Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

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.


At 5:25 PM, Blogger kennhyn said...

is it anyway to bend malaysia law that allow the license of microbrewery? I really wish Malaysia can have what S'pore have.

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Fal Allen said...

I don't know about Malaysian Law - but I know of a group that is trying to open a Micro brewery - we'll have to wait n see (If I hear news I will let you know)


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