Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Friday, June 22, 2007

U'wuuuh That Smell

Durian has been honored with the title "The King of Fruits", and justly so, for it is without a doubt the most powerful of them all. Durian is one of those things that evoke either love or hate, there really does not seem to be much middle ground. Durian's aroma has often (unjustly) been described as that of rotting garbage, but that is the impression of the dull and uninitiated and it is grossly unfair.

The famous British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russell Wallace had this to say about the the King of Fruits; "The second object of my especial admiration is the Durian. The five cells within are silky-white, and filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured eatable pulp, whose consistency and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds, and with occasional wafts of flavours that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience."*

When first I arrived here I was told that there were two fruits that were absolutely off limits to my brewing experiments, these were Durian and Pineapple. There is a belief among some Singaporeans that Durian taken with alcohol will cause certain death. I was told that one could never consume Durian and beer. I am a bit of a skeptic on most matters and it seemed to me highly unlikely that any fruit and beer could cause anything greater than an upset stomach - and certainly not death. I mentioned this to my friend Tony and he agreed that at our first opportunity we had to put this theory to the test. After we confirmed that beer and Durian did in fact NOT cause death (or even slight illness) we were informed that beer was not strong enough, that it was (in truth) whiskey and Durian that was the fatal combination (beer in Durian was merely .... bad for you). And so wandering back to our hotel one night in Bangkok we bought some Durian and stopped at a street side bar (one of those "bars" that opens up on the Bangkok streets after the regular bars have closed). We had to know, would Durian and whiskey in fact be fatal ? And so we boldly (or foolishly) made our move. Since you are reading this now, I'll bet you can guess the outcome. Durian and whiskey are in actuality a complementary combination of flavors and cause (as far as we could tell) no ill effects whatsoever. We were later told that Thai Durian is too mild and delicate and just not strong enough (it does have a milder flavor) - that it was the infamous Malay D24 that we should never be mixed with whiskey (well, we tried that too - tidak Mati)

Durian (for whatever reason) does get a pretty bad rap. The aroma is so pungent that it is not allowed in most hotels, or on public transportation. It is believed to be too heating and may cause excessive sweating (and bad breath). It is said that is can not be eaten in conjunction with coffee or with any form of alcohol, that it is bad for pregnant women, and for people with high blood pressure, and that it's aphrodisiac properties will cause "men, monkeys, and birds ... all (to be) aflame with erotic fire." Wah !! - it goes on to say - "It is a blessing that this fruit is not obtainable in the West, because our store of sexual lunatics is already full to overflowing. We might perish in the foulest of mucks" (Wow, it never has that effect for me - but maybe it's all that whiskey I had with it).

Durian is in season here now and I can smell the open stalls by my apartment from over a block away. It is an indescribably delicious aroma and I look forward to it as I wander about in the evenings. (if you love Durian you know what I mean - there is nothing quite like the aroma of Durian on your fingers after eating it - I just keep putting my hand up to my nose for another brief whiff, and I hope no one notices me sniffing my fingers). If you are not familiar with this most unusual of fruits I suggest you try it. Don't let the aroma keep you from an experience that is something unique. Start with the easy one - try Durian ice cream first (ho, so good !!) and if you find that appealing move on to Durian duffs and then on to fresh Durian (but maybe save the D24 for last). It truly is as Wallace says "the more you eat of it, the less you feel inclined to stop"

Tony's views on Durian -

* yes I know a took a few liberties with editing out a word or three, but the meaning (and most of the wording) remain intact.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hot and Spicy

I love food, and drink is not bad either (really drink is just liquid food, they are two sides of the same coin). I am always in search of something I have not tried before. Living so near what use to be called the spice islands and in the middle of southeast Asia, surrounded by differing cultures and cuisines makes for a continual discovery of new flavors. Having grown up in the tropics (Hawaii), in a multi cultural environment, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what was out there. That was until I showed up here - here there are dozens of fruits, veggies and spices that I have never seen before, and food items I had never imagined. It is a blur of new things to try out in the kitchen (and brewery). At first I felt a bit overwhelmed, I had no reference to many of these things- what the heck is "Bakek", and do I wanto try it in beer ? And then I stumbled across Gernot. Gernot Katzer has complied what may be the definitive web site on spices. If you are a foodie, cook, or brewer who needs answers - well, Gernot is your man. His site comprises about 10500 names for more than 100 different spices and herbs, it is in at least 30 different languages and has the names in over six scripts (including Thai, Latin, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Tamil). Each entry covers uses, family, constituents, sensory, origins, etymology, further selected readings, discussion, pictures and Gernot's thoughts on the subject (as well as a few pleasant digressions). The site is a stunner ! If you want to know more about a spice - check with Gernot

ps - Gernot, if you ever read this - thank you for all your help

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

iBrew, there 4 I am

For those that made their way down to the East Coast Park for the annual iBrew Challenge it was all fun. There were a lot of good beers and food to try, and a lot of shooting the breeze (or in Singlish - talking cock). We played beer games, had a lucky draw give away and an all around good time. It was a beautiful day at the park and it was really nice to have a chance to meet and talk to so many brewers while sampling more than 10 different types of home-crafted beers. The free flow beers included (to the best of my memory); a German wheat beer, a Bavarian lager, a pilsner, two English bitters, a stout, a hoppy Real Ale, two IPAs, and a pale ale. It's great to see a growing interest in home brewing and sponsor Raymond Lee of iBrew reported that there were upwards of one thousand home brewers in Singapore now.

The ibrew challenge had more than 40 entries - there were first and second places awarded in the Ale and the Lager categories. The winning beers were quite good and over all the general quality of all the beers entered seemed to be improved over last year's iBrew challenge (although last year's winners were also very good), This is a good trend as it means interest in home brewing is growing and those who are brewing are talking more to each other, sharing their knowledge and the general overall understanding of beer and brewing is expanding.
For more information about The iBrew Challenge or Home Brewing go to the forum at

Thanks again to Raymond Lee of iBrew for being The Organizer of such a fun event