Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

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.


At 9:41 PM, Blogger Monkey said...

your singlish has gotten amazingly good haha i absolutely enjoyed reading the "boleh" section. how utterly true lol


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