Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kota Kinabalu

I went to Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Borneo a little while back. It was kind of out of the blue. My friend James called one day and said " You wanna go to Kota Kinabalu ?" We had no reason to go - except that we had never been there before - Air Asia had cheap tickets and we had a three day weekend - so I said "Sure, why not".

Kota Kinabalu (formerly know as Jesselton in colonial times) is located in Sabah. Sabah is part of east Malaysia on the Northern part of the islnad of Borneo. Borneo today is about one third Malaysian (Sabah and Sarawak), two thirds Indonesia (Kalimantan) with a small chunk that is the Kingdom of Brunei. Borneo has a very diverse population (more than 80 local dialects are spoken in Sabah alone) and a long and fascinating history that involves Sultans, head hunters, tribal warfare, foriegn company rule, Japanese invasion, resistance fighters, independence and then a merger with Malaya on September 16th 1963. On that day in 1963 Sabah, Sarawak, Malaya and Singapore joined to form the new country of Malaysia . Two years later Singapore was politely asked to leave, and the remaining territories are today what make up Malaysia.

KK (as locals refer to it) is the capitol of Sabah, but it was not always so. When the Japanese invaded in 1942 the capitol of Sabah was Sandakan, but allied bombing of the Japanese in Sandakan literally obliterated the town. At the end of the war the British administrators decided that Jesselton (renamed Kota Kinabalu in 1968) would make a better administration center.

Today KK is a relatively small coastal town of about 500,000 people situated on Borneo's northwest coast. Although it is the capitol of Sabah, KK retains its small town feel with a leisurely pace and lack of congestion. There are a few backpacker hostels and hotels of differing price ranges. We stayed a very nice little place called Gaya Borneo Lodge on Jalan Gaya in the older part of town. The rooms were small, clean and affordable, the common room stocked with the stuff that a backpacker might need, and the staff was very friendly.

On Sundays there is a big street market on Jalan Gaya and one can buy anything from fresh vegetables to pets, to hand crafted clothing, to home made snacks. The Sunday we were there an unannounced action film crew was shooting a scene where a hapless "hero" ran through the crowd being pursued by a gang of "thugs" wielding plastic knives and fake machetes. Unsuspecting customers scattered, children squealed and a vegi stand was over turned - the mayhem captured by the cameras on the roof top above. We bought char su pau to go with our coffee as the crowd re-settled itself.

We had no real objective to our visit and so spent the first day wandering the streets getting a feel for the town. KK is rather compact but there is a lot to see. The water front is a nice area with a couple of small harbors with small commercial fishing and dive boats
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There is also a larger container shipping dock a little north of town.

We found a surprising number of restaurants and pubs to visit as well as street food vendors and hawker centers. The food scene in KK is quite good. In the evening along the water front by the fish market there is a big food market set up with BBQed sea food and other local specialties. .
Just town side of that (a little ways) along the water front is a row of places where you can linger in the ocean breeze, have some makan or sit by the sea with a cold drink while watching the approaching (or in progress) sunset.

Despite its name the "Cock & Bull" is one of the better places along that stretch. Farther north just in from the coast road there are a few more night time hang outs catering to a bit more active of a crowd. If you favor a little more of a local hang out check the food stalls and pubs in Api Api centre.

The only thing (besides food & beer) on our agenda was scuba diving - we knew that we wanted to do that. As it turns KK has a nice little diving community and dive trips can be arranged very affordably. For about $160 (USD) each we were able to hire a boat, rent all our equipment, do three dives at three different locations (with an accompanying dive instructor) and eat lunch on the beach – not too bad. The diving was pretty fantastic as well. Having grown up in the warm waters of Hawaii, dove off far flung motus in the Cook Islands and Samoa, and get in the water when ever possible – I was not expecting too much new, and although the fish were a bit sparse, the corals were outstanding. I had never seen anythig quite like it – and apparently KK is considered "not that great" in terms of Borneo diving.

The next day we stumbled on the Monsopiad Cultureal Centre
The Monsopiad Cultural Center is a bit out of the way but well worth the taxi or bus ride out there (although I recommend the taxi). It has exhibits from local cultures around the area and a very good traditional dance and singing show put on several times a day (not to be missed). We were especially lucky that day in that they had on an exhibit of traditional local brews and distillates (of special interest to someone like myself). The exhibit covered raw materials, processing and equipment. It had working a fermentation and distilling in progress - with easy access for sampling (for those of stern constitution)

Scuba diving, A cultural center (with free drinks), a street market, nice food and cool pubs, all in a relaxed and affordable setting by the sea - All in all a really nice 3 day weekend.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Beer & Food

The previous post seemed to be of interest to people, so I thought I would post a slightly altered part of an article that I wrote for Asia Pacific Breweries trade publication "What's Brewing". I would be remiss not to thank Garrett Oliver for his assistance through his book ("The Brewmaster's Table") and his articles on food & beer pairings.

When people discuss food and beverage pairing they usually look first to wine, but here in Southeast Asia where the flavor range is so varied and often involve hot spice flavors, or some times intense herb notes, wine is not the best choice. Beer is the beverage to look to. The reasons that beer pairs so well with the food here are several. First, beer has a wider range of flavors to work with. Beers flavor pallet ranges from sweet to sour to bitter, from bready, to caramel, to toffee roasted and even smokiness. Beer can be fruity, spicy, citrus, and herbal, it can have flavors and aromas contributed from it’s four major ingredients (malt, hops, water and yeast – compare to wines ones ingredient) and there can be many fruits, spices and other flavorings added to be - sadly wine can never find that broad of a pallet. For example you will never find a roasty flavor or note in wine.

Another great advantage of beer it that it is carbonated. The carbonation in beer helps cool and refresh the palate, the carbon dioxide bubbles lifts the oils of the spices or herbs off your tongue and it thus prepares you mouth for the next bite. Beer’s carbonation can also work wonders with heavy or “fatty” flavors like in cheese, or rich and heavy sauces.

When you pair any beverage with a food you want to look for three things; impact, compliment or contrast. Compliment and contrast are opposites approaches, and impact is related to both, and it is important to keep in mind. Remember the goal is to enhance the meal, both the beer and the food should be improved by the pairing.

We will start with impact. Impact is the strength of the beverage or food’s impression on your palate. To have a successful pairing, you’ll need to match the impact of the beverage to the impact of the food. You want to create a delicate dance and interplay between the food and the beverage; you don’t want to create a football tackle. A big complex stout will overwhelm delicate steamed fish, and a lighter delicate flavored beer may seem to disappear when paired with spicy Thai or Malay foods. Plan to pair light bitterness for more delicate dishes, and save bitter or darker beers for richer more complex items. Impact is a fairly simple matter–if you think a beer and a dish are pretty well matched as related to impact, then you’re probably right.

Find a compliment between the food and beverage can be a little trickier but when done right create the ultimate pairings. Look for flavors in both the beverage and the food that will harmonizes and accentuates each other, look for a complementary “hook” between them. As mentioned beers can have a wide range of flavors and all of these can may find opportunity to complement, “hook” or match flavors in foods.
Take caramel, for example. Anything that’s roasted, grilled, sautéed or fried develops some flavors of caramel and sweetness. In this case, caramel is the flavor “hook” –we want to find similar caramel flavors in a beer. A perfect match would be Killkeny or London Pride – each of these beers have distinct caramel notes and sweet malty flavor. Roast pork, steaks, barbecued ribs, and even grilled vegetables can work well with malty, caramel beers (beers that are Amber, red, brown and even black in color). One of my favorite beer parings is the Archipelago Trader’s Brown Ale with a deep roasty beef Rendang. The roasted meat pair perfectly with the roastiness of the brown ale and the ginger in the Rendang picks up on the young ginger we use in the beer.
Other good pairings are roasted meats or other dishes that have a brown sauce would be good with a stout or a dark wheat beer. Any dishes that has flavors of char, coffee or chocolate are a good candidate to match brown ales, porter and stouts. The chocolate flavors in a beer will link up perfectly with the chocolate flavors in the sauce, and deserts and sweet dishes as well.

On of my favorite pairings is a smooth chocolaty stout and vanilla ice cream - it does not sound like it would work but the roastiness of the stout blend perfectly with the soft smooth ice cream.

Wheat beers are very versatile. Wheat beers pair light hop bitterness with brisk carbonation, light acidity and bright fruit flavors for a combination that can match a wide variety of dishes. Wheat beers go great with salads, where their low bitterness and light fruit allow a nice pairing with delicate greens. Wheat beers are friendly to acidity, so vinegar or vinaigrette dressings don’t clash for similar reasons, wheat beers are a great accompaniment to fish and shellfish like crab, oysters, shrimp, prawns and lobster and they work fairly well with medium spicy dishes too.

Contrasting is a little easier to do but the results are not usually quite as interesting. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the complimentarily flavors in some types of beers and spicy foods – so with a few exceptions it is better to contrast when pairing these food and beer. For most spicy dishes - like Thai, Malay or Indian - use a crisp sharp or even bitter beer. With a good lager beer the clean sharpness will “cut” the spices, it will cleanse, cool and “refresh” the palate, and it will prepare your taste buds for the next bite. Tiger beer and chili crab is a classic example of this. For more roasty spiced dishes, like tandori or chicken tikka try a more full bodied beer like the sharp and hoppy IPA. These are good examples of contrasting the beer with the foods.

So the next time you are out for a meal with your friends or family you can say to the server with confidence – “please I’ll have a beer with my meal, it will pair nicely with our first dish”