Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Brewery update

The brewery is moving along quickly. We need to be up, running and brewing beer in 90 days (100 at the outside). The building is structurally completed, the electricity and panels are being installed over the next two weeks. The equipment is about 30% complete, it is suppose to arrive the 10th of May (I am suppose to fly out to Hungary to inspect it at some point). I am purchasing ancillary equipment as fast as I can; a keg washer from my friend John in Chico, a pad filter from Montana, tipping dumpsters for the spent grain, and a drive-in cooler for the beer.

I flew out to NorCal last week to look at the Keg washer (a 19 hour flight) My timing was good and I was lucky enough to work out being in San Francisco for a day to participate in the 13th annual Toronado Barley Wine Festival. I helped out some this year and I gotta say cleaning beer line (slightly hung over) at 8 am on a Saturday morning is not as glamorous as I thought is might be. But what a great festival; old time Toronado bartender-stars Jessie, Ian and Johnny flew in from Oregon, San Diego and the Mission district (respectively) to work the opening shift along bar favorites Tad, Betsy and Tony. The place was so packed you could hardly get to the bar – 58 Barley Wines on Draft ! There really is no other event like it. If you have never been, well … don’t bother going you’ll just make it more crowded next year (just kidding – you should really check it out)

The brewery is also looking at a stand-alone bottling line now too - since the integration for bottling between the large brewery and the Micro brewery is looking increasingly like it is just too expensive. Raw materials have to be ordered next week, beer hoses too, and then there is all the other small items to be rounded up (pumps, extra valves, gaskets, spare parts, tools clamps, lab equipment) all that stuff you forget you’ll need but can’t be bought at the neighborhood store.

Last week I brewed another test batch in Indonesia. It was a “Belgian style” Wit beer. It was very similar to the one we brewed back in May at the Elysian but I made a few minor changes. It “seems” to have gone well. Brewing experimental beers in someone else’s brewery, with water, ingredients, and yeast (and languages) you are not familiar with is a bit like playing the guitar with heavy leather gloves on – it’s doable, but difficult, and you are never quite sure how it will turn out. We will know for sure next week when I head back over to keg it up.

Although I am enjoying this process and all the learning that has accompanied it – learning about the building, systems integration, brewery design and all the rest of it - I am also really looking forward to just brewing beer, to having a more defined goal in front of me. With a little luck that day is Less than 100 days from now. That's not such a long time - and I have always been fairly lucky.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Year of the Dog

Gong Xi Fa Cai - Happy lunar new year ! The Chinese (or lunar) New Year (CNY for short) is a really really Big deal here. It is like 4th of July, new years and Christmas all rolled into one. And it last for 2 weeks and involves big family meals, private parties, gift giving, Ang Pow disbursements, crates of Mandarin oranges, and hundreds of public event. Even now as I write (6 day into it) I can hear one of the many mobile drum groups playing outside. They decorate a lorry up with flags and banners, load the drums and about 8 drummers into the back and then they drive around drumming away. The drumming starts about 8:00 in the morning and seems to continue all day. I am not sure if the drumming groups are part of clubs or organizations or if they are put together specifically for CNY. Sometimes there are more stationary drumming events that include Lion dancers. The Lion dance (and the drumming), when they are done properly, will bring good luck and scare off the evil spirits. Lion dances can be very complex and involve rather dangerous looking feats and a lot of physical strength. On the Friday before new years the CEO of Asia Pacific Breweries threw a CEO dinner for the executives (sah’aah, of course I was invited). Everyone was requested to dress in Chinese attire. I was fairly certain that this was some kind of practical joke they played on the new employees, you know, I show up in my Chinese attire and everyone else (dressed normally) laughs at me for being such a gullible shnook. But I wanted to dress up anyway so I went out and bought a back Chinese dress shirt with embroidered black symbols on it (I know – I have been told – black is very inauspicious, but I look cool in black - very Chuck Norris like in Return of the Dragon – or was Bruce Lee wearing the black Chinese shirt ? Well, whatever, I was a white guy in a cool looking Black Chinese shirt – you get the idea).

To see the whole totally kickass Bruce vs. Chuck fight sequence visit:

On the train ride in to town no one looked at me too strangely so I began to feel a little more relaxed, like maybe it was okay for an Ang Moh to be dressed like a Bruce Lee wanna be, at least during Lunar New Year. When I arrive at the party, I see that pretty much everyone is dressed in Chinese attire (wheeuoh). In fact everybody looks really great, the guys are mostly dressed in shirts that are less reserved than mine (and now I am kinda jealous cause I did not buy something a little more flashy) and the ladies all look very fetching in their silk dresses or shirts. The party turnedout to be a lot of fun. There was nice entertainment, tasty food, and a lot of good conversation. And I learned a lot about the structure of our company.

The next night I went down to Chinatown to see the Big Event. I had heard that we had some kind of participation down there so I though I might go down, watch the fire works, have a couple of beers, and welcome in the Year of the Dog from our beer booth. On my way through the very crowded street (they estimated over 100,000 people were in attendance) I happened to see two guys in Tiger beer shirts. I figured they knew where the booth was so I caught up and tagged along with them. These guys had badges and headed straight back to the VIP area, the security guard stopped me the gate. I whipped out a name card and said “Ahhhh, I’m with them” (who knew I could be so quick on my feet) and the very nice security guard guy apologized and gave me a VIP badge too. Tiger brewery had about 100 employees there and it was not so much a booth as it was a great big hang out session with free beer and hired help to dispense it (see the “additional pictures” section to the right). We were very near the main stage which made for good viewing. There were singers, dancers, and at midnight really good fireworks to welcoming in the New Year. The event ended (at least for me) when everyone started pouring beer over each other (I was told that it’sa Singaporian CNY thing, but I felt that this might be a tradition that it was acceptable to shy away from). After being lightly doused my friend Guss and I decided to retire to a near by bar and pay for the beer inside us rather than have free beer on the outside of us.
And the best part was we didn’t have to be back to work until Thursday. (you just gotta love having 5 days off in a row). It was definitely an entertaining and fun weekend.

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy New Year of the Dog.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

I am working on a post for Chinese New Years but it is gonna have to wait. First I have to tell you about today’s bike ride through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It was fantastic beautiful, the place is filled with creatures and it was a total blast to get off road on the mountain bike. In the mid afternoon I set out from the apartment on a random ride to nowhere in particular. About 10 minutes in I can across Dairy Farm road, a road that I had wanted to live on but there were no near by MRT stations. So, I thought I would ride around and check it out. I was really enjoying the exploration when I came upon a monkey sitting on the side of the road. I pulled over to snap a picture and realized I was on the edge of the Bukit Timah nature reserve. I had read some about it but not made it around to a visit yet. The nature reserve is in the middle of Singapore and it is very large (about 4 miles across and 6 miles long), and it is just one of only two urban primary rainforests in the whole world (the other being in Rio de Janeiro). The Bukit Timah section of the reserve is 164 hectares and is home to more than 840 flowering plants (Black or Bat lily) and over 500 species of animals. The most commonly encountered are the Long-tailed Macaques monkeys, yeah that’s right wild monkey in Singapore, but other more scary thing creep around the forest as well. Monitor lizard (which I have seen in the city), reticulated pythons, I have been told that there even Flying lemurs (Colugo). Forest birds include the Striped tit-babbler, the Fairy bluebird, drongos and bulbuls. On my jaunt through the jungle I saw; a hawk, some sort of blue bird, two different species of monkeys, a bearded Iguana, an albino mina bird, a red squirrel, a half dozen kinds of butterflies, several interesting new (to me) kinds of dragon flies, and an all black wild chicken (chickens are originally from this part of the word – so seeing a wild one was kinda cool). The trails were fairly well maintained. At one point the trail meanders through the jungle and along a little stream, and at another point it moves along the edge of open fields. There are some single track trails and some fairly rough hilly areas, but by and large most of the trails were not too tough. I spent two hours riding around and I didn’t see it all by any means. There is plenty to explore and there are (I have read) far more hiking trails than biking trails. So once you have ridden all the trails for bike you can hoof it into more remote areas. I can’t wait to get back out there. What a fantastic accidental find.

I had such a good time yesterday I went for a ride in the nature reserve again today. This time I was able to see a little more and appreciate more of what I did see. I went out to the end of the one paved road that penetrates into the reserve and found that there is a tree top canopy walk set up about another 30 minute walk in (no bikes allowed). I will have to give that a try another time. And, there were a lot more monkeys. Check my flickr account for several good new pictures.