Say cheers to craft beer

Craft beers, with their air of exclusivity and exotic ingredients, are going mainstream

At Maxwell Food Centre, the beer of choice to go with hawker food is usually Tiger, Heineken or Carlsberg.

But with the opening of two-week-old stall 3rd Culture Brewing Co, which has five taps, a more exotic selection is available to the casual diner.

Now you can wash down your chicken rice with a refreshing golden ale by French brewery Craig Allan or pair your supper with a hearty, hoppy Stone IPA from the United States.

Craft beers, which have long been associated with hipsters and beer snobs, is a niche market in Singapore.

 

An unofficial consensus among distributors is that craft beers make up only about 5 per cent of the beer drinking market here.

But there are signs that craft beers, with their small batch exclusivity and funky ingredients, are making their way into the heartland and into the mainstream.

In the past few months, two other craft beer places have popped up.

The first is cult beer brand Mikkeller Bar from Copenhagen, which set up a bar in a container at Deck in Prinsep Street in the Bugis area.

The other new entrant is Freehouse in Boon Tat Street, which offers 16 craft beers on rotation and an extensive bottle list from all over the world.

They join at least five other new outfits in the past year, including liquor retail store Booze Pharma-C in Tiong Bahru, and The Armoury Gastrobar at South Beach and Tap at Capitol Piazza.

Why the sudden renaissance?

Retailers and distributors say that well-travelled Singaporeans are more willing to shell out for craft beers.

They are exposed to more than just the usual lagers, stouts and IPAs and have tried other styles such as sours, porters and saisons.

Mass-produced beers from commercial plants end up being too boring for them.

Husband-and-wife duo, Ms Corrine Chia and Mr Lincoln Goh, are the experts.

The people behind the Mikkeller bar, they also own Jalan Besar tap room Druggists and The Great Beer Experiment in PasarBella in Turf Club Road.

The couple also run distribution outfit The Drinking Partners, which was started 10 years ago.

Ms Chia, 38, says: "No one knew or understood craft beers 10 years ago and they were still considered expensive compared to commercial beers."

Now craft beers range from $8 to more than $45 for rarer varieties.

Former lawyer Manbeer Singh, 33, who runs Maxwell's 3rd Culture Brewing Co, says people are generally open to new flavours, "but you just have to help them through the journey".

He keeps prices friendly, with beers ranging from $8 to $11 for a 12-ounce mug. Check the blackboard with the tap list to see what is for sale that day.

He likens coming up with a tap list to the process of making a music playlist.

"You've got your greatest hits, the ones that are always played on the radio," he says. Hence he offers familiar names such as a Brewdog Punk IPA from Scotland and a Mountain Goat Steam Ale from Australia.

To make things interesting, he throws in a few unexpected choices, such as an Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, a copper- coloured beer from California.

He reveals that his stall neighbours sometimes drop by after work and ask him to surprise them with a new flavour of whatever he has on tap.

Cosmopolitan Singaporeans are adventurous when it comes to beer, says Mr Kasster Soh, 29, co-founder of Freehouse, located on the second and third floors of a shophouse in Boon Tat Street.

The bar has taps that change weekly, with beers that come from New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the United States, Japan and Spain.

Singaporean consumers are open to imported beers, "unlike in the US where they're very pro-local", he adds.

Freehouse offers four beers in 5-ounce cups on beer paddles so that customers can try more styles at one go.

It also comes with an information sheet so that customers can learn more about the origins, ingredients and brewing process of each brand.

Their beers come in either, 10-ounce, 13-ounce or 16-ounce glasses and cost between $9 and $19.

Freehouse's Mr Soh feels that craft beers will become the new normal.

He says: "The term 'craft beer' will be obsolete in two to three years' time. At the end of the day, what people and outlets will want is just good beer."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'The art of the craft beer'. Print Edition | Subscribe