Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Monday, January 16, 2006


You know that uneasy feeling you get when you haven't done something in a long time, something that you are suppose to be good at, but it has been a while and you kind of begin to wonder if you can still pull it off. Maybe you just thought you were good at it, but you really weren't (you know like most white guys and dancing). Or maybe you really were good at it back then, but you are out of practice now - you use it or loose it. I think that most of us have experienced this kind of semi-irrational fear at some point.

That was the kind of the feeling I had a few weeks back when we went over to brew in Indonesia. Was I ever really that good at this ? People had said so ..... but maybe they were just being polite. I mean, well yeah, I had brewed some good test batches at the Elysian back in April but come on, I was working with one of the best craft brewers in the world - how much could have gone wrong there ? Now, here I was in a foreign country, with a brewer who didn't speak my language (or me his) working on a small (and somewhat funky) brew system and using ingredients I was not entirely familiar with. I didn't even have a water analysis.

I was beginning to feel a little ill at ease here.

On the plus side; Xiao Chu is a competent and conscientious brewer, the brewery was better than some (ah, not as good as others), I had Ernest (a Davis trained brewer) there to translate and help, my ingredients were top notch (Crisp malt & Haas hops), the yeast was healthy, strong and a great strain, I'm a fairly a skilled brewer, and I've always been a pretty lucky guy.

So how wrong could things go ?

I would not know the answer to that question until we arrived at the brewery to package the beer. I procured three 10 liter kegs from APBS, stuffed two of them into a large suitcase and rubber banded the other to the top. Now, all I had to do was get these bomb shaped canisters out of Singapore, into Indonesia, fill them with an alcoholic beverage, get them back out of Indonesia and through the customs in Singapore (a country not renowned for it’s lax importation laws). Let’s review; four border crossings, bomb shaped canisters, filled with alcoholic beverages, in Indonesia = Muslim country = not really fond of alcohol in general. It should be a breeze

Getting out of Singapore really was easy, scary looking things LEAVING the country – not an issue. On arrival in Indonesia I encountered immediate resistance. Me, and my suspicious looking stainless steel canisters, were accompanied by the dark blue uniformed guards into the special back room. Heck, I hadn't even made it to the line for x-ray machine. The back room looked very much like a scene from Midnight Express. A small room, four guards, all standing around, the captain behind the big wooden desk giving me the hairy eyeball. Me stuttering (my Bahasa somehow failing me) as I tried to explain that these were empty kegs for the local brewery to fill. “Nothing inside, empty” – “Buka - boleh?”. This went on for a while; me fumbling along and the big boss scowling at me across the expanse of wood. I felt he was warming up for a bribe. Then - Thank God, Ernest pops in through the door - coming to my rescue, not just knowing what to say but how to say it and in what language. It turns out that they were more concerned with us bringing in the kegs duty free than the whole looks-like-a-bomb-thing. We filled out some extra paper work, I promised thyat they would not stay in the country, and that I would take them out with me when I returned to Singapore. Ten minutes (and a few ounces of sweat) later, we were on our way.

And, I am happy to report that things went very well at the brewery. The yeast performed well, Xiao Chu took great care of things and resulting beer was really quite nice. I feel fairly confident in saying that it is the first Sienna Brown Ginger ale with Melakan Palm sugar ever made in Asia (at least in recent years).

We filled the three kegs that we had, drank a few jugs for testing purposes, had a small feed with Mung Tjia and Xiao Chu, and our day was well on its way.

Returning to Singapore the next day proved to be no problem as well. Tony and I found the Singapore customs agents to be not only nice, but helpful too. See - I knew we could pull this whole thing off - no problem. And now we have the prototype for our third production beer. - thank you Ernest, Xiao Chu, Tony, Bill & Mung Tjai - without them, well, I would proably still be back in the big bosses office surrounded by gaurds dressed in blue uniforms.

Don’t forget you can click on the “additional pictures” link that's to the right to see updated pix of the brewery’s progress.


At 3:02 PM, Blogger Ben, aka BadBen said...


Dick turned me onto some of that beer you brewed at Elysian in April. Good stuff, dude. You still "got it" when it comes to brewing.

I haven't seen you in over 10 years...I used to come over from Spokane and visit you guys at the OLD PIKE ST brewery in the real old days. Now I'm in Kansas City...just working, running, and homebrewing.

Keep Singapore out of a sling,
Ben Holmes


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