Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Phnom Penh Again

I went back to Phnom Penh a few weeks ago. I had enjoyed my previous trip so much that I thought it was worth another visit - and I was not disappointed. I did a little more exploring this time, which turned out to be great. I wandered more (without any destination) and that usually leads to a few good finds - as it did this time. I went with a few friends (James & Patrick from Singapore - and James' friend Joe who met us there). They were game for a bit of exploration, so we ate more street food, we went deeper into the alley ways, checked out more local markets, and we stayed out later at night. We found temples, tucked away food stalls, small wet markets, abandoned villas, hidden bars, delicious food, and a lots of really friendly people.

One of the things that I have started doing when I travel is renting a bike and riding around. It is fantastic (albeit sometimes a bit more dangerous) way to see a city. It is much faster than walking, but slow enough to see everything, and you are still out in the open air (unlike car travel which usually leaves me feeling a bit detached).

I had read about a brewery in Phnom Penh so when Joe and Patrick went off to see Toul Sleng (possibly the most depressing place in SE Asia - ) James and I rented bikes and rode off in search of the Man Han Lou brewery.

Luckily James had a clue; while I was busily racing up and down the streets and zipping along in the crazy Cambodian traffic James located the fairly nondescript Building that housed the object of our desire. And none too soon as pedaling madly around dusty Phnom Penh dodging on coming cars, other bikes, motor bikes, lorries, and the occasional Ox cart can really build up ones thirst.

The Man Han Lou Brewery & Restaurant (opened in 2007) serves four kinds of beer - delineated by color Gold, Red, Black and Green . I find this to be common among Brewers trained in China (delineation by color) as indeed Man Han Lou's Brewmaster was (or so Patrick told me after speaking with him - my Mandarin being all but nonexistent) The beers were surprisingly good for a small brewery operating in what has to be difficult conditions. All four of the beers were flavorful and well made. I have since read that only two of the beers are brewed (the Gold and the Black), one is a blend (the Red is a combination of the Gold and the Black), and the Green beer is the Gold with spirulina added. None the less - we enjoyed several glasses of them all.

The restaurant serves both local and Chinese dishes. We had a small variety meal and all the dishes were very nice. The service was very good as well (but it was mid afternoon with but one other table in the entire place). An excellent bike adventure and well worth searching out !

I have since read that another small brewery (the "Munich Beer Restaurant") has since opened and that they are making a decent drop. - I guess we will have to go back to Phnom Penh for another visit again soon.

Man Han Lou Restaurant - #456 Monivong Boulevard

Munich Beer Restaurant - #86 Sothearos Boulevard.

For more Cambodian Beer ramblings check out one of my favorite food blogs

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No Secrets

The other day I was visited by a group of graduate students from Denver Colorado (USA). They wanted to pick my brain about the brewing industry in Asia. They wanted to talk about the feasibility of opening a small brewery here. They told me that they were graduate students - but they dressed more like industrial spies - they might have even been industrial spies - but I don't think so, and I will tell you why ? Because, the craft brewing industry does not have industrial spies. There is no need for them - we have no secrets. There is no need for secrets when everyone shares everything with each other. Most of the head brewers here in the Singapore are from North America, where 25 years ago there was a rebirth of the small brewing industry. Back then (25+ years ago) there were almost no small breweries left. Certainly there were none in the North America or Asia. There were some in Germany, a few in Belgium - and a few more in the UK, but many of those were having a hard time. Traditional beer was on the wane and larger breweries were on a march to gobble up every bit of market share that they possibly could. Large breweries were buying up the smaller ones, closing their brewing facility down, and taking their market and tied houses or bars. Back then there were few (if any) professional organizations for small brewers, there were almost no equipment suppliers, and there was even less literature on operating a small brewery. This was especially true in the US where small brewing had been wiped out by prohibition some 50 years before. It was a fairly fizzy yellow and bland state of affairs. The resurgence of small brewing started with home brewing and CAMRA in UK and the it drifted over to US (and then a few years later it filtered back across the pond again to the UK where it inspired a new breed of small brewers there). In 1976 president Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing in the USA (God Bless him!). It was when those early hippy dippy odd ball home brewers, returning from their European vacation, filled with whacky ideas of opening their own small brewery that really got "micro brewing" started. But with no one to guide them and no books for "dummies" it was hard going at first. It happened in drabs and sputters. The first small brewer was the New Albion Brewery (they struggled and then died prematurely), and some time later Hale's Brewing, Sierra Nevada, and others followed.

The first Micro breweries were strange things indeed, equipment scavenged from other food industries, cobbled together in backyards or warehouses, with engineering as strange as the beer that they would create. The beers were something to behold too; wild with esters (or sometimes infections), only vaguely in a style and designed for punch not panache. But these brewers kept honing their skills, scavenging the libraries for information and talking to who ever might be able to help.

These first brewers had suffered, experimented (and sometimes failed) and they learned things the hard way. So as the next generation of brewers came up these pioneer brewers were willing to give of their self taught wisdom - and thus they spread an infectious passion to share.

I was one of those brewers early in that second generation (as was Scott from Brewerkz), and in those days there was still not much written about brewing. We learned (especially at first) to talk to each other and share knowledge, share ideas - and we passed this on to every brewer we met.

But this kind of sharing is not limited to the American craft brewers, you find the same thing all over the world - New Zealand, Vietnam, Belgium, England, Indonesia, Germany, Australia. Where ever I go I seek out the breweries, I meet the brewers and they are always happy to sit down, share a few pints, and talk about their brewery and their process, and share what they have learned.

I had a hard time convincing these American graduate students that there really were no secrets – it was clear - they had not talked with a lot of brewers.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Co Joined but Not Twins

Now that it is final I can talk about it. We have reached an agreement. Archipelago Brewing Co. has taken over the production of beers at the Pump Room. For the past two months (since their head brewer Alex Chasko* left) we have been in negotiations work out the detail. When Alex gave his notice The Pump Room approched us. They are a restaurant and Bar business and they know how to do that really well. We are a brewing comapnay and we know how to do that. It seemed like a logical fit, but as they say the devil is in the details.
It took a while but I think that we have most of them worked out (mostly).

Some might know (although many may not) that we produced some of the Pump Room beers for them in the past. A few years back Alex came to us and asked if we could (under his supervision) brew an IPA for them, and then a few months later we brew a celebration ale as well. We made both those beers for them under "contract" as it is called. We used there specifications and recipe, they used our raw materials and equipment. It is an arrangement that is fairly common throughout the brewing industry where one brewery (usually smaller) has excess sales and another brewery (usually bigger) has excess capacity.

What we have doone now is a bit different. We are suing their equipment and recipes but supplying the labor, process and expertise. We will keep using there raw materials (where different from our own) and since we are using their equipment much of the "house Flavor" will remain.
So - What (you ask) does all this mean to you (the Beer Drinker) . Here's how it breaks down. We have hired a brewer (Scott Beczek) to do/oversee the brewing operations, we have also taken on the remaining Pump Room brewer (Jeff Mrphy). We (Archipelago) will over see the process and technical needs. Scott and Jeff will brew together and continue to craft the current Pump Room Beers, they will strive to improve beer quality (not that we didn't like the beers now, but one can always improve), and they will develope a few new beers in the future. We (Archipelago) will supply them with raw materials, technical expertise and process support. We have made a few needed repairs to the Pump Room's berwing equipment and we have fine tuned the recipes just a touch.

So why ? well, for The Pump Room they get to give up the responsiblity and complexities of making beer and get to focus on their core business (running restaurants), they get a better price on beer as we have greater buying power and they get technical support. Archipelago gets more volume, more outlets to sell beer and more customers aware of our brand. I get more employees to manage and a few more nervous nights worrying about unusual fermentations, but I also will get another place to drink beer (wait a minute I could already go there and drink beer - hmmmm I guess I will have to as Pump Room for a discount plan I guess :-)

Our first beers will start coming out in Mid December and then you all can write and tell me what you think.

I am pretty sure it will be a win, win win situation (win for Pump Room, win for Archipelago, win for the consumers).

*pictured here is the new Archipelago crew (Veronica, Racheal, Scott, Ben, Hoshang, Ashlyn, Jeff and Fal) Pictured at the top; Alex (PR former brewer) and Scott (new PR brewer) drinking someone else's beer at a bar in Golden Mile