Falling in love with brewing

Singaporean Foo Lan-Xin is head brewer at Warpigs brewpub in Copenhagen

A Singaporean is making her mark on the craft-brewing scene all the way in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Ms Foo Lan-Xin, 36, has been head brewer at Warpigs brewpub - a collaboration between noted American brewery 3 Floyds and Danish brewery Mikkeller - since July.

While she is only a few months into the job, she admits that she was anxious and hesitant about taking on the role. "It's still crazy when I think about it," she tells The Sunday Times.

Ms Foo, who has spent almost 10 years exploring the brewing world, is an anomaly in the male-dominated beer-brewing scene. "It's a white, bearded, tattooed boys' club and there I am, the complete opposite - a Chinese girl," she quips.

But Ms Foo, who is single, ended up in brewing almost accidentally.

After four years of working in the United States, she left her food scientist job in 2008 and took time off to travel. She ended up in Storm Brewing in Vancouver, Canada, where the master brewer distilled gin as a hobby.

"I wanted to learn how to distil gin, but instead I fell in love with the brewing side of things because it smelt amazing every time he brewed," she says.

She spent half a year in Vancouver, where she also learnt to homebrew. "My intention was to apprentice with him, but he said I was not going to learn so much shadowing him, I was going to learn more doing it myself," she says.

Ms Foo then moved home in 2010 and worked with the owner of home-grown homebrew supply store iBrew, Mr Raymond Lee, for a year and a half, and honed her skills.

She brewed everything from IPAs (India Pale Ales) to lagers and brown ales, working with different yeast strains and hop varieties each time to try and perfect them.

It also involved a lot of heavy lifting of sloshing fermenters, which sometimes made for messy work.

"But the nerd in me said, 'You have to pursue this a little bit further', so I enrolled in brewing school in Berlin," she says.

While pursuing her Certified Brewmaster Course at the Versuchs-und Lehranstalt fur Brauerei (VLB) in Berlin, she visited the Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen, where it was once again love at first sight. The famed Danish gypsy brewery is known for its unusual beer styles. "There were 20 different beers and some of the craziest beers I'd ever seen," she recalls.

She could not keep away for long. After graduating from brewing school, she started work at Mikkeller's second bar, the 40-tap Mikkeller & Friends with Mikkeller owner and brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso.

"In 2014, I got wind that Warpigs was going to open - I wasn't really asking for a specific position, I just wanted to be closer to brewing," she says.

Ms Foo was offered the assistant brewing position with 3 Floyds Brewing's Kyle Wolak. After Wolak moved to renowned Vermont brewery Hill Farmstead Brewery this year, she took over.

She is responsible for signature Warpigs beers such as the distinctly pink-hued Berries & Cream cream ale and the Watermelon Gose, a German-style salty-sour beer.

At the moment, she is working on a pilsner with the Warpigs team. While it is a straightforward beer style, she calls it a "hard style to nail because if you don't get everything right, it doesn't taste perfect".

"Dark beers or those with a lot of added flavour hide a lot of flaws," she says. "But with a pilsner, you only have one or two different kinds of malt, one lager yeast and it's not flavourful either, since there are not a lot of hops."

As for more experimental flavours, she is also working on an imperial stout with a maple syrup flavour. While she has come up with a version brewed with 100 litres of maple syrup that stands at 13 per cent alcohol by volume, she wants to push it further.

"When I think of maple syrup, I think of it on pancakes with butter, so I want to introduce the salty butter element to it," she says. "It's challenging, but on the other hand, it's quite fun to decipher how you would even make a beer like that."

As for brewing something for the local market, she says she is looking into flavours such as pandan and lemongrass.

She feels that as Singaporeans are discerning about their food and with the strong foodie culture here, they are primed for craft beer.

"(Singaporeans) are the kind who have to have a particular chicken rice from a particular stall," she notes.

"It's going to take them a little bit of time to make the connection, but if you're so intense about your food, craft beer becomes almost automatic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Falling in love with brewing'. Subscribe