Tipples

Making lime beer in 30 minutes

Alchemist Beer Lab’s managing partner Francis Khoo would trawl supermarket aisles to get ideas for the unusual flavours of his beers (above).
Alchemist Beer Lab’s managing partner Francis Khoo would trawl supermarket aisles to get ideas for the unusual flavours of his beers (above).PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Alchemist Beer Lab’s managing partner Francis Khoo (above) would trawl supermarket aisles to get ideas for the unusual flavours of his beers.
Alchemist Beer Lab’s managing partner Francis Khoo (above) would trawl supermarket aisles to get ideas for the unusual flavours of his beers.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

The craft beer scene has steadily taken off here in the last few years, especially among hipsters and well-travelled drinkers.

Now, the infused beer movement is brewing.

Infused beers are imbued with the aromas and flavours from ingredients such as fruits, herbs, spices and beer hops.

Craft beers, which are brewed from a plethora of grains, already come in an extensive range of flavours. And the rise of infused beers here will only mean more choices for drinkers who crave more adventurous flavours.

Pioneering this movement in Singapore is Alchemist Beer Lab which opened at luxury hotel The South Beach last month. It is by the team behind home-grown microbrewery, Little Island Brewing Company, in Changi Village.

Taking pride of place in the 70-seat bar with an industrial chic design is a row of 16 beer towers. Eight of them are filled with tipples such as lager, ale, cider and stout, as well as an eclectic array of ingredients such as guava, marshmallows and motueka hops that have a zesty lime flavour.

Some examples of quirky brews at the bar include Obama, a heavy-bodied and creamy stout that is mellowed with marshmallows, vanilla pod and mint leaves, and Last Straw, which is cider perfumed with strawberries and basil. For a savoury sip, Dead Gose is a salty and sour ale that has been soaked with mosambi lime and salted plums.

A 330ml glass of infused beer starts from $12.

Mr Francis Khoo, 49, managing partner of Alchemist Beer Lab, believes that infusing beers is the most time-efficient way of concocting new flavours. He says: "It gives us the versatility of creating new flavours in the shortest amount of time, in a fun and experimental way without being too wasteful."

New flavours can be created within 30 minutes while brewing a new beer flavour can take up to three months for the beers to mature.

While the beer infusion process is short, the system behind it is much more complicated.

Mr Khoo spent about $100,000 on a sophisticated counter-pressure system from the United States.

It consists of a cold room, where beer is piped and pumped by carbon dioxide into a chiller before it gets channelled into eight 3l beer towers, where the aromatics have been added.

The contents in the towers are pressurised with carbon dioxide so that the alcohol strips flavours away from the ingredients quickly when it is pumped in. The pressure in the towers also stops foam from building up.

To prevent the beer from freezing, the towers are fitted with an antifreeze tube that is set at about 2 deg C.

Mr Khoo, who cooks as a hobby, got the ideas for the unusual flavours from his cooking experiences. He came up with pairings such as grilled pineapple and star anise, which are featured in pineapple tart fillings, for the lager-based Ugly Sister Golden beer.

He would also trawl the supermarket aisles of Mustafa Shopping Centre to check out the seasonal fruit and spices for inspiration. He says: "My team tried 30 to 40 types of flavour combinations and fine-tuned the ingredients-to-beer ratio, as some herbs such as rosemary in ale turned out too overpowering."

With the flexibility of switching ingredients in the infusion towers, new flavours can be added to the menu every week and can include seasonal fruits such as passionfruit and durian.

The rise of infused beers fits in well with the burgeoning craft beer scene here, Mr Khoo says, as he has noticed that millennial drinkers are "more receptive to exciting and crazy flavours".

He notes the growing number of imported craft beer brands here, such as Denmark's Mikkeller Brewery, which has an outpost in Prinsep Street and is known for adding unusual ingredients such as oatmeal and wild yeast in its beers.

It helps that drinkers of craft and infused beers are well travelled and have been exposed to beers overseas. He says: "Instead of having a softer palate for beers and going for softer and lighter flavours, more people are exploring different facets of beers, which can range from salty, sour and hoppy flavours."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Making lime beer in 30 minutes'. Print Edition | Subscribe