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Love and pride in beer

Home-grown brand Brewlander & Co makes its drinks in Cambodia and names them after emotions

Two celebrities and an award-winning home brewer are behind one of Singapore's first gypsy breweries and latest craft beer lines, Brewlander & Co, which was launched on March 14.

Daniel Ong, 41, a former radio DJ who co-founded cupcake chain Twelve Cupcakes, and American- Chinese actor and host Allan Wu, 44, are among the founding partners of the gypsy brewer, which is responsible for exciting additions to the craft beer scene here.

Gypsy brewers do not have their own brewing facilities and, instead, produce typically experimental beers in facilities rented from other breweries. Brewlander & Co's beers are made in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

But at the heart of the venture is the man behind the beer, Mr John Wei, a stalwart of the home-brewing community here who brews commercially. The company's name, Brewlander, is his moniker in the local craft brewing scene, and stemmed from the name of his home brew blog.

Brewlander & Co's beers are named after emotions. So far, the company has released seven beer styles. The first four are a summer ale (Hope), saison (Pride), wild Indian pale ale (IPA) (Love) and double IPA (Courage).

Earlier this week, three new ones were added to the line-up: a session IPA (Joy), porter (Respect) and New England wheat ale (Peace).

Mr Wei, 35, who is the Asian representative for the Beer Judge Certification Program and has been home brewing since 2008, says he has been approached to brew professionally and previously set up a brewery, but adds that "it didn't feel right until now".

  • Latest releases

  • JOY
     

    A session IPA with 4.5 per cent alcohol, brewed especially for those who like their beers hoppy. "It's also a reflection of myself because I like having a beer that I can have more than one pint of without feeling too full or drunk," says award- winning home brewer John Wei. Aroma and taste: Expect floral notes, followed by grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit flavours.

    RESPECT
     

    A take on a robust porter with 5.8 per cent alcohol and brewed for those who enjoy dark beers. Maris Otter malt and a variety of specially curated malts were combined for a rich, full-bodied brew. Aroma and taste: Expect layers of espresso coffee, premium dark chocolate, a rich malt presence and caramel sweetness to balance the roast. Finishes with a velvety bitter-sweetness.

    PEACE
     

    A New England Wheat Ale with 5.1 per cent alcohol. This hybrid style combines a hoppy American wheat ale and a New England strain of yeast that produces a burst of stone fruit character. The beer is refreshing with big hops and juicy notes. Aroma and taste: Expect intense aromas of ripe apricots, peaches, gooseberries and nuances of tropical fruit.

The person who got him interested in starting Brewlander & Co was his friend Joey Yeo, 34, who runs a corporate finance company and is one of the partners. He later brought Ong and Wu on board.

"Daniel loves craft beer and believes that the home brews he had tasted from me were ready to be scaled up commercially," says Mr Wei.

Mr Wei spends two to three weeks at the facility in Phnom Penh every six weeks, brewing the beers from grain to glass. Each brew comes in at 35 hectolitres or about 10,000 bottles.

"We wanted to stay true to the craft beer scene by brewing in small batches and making sure every aspect of the craft is down pat," says Mr Ong. He adds that the partners pumped a "six-figure sum" into the venture.

Other than the crisp summer ale, which Mr Wei created with Singapore's hot weather in mind, he says he wanted to challenge the status quo and not do safe beers, such as a regular pale ale, west coast IPA or wheat beer.

"There are so many great examples of these beers already on the shelves and we won't be adding anything positive to the scene by doing so," he says.

"I wanted to bring along a certain energy from my home brewing and expose people's palates to a wider range of beer styles."

For instance, Pride, a saison, is a historical beer style brewed in Belgian farmhouses and not readily available here; while Love, a wild IPA, uses a wild yeast that Mr Wei says most breweries would not allow anywhere near the brewhouse as it can contaminate everything if not handled properly.

While some styles may not be typical ones, Mr Wei is confident from early feedback that consumers here expect Brewlander & Co to "keep pushing the limits on creativity for a Singaporean craft beer brand".

He has many more beers up his sleeve and tells The Sunday Times that he is working on some unusual flavours. One is a beer that will incorporate Chinese tea leaves as part of a collaboration with a local restaurant chain, while another will be a "celebratory" beer.

"The latter will feature a historical barley that was almost obsolete and had only 80 tonnes grown last year," he says. "We are glad to have secured this barley for a limited release and this beer is meant to be cellared for special occasions as it develops complexity over time. I believe we are the only brewery in Asia to brew with this malt."

Brewlander & Co beers are available islandwide - in craft beer shops (Thirsty Craft Beer Shop and Smith Street Taps) and brewpubs and gastrobars (Freehouse, The 1925 Brewing Co Restaurant and Rookery) - as well as in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Cambodia. The beers retail from $8, depending on where they are sold.

Ong says the company intends to launch 10 beers by the end of the year, along with rebrewing current releases that have sold out.

"Our dream is to one day find our beers in supermarkets," he says.

Through Brewlander, Mr Wei also hopes to gain momentum for the local craft brewing scene, considering that it is costly to move from home brewing to commercial brewing.

"I hope for more support from the relevant authorities to help nurture and create a a different classification for small craft breweries which can do Singapore proud," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Love and pride in beer'. Print Edition | Subscribe