Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Friday, November 07, 2014

A brewer’s bed time story (part 2)

So where did we last leave off  ? Oh yes - "And the beer drinkers across the land were sad." well, sort of, but about the same time that the the regional breweries were going the way of T-Rex  an unusual thing was happening. The vacuum left by the rapidly vanishing regionals sucked in some strange flotsam and fuzzy from another beer universe.  They were small, loud, unsophisticated, wild and unpleasantly young; they wore funny clothes, sometimes ....well .... they smelled odd, and they were far hairier than one might hope to see in one of the big boy's gatherings. They brought with them thier own products that were as odd as their makers appearances - and they always insisted on sharing it. No one was sure what to make of them and to be sure no one really took them seriously. They were a oddity, a novelty (really something of a Joke). But there they were and like it or not one thing was for certain it WAS hard to ignore them. 

At first they were eschewed, then the more persistent of them was grudgingly allowed to congregate and wander among the initiated. These new ones, they mostly tried to behave. On occassion they tried to participate, but usually they were mostly ignored. These new ones they were always asking questions - like a child - newer completely satisfied with the answers they received. And always they brought their wares. It went on like this for some time; the distance between the Giants and these new comers remaining. 

Then one day, as if drifting on a wind from a far and distant place came a memory, a memory of an earlier time, befor the fall of so many regional breweries, it dawned on one of the initiated Giants, that these new ones were doing something that most of the initiated had once done themselves  - these new ones, they were creating something, something they loved. 

The Giants began to be more interested in what these new comers were up to. They started to interact with them more and on a more of an even field. Discussions bubbled up here and there, ideas were exchanged, conversations were had. But still the new comers were just an interesting oddity. And for a time it went on like this. 

Time pasted. The older parts of the initiated began to retire or some passed on. Soon these new ones were active participants, some of them even taking charge in some areas. And it came to pass that people outside the circle began to take notice of the new ones. The public seemed far more interested in what the new ones were doing and they began to ask them about it. And this gave a nice shiny new face to the whole, both old and new, the giant and the small. The new ones were called micros, because after all that term seemed to fit, no one of them was larger than an bug (and easily as squash-able). The public seemed to love them and besides what harm could they do - they were so small. And for a time it went on like this. 

Time passed and these new ones - these micros - they began to grow and to multiply. So much so that soon their overcommsumption threatened to topple the whole industry. The giants had learned to survive on so very little, but the micros, small though they were, had an insatiable appetite. Soon they were consuming an ever greater portion of the pie, but what could be done. The giants thought about choking them out (while they were still small and not yet strong) but  the people might notice and then turn against them. A few of the Micro had grown bigger than even those old regionals, and the public had fallen so deeply in love with them too.  

The giant were growing older and as they did they began to look duller in comparison to these new micros - and is want to happen; as they grew older, they began to shrink some. Just a tiny bit at first, but they were shrinking, and these micros were growning - and no longer just a little bit. And After the giants had worked so hard to drown the old regional like the decrepit grandparents they were, now almost unwittingly, they had allowed this new brand of trouble to flourish right under their noses.  The micros were no longer the cute (somewhat unwashed) hippy dippy types they were at the start, now they had become a serious issue. And maybe worst of all some of the giants own people had gone over to the other side and now they were micros. It was getting very serious. Something had to be done, but what ? 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Top Craft Breweries in Asia

The top craft breweries in Asia you ask - why certainly

Check it out !

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A brewer’s bed time story (part I)

Once upon a time, in a place not so far away, there were a great many regional breweries strewn across the land, and each of these breweries made different unique beers with different flavors for each of their local areas. Each of these regional brewers had different beers and different brands and different marketing to offer. The local beers appealed to the people who lived in the area. The beers were fresh and the money made and spent on the beers remained in the community. And these regional breweris were strong in their home markets.

And life was good.

Then one day the Regional brewers looked outside of the local market and saw other regional breweries and even a couple of national brands. And they decided they wanted to be bigger. They expanded their sales beyond their region with the hope of becoming a national brand. But as they did so they had to make their beers more and more standardized so that they would appeal to a broader and broader spectrum of the new markets they were entering.

Then, One day, they found that they were all making the same beer – the same beers as all the other regional breweries, and the same beer as the national brands too. It seemed that many of the regional breweries had the same idea and at the same time – they were all trying to expand their markets and as they all did so they came into competition with each other - and into competition with the national brands as well. All those regional breweries and the national brewer's brands fighting for the same market shelf space and tap handles.

But what separated all these breweries from one another ? What different did they have to offer ? Why should consumers want to buy THIER beer and not the other brands ? (I’ll give you a hint, it was not the beers, because the beers were all the same now) - it was the price.

But - These once unique regional breweries found they could not compete on price, quality or marketing with the bigger national brands and (because they bladed up their own beer to appeal to broader and broader spectrum of the market) they had nothing interesting or unique to offer in the way of their own brands. Now it was obvious - they could never compete with the bigger, more consistant, better financed and better marketed national brands.

Woe were the regional brewers - what had they done ? They were all spread so thin now and they had no way to compete, their home markets were no longer strong (invaded by other regionals and national brands).

And so - they all died.

Some were bought up by foreign investors and bled dry, others collapsed under their own weight, their innards sold off as scrap, their shells converted to apartments for yuppies, and a few (the lucky few ?) were bought out by the bigger national brands who made the once proud regional brands into cut rate “value” brands . There were no more regional brewers left.

And the beer drinkers across the land were sad.

The end

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I have move my Blog. I hi-jacked my other blog site- the Pau Hana Time Lounge and - I have changed the name (to the Goat Rodeo). All further post from my adventures here in Amerika will there (please use the link below):

The Singbrewer Blog will remain intact but, with the exception of visits to Asia, will remain silent.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Phnom Penh Again Again

I just got back from a long weekend in Phnom Penh Cambodia (great town). This was my 4th time to Cambodia and my third time to Phnom Penh (once in Angkor Wat/Siem Reap with my sister). I have enjoyed all four of my trips to Cambodia immensely - and each one was distinctly different (in it's own way).

Phnom Penh is changing fairly quickly. It is getting some well deserved economic growth. And Phnom Penh is working hard at improving it's image. Just two years ago the water front along Tonle Sap & the Mekong was just dirt - dusty, devoid of tress or grass and scattered with litter. Now there is grass, tress, shrubs, a nicely tiled walkway, and the area is alive with activity (well at least at night when it is cool enough). In the evening brightly lit boats drift along in a cool breeze. (well, passes for a cool breeze in Phnom Penh)

If you wanna see some of the pictures check here

or Jeff's photos

I will say that Phnom Penh is a fun town with lots to do and see; the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda (Wat), nice & friendly people, three micro-breweries, lotsa great food (that is inexpensive), cheap beer, several good markets, nice coffee, Nagaworld Casino (if you are into that kind of thing), a nice river front walk, Boat trips down the Mekong, cheap massage, inexpensive hotels, a few good clubs (if you are into that kind of thing), good bands, some great random wanderings, beautiful Wats, an interesting national museum, (albeit somewhat in need of a make over), Tuk Tuk rides, a variety of fried insects (if you are into that kind of thing), historical buildings, and a rich & complex history. Did I mention how nice & friendly the people were ?

And I will say I find it disturbing that there seems to have grown up a whole industry related to their very unfortunate recent past (how many time will you have to tell Tuk Tuk Drivers "No thank you, I don't want to see the killing fields - ever!"). Honestly it was hard enough just to read about their suffering (there are dozens of books on the Khmer Rouge rule, those sad years & the genocide of their own people), I do not want to see those places first hand. Tuol Sleng, the Killing Fields, and blowing up a cow with left over army missile launchers - those things should not be tourist attractions.

But I digress - Cambodia is a great place to visit. If you have not visited there yet you should go (and soon, before it all looks like the Nagaworld Casino - not that there is anyting wrong with NagaWorld, per se ...... )

Middle Age Brains

About 10 years ago a young man (we'll call him Joey) said to me "You're old dude, what's good about that ?" And at the time* I thought well, several things; I own my own house, I make good money (at least better than he did), I have gained some wisdom over the years (and although some might disagree - they did know me at his age), I am a calmer person now than I once was, and maybe best of all - I know better than to treat people with disrespect (saying dumb things like - "You're old dude, what's good about that ?").

But my only response was "lots of things" and left it at that. I felt it was a bit of a weak retort back then, but it was all I could come up with (spur of the moment and all). I didn't really have a lot of facts to back up my thoughts on the subject.

Well, now I can add to that. Recent studies have shown that although middle aged people may not be the best choice for pro sports players and they may have more trouble remembering names, or some individual facts and factoids, they are better at several types/ways of cognitive thinking. It turns out that when it comes to the brain there are several advantages middle aged people have over younger people.

Check out the article below. (and the Podcast on NPR Fresh Air - with Mary Gross - below)

or the Pod Cast here

So if you are approaching or in middle age (defined as 40 - 60) you have a few things to look forward to, and you can .... ahh .... whats that word I'm looking for ?? - oh yeah - postpone. You can postpone your mid life crisis till your 60+

"MYTH FIVE: Our brains operate best in our 20s.

In fact, our brains, in most important areas, reach their peak in midlife. We get better in a whole range of areas, including inductive reasoning, vocabulary, judgment, even the ability to get the "gist'' of an argument and find solutions. There is evidence that we can also become more creative as we age."

Yo Joey - "HA HA !" (ok, mature brain doesn't mean you always act like a grown up)

* at the time - I was still in my early 30's and not even at middle age yet

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What the …. @#%*!!?!? (Brewing in the Tropics – things you never thought you would have to think about)

So, like most brewers I learned to brew in a temperate climate (in Seattle in America’s NW corner). It may be damp but it is cool (or even cold) and when it is warm (the short period that it actually is warm) it is dry. But it is not so my friends when one lives in the tropics. It is ALWAYS warm and almost constantly damp. And these two things together can cause you some interesting problems for a brewer. For example I had bottom man-ways installed on all our fermentation vessels – they are safer, easier to access, have no cleaning shadow and are thus easier to keep clean – but because of the way they (necessarily) have to be made they are not insulated. In the north (where it is at least cool at night) the cold from the rest of the tank “telegraphs” down the stainless steal of the cone and keeps your yeast cool. In SE Asia, where it is about 32 degrees (94 F) most of days and nights the whole of the cone warms up and all your yeast sitting down in the bottom of the cone warms up as well - and then it dies. Bottom access manways are just not ideal for a tropical climate.

The heat; Yes, I know it sounds obvious but heat build up in an already hot climate can be a killer. The average ambient temperature in Singapore is about 33 degree C (about 92F). Add to that, heat absorbing brink or cement building or an un-insulated roof or poor ventilation, or steam leaks, or just a hot brew house full of boiling wort and the temperature can hit 38 degree C (around 102 F) and the humidity – that is a lot of sweating and at least one change of clothing a day (usually two).

Also one never thinks (or at least I never gave much thought to) malt vermin. In most temperate climate breweries their malt source is near by, deliveries are frequent, malt gets used fast and the temperature is cool (at least at nights). But did you know that there are weevil eggs in your malt (in all malt, it is already there) – the malt comes to you with the weevil eggs in it, and moth eggs too. Given enough time (about 2-3 months) at a warm temperature, these eggs will start to hatch and the resulting vermin will eat the insides out of your malt, leaving you with only brittle husks (which don’t really make a very tasty beer). There is not much you can do to combat this – except use the malt fast – very fast.

An additional worry is moldy malt. During the rainy season it can stay near 90% humidity for weeks on end and that can be enough to start mold growing (especially in an improperly sealed malt bag). Are if malt dust is left to settle or cling to almost any surface mold will grow on it. A frightening example of that is our grist bin. If left (without a water cleaning) for more than a few days the malt dust in our grist bin starts to mold and turn a wonderful color of hairy blue. So at the end of every week of brewing we wash down the grist in and let it air dry over the weekend. Temperate climate brewers never have to face such a potentially troublesome problem.

Surface Black Mold (which all but the luckiest brewers have to deal with in some area) in most climates is somewhat more aggressive and thus more of an issue. The warm and damp climate is perfect for it and it grows constantly, on everything – even on stainless steel. There is a fairly constant pressure washing, scrubbing and chemical abatement program. And that is just to keep it at bay.

These are a few of the unusual problems faced by breers in the tropics. If you brew in a temperate climate (much like the one I am returning to soon) you are luck and don't have to worry about t most of these issues - although then you may have freezing pipes or a zillion fruit flys or any number of other local problems. Brewers; just remeber - Luck you make beer for a living. A temporary solution to all life's little problems.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Exit Strategy

I have been in Asia for five years, but now my time here has come to an end. It is with mixed feelings that I box up my belongings and my life here in Singapore. I have enjoyed my time in Asia very much. I have met great people and traveled to exotic and interesting place. I have tasted some of the best food on the planet and my share (and a few other peoples share) of good beers. I have had the amazing opportunity to help build a brewery and create a brand. I was lucky to have worked with a fantastic team of people - at every stage. I have been fortunate enough to be welcomed into people's homes and lives and to share their experiences. I have made many good friends here. I have indeed been very fortunate.

I arrived here (14,500 km from home) knowing not a single person, and I am leaving with what I am sure are life long friends. And as many of my friends know my preferred exit strategy is the Mas Selamat (better know outside of Singapore as the French exit) but saying I am going to the jamban & then sneaking out the back seems (for once) inappropriate. So - I want to thank all my friends and colleagues for making my time here so enjoyable, for making my job here so much easier than it might have been, for taking me with you on all those great adventures, and for showing me Asia. I promise you I will be back.

So where to next ?
I am returning to my home in Anderson Valley, Northern California. I will start a new job with my old friends and colleagues at Anderson Valley Brewing Company. I will have to replace my Singlish & Bahasa with Boontling and Spanish. I will have to make the shift from living in one of the most populated places on earth to one of the least populated. There will be no more late night hawker center visits, but there will also be no traffic jams.

I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with old friends and the excitement of pushing some brewing boundaries in the land of hoppy beers. I promise we will be doing some interesting thing in our quiet little corner of NorCal. I hope that you all will take the time (and make the arduous drive) to come visit me in what really is one of California's most beautiful places.

Stay tuned .....