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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Special brews

Eateries and bars are offering artisanal beers, which are touted to be more aromatic than commercial ones
The Straits Times - December 11, 2011
By: Rebecca Lynne Tan
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Special brews Mr Colin Tay and Mr Karambir Khanijou opened Old Empire gastrobar in April. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Artisanal craft beers are making heady inroads with the opening of more speciality craft beer bars and gastrobars in Singapore.

The latest one to set up shop is beer hawker stall The Good Beer Company at Chinatown Complex. It began selling craft beers at the end of October.

Even beer distributors are tapping into the craft beer bar scene. JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer at 313@Somerset, run by Eastern Craft, an import and distribution company that specialises in Japanese craft beers, opened in March, while Old Empire gastrobar in River Valley Road, run by the owners of wine and beer distribution firm TSA Wines, along with another partner, opened in April.

This year, more restaurants and gastrobars such as The Wok & Barrel and Celina's GastroBar in the Duxton Hill area, Luke's Oyster Bar & Chophouse in Gemmill Lane and Wild Rocket in Mount Emily have started offering the fizzy tipple too.

Types range from fruity beers with lychee and peach accents, to strong dark ales, wheat beers and complex pilsners.

Chef-owner Willin Low of Wild Rocket, for example, stocks North Taiwan's Lichee Beer and Honeydew Melon Beer, Brothers Toffee Apple Cider from the United Kingdom and Timmermans Strawberry beer from Belgium.

Craft beers, which are typically imported from countries such as Japan, Belgium, the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Taiwan, are usually brewed in small batches, with strong attention to quality and detail. Many of the breweries also use locally sourced ingredients to flavour the beer in the brewing process, and some also use methods such as oak barreling to give their beers additional complexity and character.

The craft beer market here also includes beers by the growing number of micro-breweries that now number more than 10. They include the four-month-old Jungle Beer brewery, Level 33 and RedDot BrewHouse.

Suppliers and aficionados say these artisanal beers tend to be more aromatic, complex and flavourful than commercial beers.

Suppliers acknowledge that the niche craft beer market is still very much in its infancy - it probably makes up somewhere between 0.5 and 1 per cent of Singapore's entire beer market, which is dominated by big name macro-breweries such as Tiger, Heineken and Carlsberg.

But they say the market is growing fast.

Sales, distributors say, have doubled in the last year, and so have the number of retail stores, bars and restaurants offering the elegant and robust tipples.

Says Mr Jeremy Reynolds, 41, co-owner of Oosters Belgian Brasserie, JiBiru and Eastern Craft: 'The market for craft beers is still very small - a minority of beer sales in Singapore. Growth has been rapid, but we are still part of a very small market.'

Mr Andrew Wee, 60, executive director of distribution company Trilogies of Beer who brought in three more varieties of New Zealand craft beer MOA this year, says that despite the heftier price range, the industry here is 'gaining momentum'.

These beers, because of their limited production and premium ingredients, tend to be about twice as expensive as macro-brews, and are priced from about $6 to $25 a bottle.

But the beers are not meant to be chugged - they should be savoured.

Mr Colin Tay, 35, co-owner of TSA Wines and Old Empire gastrobar, reckons there is a long way to go in terms of acceptance of craft beers here - most people, especially the older generation, are creatures of habit, he says. The artisanal beverage generally appeals to the well-travelled and more adventurous, and most craft beer drinkers here are in their early 20s to mid-30s.

Habits aside, however, some older male drinkers are showing interest, too.

Mr Daniel Goh, 36, who runs The Good Beer Company with his uncle Goh Koon Hong, 62, says about 15 per cent of his clientele are 'uncles', in their 60s and 70s.

The more adventurous Chinatown 'ah-pek' (uncle in Hokkien) will come by and ask for a recommendation, he says. Even the older Mr Goh is a recent convert - his favourite is American craft beer Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

While many women may avoid commercial beers, females make up about 35 to 40 per cent of craft beer drinkers here, retailers and suppliers say.

Says marketing officer Lina Teo, 33, who cites labels such as Hitachino Nest and Kopparberg ciders as her favourites since first trying the beverages about six months ago: 'I had never liked beers - they were always bitter and overly carbonated. But with these craft beers, the bubbles are more subtle, and they are so flavourful that they barely taste like conventional beers.'

 

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