Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pod me

Okay, I have a confession to make - It is a dirty little secret and it’s a bit embarrassing. It is not something that is really a very productive use of my time and it is a bit voyeuristic in nature - but I can't seem to stop myself. Once I start I want to do it more and more, I just can help it - and it involves the internet.

It podcasts. I can stop myself. My ipod has become a constant companion and every trip (be it bus, train or plane) involves headphones. There are podcasts on every imaginable subject, some entertaining, some are educational and some just down right freakish. After years of refusing to read the papers or watch TV news (because both are nothing more than either senseless drivel or moronic fear mongering), I have now found an interesting source for some legitimate news and political discussion. And I am realizing - it'sa kinda scary world out there, but fascinating.

Here are a few of my favorites
In a world of corporate controlled media hear another side of the story. A Great range of topics and far more interesting than your local “news” paper. WARNING: Some episodes may cause outrage at the current administration and then cause you to get involved and write your legislators or join left wing pinko organizatations.
Helps restores my faith in human beings (especially after a political episode from
The Ministry of Truth – More left wing Commie news podcasts about what’s going on. -
A Singapore MUST

If U don live n Singapore use d "Coxford Singlish Dictionary" - found at -
This will allow you to translate those parts of the Mr. Brown show that you just can’t quite get - Completely fascinating - words can hardly describe it -
Many stories of an interesting nature. Mostly Thrillers, detective stories and Sci Fi -
Godless Commie Pinko propaganda stuff (that happens to be a fair minded view of the USA) -
Really hard core history told in an entertaining way - excellent podcast

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A View from the Brew Deck (A few unrelated beer thoughts)

No hops allowed
We just made an experimental beer for our (much larger) parent company. They wanted the option of putting it in a clear, flint or green bottles, so the beer had to be a light stable beer. Making a light stable beer is pretty difficult if you don’t do it all the time. You need fresh dedicated yeast. You can not use the yeast from a previous “normal hopped beer” as yeast has entrained a fair amount of IBUs (reckoned by some to be 10% - 15% of total bitterness) and for the same reason you can’t use wort from a hopped beer to grow up the yeast needed. All your equipment has to be extra clean - totally free of any hop resin or residue from previous beers. The hop products that are used in a light stable beer are a special CO2 extract of raw hops. There are no hops in the kettle boil (the extract is added post at the end of the boil – or optionally post fermentation). Aroma hops extract are added post fermentation (for maximum efficiency). The boil is a bit problematic (lots of fobbing) as there are no hop oils to settle the malt proteins. The trub in the bottom of your kettle is all malt based (tastes as Ben described “like toast) and there is no bitterness at all. And there is a surprising amount of it. Of course no hops means no hop solids to absorb the precious wort and the whirlpool has never been more effective. But no hops also means no anti-bacterial properties in your wort (should o choose to use only post fermentation hop additions – we chose to add the bittering hops at the end of the boil) and then one wonders are the extract you add later – are they sterile ? The IBU target for this beer (as one might imagine) is not high. Overall a very interesting experimental brew, but not one we will be doing regularly – hell, where’s the fun in beer without hops ?!

Unprotected ?
Archipelago’s other brewer (Ben Tan) is Singaporean. That means he is in the military – every adult male (of sound mind and body) must serve two + years of active duty in one of the branches of the Singapore Armed Forces – and then they remain a reservist for the next 25 or so years. Thus 2+ weeks a year Ben is away at military training (not too much of a hardship, we can plan for that). It’s good to know that should some sort of prohibitionist movement try to lay siege to the brewery proper that Ben (and all the men around me) could leap into action in defense of our facility. It also means that to be prepared for such an event (unlikely though it may be) on occasion Ben gets activated for unscheduled maneuvers (often called up on a Friday for a long weekend of duty). Then I have no brewer and I am left unprotected – den how ?

I recently went to Mumbai (Bombay) to help look at equipment for some ongoing projects that our parent company’s India division have. We looked at both new and used equipment, met with suppliers, and looked at the facilities. The project was interesting, but Mumbai was more interesting. People were very friendly, the streets were very crowded (and badly in need of repair), housing ran the gamut from plastic tarps to palaces, and the food was really good (and the beers were not bad either). It is well worth further exploration. Coincidentally about two months earlier my friend Larry lent me a book. The title is Shantaram. It is semi-autobiographical and takes place mostly in Mumbai. The book is sometime great, sometimes a bit aggravating (could any man be so …. @u#*ed up ?!). Reading the book made the trip all that much more interesting - going to some of the places that the protagonist went to, seeing some of the same sights that was nice. Shantaram is well worth reading. I hope I get back to India again soon.

There is only one rule in Singapore about beer (at least as far as I can tell) and that is: PAY YOUR TAXES. Beyond that there seems to be no other field of proper conduct – thus things that would be unimaginable in other countries seem to be really quite fine here in Singapore. For example – Give a gift to a bar owner for supporting your product line (possible), give a bar two kegs for the price of one (no problem), bribe a really popular bar $50 per keg to sell your beer (can), give a bar free beer for an event (can!), So that they can give free beer all night to their customers (also can), let these customers drink until they cannot walk and pass out (alamak – even this also can!). Get caught doing any of the above without paying the prescribed taxes on the beer (mati - no even mati you must also pay, you have no choice). See, there seems to but the one rule. Oh, got one more rule – not even one small sip of alcohol and then driving. There is truly zero tolerance for drink driving here. So, I guess got two rules.

Culture shock
We are currently running four cultures (strains or) of yeast (should I be worried ?) We always have two; the Wit beer yeast for our Traveler’s Wheat beer and the sundry other one off Belgian style ales we make (like Saison Sayang) and the London Ale yeast for our other beers. We are currently running a Urquell (lager) yeast for a special project that we are doing for our parent company (I hope to use the yeast again for a black lager we are planning) and we are using a fourth (American ale) yeast for a contract brew that we are doing for another local brewery who is out of capacity. At the moment we have three of these yeasts in active fermentations and the fourth just finished. What is most fascinating (to me anyway) is how different each yeast behaves and smells. The London ale (a perennial favorite of mine) has a sweet fruity nose reminiscent of apricots and peaches, and the Lager yeast smells like, well – like you cracked an egg open while boiling it (whuuh, not nice lah). And the difference between the super vigorous, semi-indestructible Wit yeast (it’s like the Jackie Chan of yeast strains) and the finicky has-to-be-treated-just-right London ale yeast (draw your own analogies) is amazing. After 20 over years of brewing - theoretically I know all this – but it still amazes me to see it in practice – just how different each yeast can behave.

I really love brewing.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Two years ago I was sitting on the front porch of my home deep in the redwood forests of NorCal (Northern California). I would sometimes just sit there and stare out into the yard, lost in thought. Our house is what was described by the man who built it as “Mendonesian” in design. It is a very definite combination of Mendocino sensibilities (Mendocino being the exceedingly counter-culture county it resides in) and Indonesian kampong design – thus Rumah Mendonesia. The house is surrounded by redwoods (endemic) and bamboo (introduced) and is situated in a small gulch on the north side of a larger gulch which is finger off of the Anderson Valley.

The land under our house is a 10+ acre parcel mostly cover in Redwoods. Our dirt driveway dived the front of the properly in half. On the east side there is a large garden, on the west side there is an enclosed paddock where live 4 goats (Nick and Nora, who begat Ned and Nute, before Nick got his much needed operation), 3 chickens (Gibson, Olive, and Ethel), and 5 ducks, (Indira, Othello, Socrates, and Lucky , and one other who arrived since I departed). It a farmette of sorts.

Our nearest neighbors to the east lives in the next gulch over and remain completely undisclosed to us. The neighbor on the west side lives farther up the hill and her house is only just glimpsable though the redwoods. It is much farther than even the best pitcher could hurl a stone.
The road to our house is a private one, built for the express purpose to getting to our house, well, not just OUR house, but the houses of the people that live on this parceled out former ranch. It is a dead end road, it just goes to the top of the valley wall and ends – a road to nowhere. Few people travel that way for unless they live there, or are visiting, they have no reason to.

The nearest real “town” (read village) is named Boonville (pop. 420). Boonville has a gas station, an small old hotel, a old school hardware store, a post office, two “quickie marts”, a couple of restaurants, and a lumberjack bar ("No chainsaws or firearms allowed inside"). For us to get to the nearest real store is a 50 minute drive and even then one can’t always find what they want.

I tell you all this to more vividly illustrate the isolation of my previous existence - compared to today.

Today, I stood and stared out the window of the elevated train that intertwines and tunnels its way through the island state of Singapore. Outside the city streaked by. I was lost in thought and completely alone on the train. Then the train hit a little bump and I was jostled back to reality. In that brief moment between deep thought and reality I saw Singapore as one who is newly arrived would – just for a flash – and then I was back, shoulder to shoulder, amongst the breathing masses. As I stood there, surrounded by people chattering in many different languages, watching the now familiar landmarks pass by, I realized how much had changed for me, how very different my life had become.

If fifty or sixty years ago you had shown a science fiction writer a glimpse of today’s Singapore they would have been thrilled – it is (with the exception of personal flying transportation devises) almost exactly how they had envisioned it. Singapore is clean, safe, organized, efficient, vertical and manicured to within an inch of its life. It is almost like walking through a botanical gardens with high rise buildings. It is pretty amazing.

Singapore is probably the most purpose built city in the world. For the last 42 years the authoritarian government has had its hand in shaping almost very aspect of life here. Its leaders had a vision of their future and they pursued it with a passion. They created not just the physical city; the buildings, transportation and economy, they molded their citizens as well. While tearing down the old shop houses and erecting new multi story housing units they changed the behavior of the people who would inhabit them. They created an economy that is the envy of almost every other country in Asia, and built a nation where 70 over percent of its citizens own their own housing. Almost 5 million people inhabit Singapore and yet the kind of poverty seen in other large city is almost unknown here. Singapore is easily the safest city and country in the world. Anyone can walk any street at any time without fear of molestation or harm. And even with an authoritarian government (or maybe because of it) Singapore remains as free as almost any other country you might visit.

Now, all of this planning and organization does come with a few side effects. There isn’t really a “free press” here as the government owns almost every TV, radio station and periodical in the country (but I can’t tell difference – of course I really pay very little attention to the news). Penalties for breaking the law here can be rather harsh (so it is recommended you don't break te rules). And with its dive towards modernization Singapore has left behind some of its history and cultural roots. The government now recognizes that its push to
conform and its removal of some of the fringe elements has created a citizenry that has some difficulty with creative thinking and innovation. The government recognizes the problem but ..... well, you can see the dilemma.

But what is the most unusual for me is the culture of it all. Singapore in many ways is like an ant colony; there is a definite master plan, it is structured, compact and designed. Much of the
housing apartments are interconnected with coverd walk ways and overhead bridges, and down town there is a vast warren of interconnected underground areas, some complete with shops, banking and food stalls. People live vertically here (as it should be for all cities – thus avoiding the horrible urban sprawl that creeps across American like a mold). Education is exceedingly serious and competitive. A child future is decided early on and their education is tailor to it there after. There is a definite feeling of community solidarity and oneness despite any differences. People activities are (for the most part) centralized; a central "business" district, shopping in “mega malls” and “hyper marts” recreation on selected islands and in recreation parks. Transportation is easy and efficient with inexpensive taxis, a well planned highway system, and excellent mass transit (both trains and busses). Life is ordered.

I now live in the Indo-Malay Archipelago, but my living quarters could not be less Indonesian. I live in a condominium complex is called the Madeira. My 17th floor unit is in one of three 28 storey towers. The complex is walled and surrounded by landscaped grounds. There are over 475 units in the three towers, and they house more than 1500 inhabitants. The Madeira is a near self contained complex with an ample car park, 3 swimming pools, tennis courts, a putting green, two gardening plots, play areas, 10 BBQ stations, a water feature, a gym, Jacuzzis and his and her steam rooms. In the bottom floors of the adjacent apartment buildings there are dozens of places to eat and many shops selling a multitude of diverse products: pets, bicycles, herbal medicine, hardware, clothing, religious items, massage, groceries, doctors, school supplies, shoe repair, driving classes - almost everything one could ever need. All of this in one square block.

It is nothing like NorCal.