Singapore bars get crafty with beers

THE 1925 -- PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
THE 1925 -- PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
QUENCH! BISTRO & BAR -- PHOTO: QUENCH! BISTRO & BAR
QUENCH! BISTRO & BAR -- PHOTO: QUENCH! BISTRO & BAR
DRAFT & CRAFT -- PHOTO: DRAFT & CRAFT
DRAFT & CRAFT -- PHOTO: DRAFT & CRAFT
WORKING TITLE -- PHOTO: WORKING TITLE
WORKING TITLE -- PHOTO: WORKING TITLE
NICKELDIME DRAFTHOUSE -- PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
NICKELDIME DRAFTHOUSE -- PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Druggists "beertender" Trisha Pillai pouring beer from one of the 23 taps behind the counter. -- PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
Druggists "beertender" Trisha Pillai pouring beer from one of the 23 taps behind the counter. -- PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

More bars, restaurants and cafes are offering craft beer bottled or on tap

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."

gurveenk@sph.com.sg


SIX PLACES TO GET YOUR CRAFT BEER FIX

NICKELDIME DRAFTHOUSE

The words "15 Craft Beers" plastered across a brightly lit signboard are hard to miss while cruising by Thomson Road, even with beer goggles on.

With 15 craft beers on tap, patrons can have their pick of flavour profiles, from nutty and sweet with Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (from $7) from the United States to sour with Wild Beer Modus Operandi (from $8) from England.

Even the grub is doused in craft beers such as India pale ale. Chomp on the 510 Burger ($16), which comes with beer-candied bacon and beer barbecue sauce, or satisfy your sweet tooth with Doctor's Orders ($12), a waffle saturated with beer and topped with almond nougatine and vanilla bean ice cream.

Where: 01-06, 273 Thomson Road

Open: 11am to 11pm (Sunday to Thursday), 11am to 1am (Friday and Saturday)

Info: Call 6256-0261 or go to www.nickeldimedrafthouse.com

WORKING TITLE

Prefer to nurse a glass of craft beer in a cafe setting and eat an all-day brunch with students and hipsters? Then Working Title is the place to go.

Reminiscent of cafes in Melbourne with its mismatched vintage furniture and open courtyard, Working Title is as much about the craft beers as it is about the coffee.

Between 30 and 40 craft beers are available, ranging from BrewDog Punk IPA ($11) to imperial stout Evil Twin Yin ($16) and fruit beer Lindemans Apple ($10).

Where: 48 Arab Street

Open: 10am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to midnight (Friday and Saturday)

Info: Call 6298-8721 or go to workingtitle.sg

DRUGGISTS

With a name like Druggists, images of individuals in white laboratory coats measuring medical prescriptions might spring to mind. Instead, spiffily dressed staff pour 23 craft beers, all on tap, sourced from cult breweries such as Mikkeller from Denmark and De Struise Brouwers from Belgium at the bar in Jalan Besar.

The beers on tap change weekly so there is a new flavour to sample each visit, from sea buckthorn (Baltic Frontier, from $9) to chocolate (Black Ball, from $9). Complementing the tipple are local bites such as coffee pork ribs ($9) and sambal fish ($10).

Where: 119 Tyrwhitt Road

Open: 4pm to midnight (Tuesday to Friday), 2pm to midnight (Saturday), 2 to 11pm (Sunday), closed on Monday

Info: Call 6341-5967 or go to www.facebook.com/DruggistsSG

DRAFT & CRAFT

Get a taste of California at the restaurant and craft beer bar where the owners are all about replicating the laid-back feel found in San Diego bars.

Craft beer enthusiasts and newbies alike can have their pick from quirky beers, such as Mongozo Banana ($15), to more robust ones, such as the Dead Guy Ale ($17), which is available on tap.

Besides the six to eight beers on tap, the bar also stocks more than 15 bottled craft beers, while the restaurant dishes out classic Californian fare such as grilled cheese sandwiches and tacos.

Where: 31 Circular Road

Open: Noon to midnight (Monday to Thursday), noon to 1am (Friday), 4pm to 1am (Saturday), closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6532-0604 or go to draftandcraft.sg

QUENCH! BISTRO & BAR

Situated within Orto leisure park in Yishun, the bistro-bar is the ideal getaway for those who want to kick back with a glass of brewski in casual weekend garb.

Accompanying Western fare, dimsum and local bites is an extensive selection of more than 20 international bottled craft beer labels, including American fruit beer Abita Purple Haze ($10++).

Where: 1-10, 81 Lorong Chencharu

Open: 11am to 3am daily

Info: Call 6257-3657 or go to quench.com.sg

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.

Where: 369 Jalan Besar

Open: 10am to midnight (Monday to Saturday), 10am to 10pm (Sunday)

Info: Call 6294-9215 or go to the1925.com.sg