Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Meet the Brewer (s)

This weeks main goals were to meet the brewing community here in Singapore and get the equipment contract awarded. The first turned out to be no problem and (as you might imagine) fun, the later turned out to be more complicated (and is still on going).

There are only three breweries currently operating in Singapore; Asia Pacific Breweries (us), Brewerkz (a brew pub that makes Canadian/American style beers – the head brewer from the great white north), and Paulaner (they have a chain of brewpubs around Asia). Tuesday morning I dropped by Brewerkz to meet Scott (the head brewer) and Devin (the managing director). Both of them were very friendly and open. I got a tour around all three of their restaurants and the brewing facility. They are doing about 3,000 hl (about 2,500 Bbls) out of a 15 hl system in less than 1600 square feet – and selling more than 95% of it across the bar (s). I think any brewpub would be happy with those numbers. They also operate a small wine bar, and a separate tequila bar just next door (visited and approved by Julio of Tommy’s Fame – one has to wonder if there is any place that Julio has not been or anyone connected with tequila that Julio does not know?). Of course both their other bars make the Brewerkz beers available. They make about 10 beers and had on a very nice cask conditioned pale when I was there. I spent several hours with those guys, drinking coffee, discussing beer and brewing in Asia and occasionally watching a bit of the playoffs – go go Sox - the evening games air in the morning here. I need to somehow figure out how to watch the series and still be at work. Hmmm.

The next evening I met up with Singapore’s first (and only) home brew club. They officially meet once a month, but they also have unofficial meeting or the occasional overnight trip to tour a brewery in Indonesia or Malaysia (both right next door). We are trying to organize a trip to a small brewery in Indonesia for sometime next month (yeah, it’sa tough job). Home brewing has only been legal in Singapore for about 18 months. Beyond the newness of it all there are several other things working against the average home brewer here; the hot humid climate makes fermentation temperature control difficult, it promotes bacteria and mold growth, supplies are difficult to come by, and most people live in small apartments (with even smaller kitchens) without room for brewing or storage of the equipment. But these things have not daunted the home brewers I met. They were all very enthusiastic and excited to brew their next batch of beer. Even those members who were not currently brewing at home were very interested in learning more about beer and the brewing process. They were all very friendly and we had a great time drinking beers and swapping stories. We are currently trying to organize a pub tour for next week. Each member will choose a place to go and we will cab around the island testing out watering hole. This will be an extra bonus for me because not only will I get to see a few new bars, but I will be able to asses whether they might be good candidates to carry the Archipelago beers when we start brewing later next year. It IS a tough job.

Yes, the picture here does look a lot like the one in Germany, but with different faces. See how hard I am working. (Pictured: The Singapore HomeBrew Club & Friends)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Zero to Sixty in Five

The first week is over. It all started so nice and slow, but by the end of the first five days I was running full on. From Monday’s company orientation and long lunch, to being the project manager of not just the brewing equipment and its installation, but for the new brewery building as well as. (luckily, there are people here who know about building buildings – I will be counting on them to help me out). I went on an inspection of the potential contractor’s current job sites so that we could inspect the quality of the welding, metal works and finishing work. We discussed load bearing members, engineering and structural design. I talked about rain catchments, drainage systems, floor thickness, wall coverings and interior layout. We had meetings with Architects, engineers, contractors, finance. We awarded the contract on Friday (the 7th), ground breaking will start by the 14th . I have to learn a new software program “Maximo” to keep track of the billing and purchase orders. And then there is the brewing equipment and installation. I will be keeping busy.

I got my employment pass and now I am a legal alien. This in turn allowed me to open a bank account. Now I can pay for things (like an apartment, hand phone, utilities, etc.). Gotta have the EP. The search for a permanent home started this weekend. On Saturday my realtor, Ai Ling, took me to see 10 different apartments. Ai Ling not only shows me apartments but she advises me on where and what to eat, and she explains the different Singlish* terms I encounter. She really boh beh chow lah. The apartments ranged from the old and very cool, to new, shiny and rather expensive. In the end I decided on one that was rather new, not too expensive, and about 25 minutes closer to work. One day of looking and I had a new home. The new digs are in an area called Bukit Gombak. Bukit means hill, so the area is on a rise in a hilly part of the island. An extra bonus is that it is situated next to a nature reserve. My new apartment is on the 17th floor (above the bugs and most other wildlife) and it overlooks the nature reserve. It is really a very nice view. The apartment is “semi-furnished” meaning that there is a refrigerator, stove, clothes washer, and AC unit (added bonus – has a microwave too!). I will have to buy my own furniture, but that should be fun. I started looking that night. The first place I went I met Alvin - my new furniture pimp. He is going to hook me up. I will need a bed (Alvin convinced me that king size was the way to go as Toby will be visiting often), a guest bed (for all of you who are undoubtedly planning to visit as soon as I moved in), a dining set (small one, maybe seats four), a sofa (big one, big enough to nap on or in case I have more than one guest) and maybe a TV table (and a TV to put on it – Alvin suggest the expensive flat screen unit – of course). Alvin wanted to sell me a wardrobe too but the apartment has built-ins. Sorry Alvin.

On Sunday I decided to walk about. I took the MRT (subway) to the Geylang district. The guide book had promised an older section of town with some nice examples of old fashion buildings. That was enough for me. Once off the train I headed down Geylang road. There were indeed some great older buildings, two or three stories with shops in the bottom and residences or offices above. There were several pet shops filled with exotic fish and birds (one store had hundreds of little brown finches). There were dozens a places to participate in the Singaporean national past time - eating. There were bike shops and hardware stores. There were several mosques and temples. And, although I saw no evidence of it, there was also the largest red light district in town. I was later informed (by a female co-worker) that down all the even numbered side streets (the south side of the street), intermingled with normal residences of average people there are dozens of legal houses of ill repute. They are virtually indistinguishable from the other houses except for the size of the house numbers out front (and I'm guessing the volume of foot traffic at night). How she knew all this I didn’t ask.

On my way back up Geylang road I took a walk through a small park. On one side there was a “river” (drainage way, much like the Los Angles “river”, but smaller). There was a couple standing at the railing looking down in to the river. I wondered what they could be looking at. It was just a cement aqua-duct. I walked a few meters past them and ventured a tentative peak over the edge. Down in the bottom, just coming out of the water was a giant monitor lizard. Not really huge by monitor lizard standards but compared to what I expected to see down there it was a giant. It looked to be just over a meter long. In its mouth was a plastic bag with some yellow fruit in it. It scrambled along and disappeared into a hole in the side of the canal carrying it’s bag of lunch. I should always carry my camera.

I next walked back and then on down Changi road. There was a huge open air market selling just about everything imaginable – Indian clothing, toys, drinks, jewelry, shoes, carpets, CDs, DVD, all kinds of food (both prepared and not), things I couldn’t figure out. It was at least four square blocks of market with hundreds of different stalls. It is the middle of Ramadan and thus (I am told) the market is bigger than usual (about 4 times bigger). I tried several new food items with names I should have written down and can hardly describe. I want to go back at least one more time during Ramadan to try a few more of the less frequently seen dishes. So many new things to try – there just are not enough meals in the day.

*Singlish is a mix of the many different languages spoken in Singapore plus English – thus Singlish – Check out

Friday, October 07, 2005

Munich to Singapore

I am finally here. I am in Singapore. I am officially a legal alien.

I am set up in temporary housing in Chinatown, in what is called a serviced apartment (fully furnished, with maid service twice a week). The apartment is small but nice. There is a great outdoor shopping area across the street. It has everything from potted orchids (about $4.00 USD), to tailor made suits, to duck rice and other interesting edible delights. The entire area is a shopping mecca. The local brewpub (Brewerkz) is only a few blocks away.

As with any new town I spend a good portion of my time exploring - trying to figure out how to get around and where everything is. My commute to work is about 70 minutes each way. I am out the door by 06:30 and walking to the train station (a warm 10 minute walk). It is still dark out at 06:030, the sun coming up about 07:00, yet it is still rather warm, about 27 C (or 80 F). The train ride to its most western terminus (Boon Lay) is about 30 -35 minutes. The train is usually rather full and thankfully has great air conditioning. Most of the trip is above ground so there is a lot to look at - it’s a very pleasant ride. Then I transfer to a bus for another 20 – 30 minute ride. The trip home is about the same except I usually have stopped off in the company tap room for a few cold Tiger beers. It makes the ride home just that much nicer. Next month I plan on getting a permanent apartment closer to work, thus reduce my commute to about 30 – 40 minutes.

We are on the last phase of the brewery planning the equipment is all spec’ed out. We are hoping to place the order early next week. The building construction should start soon after that. Some how I have been designated the project manager (even for the building). All very exciting.

The people here at APB could not be nicer. Everyone goes out of their way to make me feel at home (and I am not just saying that because they might one day read this - really). My biggest problem is trying to remember all the new names.

I would also like to report what a great time I had in Germany. It’s all a bit blurred by the packing and move that followed (and yes, by the beer consumption at the time), but it was really a great time. We drank Wheat beer from a wood fired brewery. We partied with a German hard rock band (Boogie Stuff). Our friend Eric Toft from the Shonrammer brewery took us hiking in the Alps, stopping along the way at these little “cabins” where they served beer and schnapps. I met several colleagues from APB at the Drinktech event and we all went out to the Hoffbrau Haus for plates of meat and beers. We made a pilgrimage to Andecks. We braved opening day at the Oktoberfest (and were nearly crushed in the crowd), we met many nice people, had our large meat plate and 5 liters of beer. We danced on the table, we stumbled to the U bahn, and got lost on the way home. A near perfect Oktoberfest.

The picture is (from left to right): Fal Christopher, Layton, Garrett, Dan & John - at the .... where were we ? Oh yeah, Augustiner