for niche beer recipes beyond the usual Erdinger or Stella Artois.

Drinkers also know more about “cult beers” from breweries such as Mikkeller from Denmark.

At craft beer bar Druggists in Jalan Besar, Mikkeller’s brews are among the 23 beers available on tap, alongside those from breweries such as Thornbridge Brewery from England and Brouwerij De Molen from the Netherlands. The list changes each week.

Ms Corrine Chia, 38, the bar’s co-owner, says: “There is a global movement towards products that are made in small batches, are typically of better quality and where the maker is not simply a brand on paper, but a real person toying with new recipes and pushing norms constantly to achieve a better product.”

Ms Chia and her husband-cum-business partner Lincoln Goh, 38, also run The Drinking Partners, one of the pioneer importers and distributors of craft beers and ciders in Singapore.

Mr Winston Kwang, 42, of BeerStyle Distribution, which specialises in American craft beer, says that when he started eight years ago, there were fewer than five craft beer distributors. Now, there are more than a dozen.

His own company had a double-digit growth in sales over the past three years.

More cafes are offering craft beers on their menus. At Working Title in Arab Street, between 30 and 40 types of bottled craft beers are on its beer rack.

Meanwhile, microbrewery and restaurant The 1925, which started selling its own beers last July, has crossed $1 million in revenue since it opened last May. Two of the six in-house crafted beers are on tap, along with three other imported brews.

The 1925’s owner, Mr Ivan Yeo, 34, says: “People nowadays are more widely travelled than before and usually try their first craft beer overseas. They are also more inquisitive, questioning sources and processing methods, which make craft beers much more appealing since most craft beer brewing presents itself as artisanal in nature.”

Craft beer buff Stefan Koh, 32, says once you go craft, you do not look back. The general manager at a packaging firm says: “Each time I drink a craft beer, it’s a different experience for my taste buds. I have become too accustomed to the diverse flavours that I can’t go back to drinking the Tigers and Heinekens.”

It helps that craft beers on tap usually cost about the same as a pint of commercial beer at a bar.

At Wildfire Kitchen + Bar in Evans Road, which opened in February, all of its more than 60 bottled and draft craft beers are priced at $9 a pint.

This removes the “barrier to experimentation”, says Mr Michel Lu, 46, executive chairman of Revolver Asia, which manages Wildfire.

Well, Singaporeans are not abandoning their Tigers and Carlsbergs yet. While the craft beer scene is growing, the local market is still dominated by commercial beers.

Mr Kwang of BeerStyle Distribution says the craft beer share in the market here is only about 2 per cent at the moment. He adds: “There is a limit as to how big the craft beer scene here can grow as the large commercial beer distributors have a strong hold on the market.”

Consumer education is another key aspect to selling craft beers here, retailers and distributors note.

Mr Frank Shen, 25, who manages restaurant-bar Nickeldime Drafthouse in Novena, says: “Some customers walk in and ask for an IPA just because it is the trendy craft beer right now, without understanding its flavour profile first.”

IPA stands for India pale ale, a robust hop-laden brew that is arguably the most popular craft beer in the market now.

Mr Yeo of The 1925 believes there is still a long way to go before the craft beer scene here reaches its tipping point. But he adds: “The scene may end up very much like the wine scene in Singapore, where everyone would want a craft beer, but not know or remember which.”

Property agent Connie Tan, 40, is still on her craft beer learning journey. She says: “I started drinking craft beers three years ago and have yet to try all the different flavours. It’s good that there are more places selling the beers, but we need more as many people are still unaware.”


THE 1925

A long wooden bar top, untouched vintage walls and four giant steel tanks – you might think you have stumbled into a 1920s speakeasy.

The highlight of this place is no doubt its six in-house craft beers, of which two are on tap at any one time, while the three remaining taps are dedicated to artisanal concoctions from places such as the United States, Britain and Japan.

Order a pint of its Small Monster (from $7++), an India pale ale of robust hoppy goodness, or the limited-edition Manuka Stout, with hints of coffee and Manuka honey, which is on tap once every quarter.