Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I have always been a recycler, composter, organic gardener kind of guy (land space permitting on the latter). It comes from having this very practical (and slightly hippy minded) mother and a horse trader to-it-your-self kind of father. I was listening to a Podcast the other day. It was about some dude in NYC who lived a month with no carbon foot print. I thought - really ? NO carbon foot print ? That seems unlikely to me. I mean was he naked the whole time or did he wear a coat made of his own fur ? (neither being really very practical in NYC). What did he eat ? What did he do with his waste, did he compost it or did he make it into bricks for his no carbon footprint hermitage ? And what of bathing ? Was it the Hudson River or did he just smell bad (as one might imagine he would in a coat made of his own body hair). It got me thinking about this whole globalwarminggoinggreencarbonfootprint thing. And I thought that maybe some people might be interested in what we do at breweries with our “by-products” (of course, maybe not, in which case please skip to the bottom and leave me a nasty comment about what a stupid idea this was – you won’t be the first).

Recycling and reusing is smart – it makes good business sense as well as good sense for the environment, so we try to do the best we can (although it does take encouragement for some people to take the extra time and slight effort needed). Our situation is a little unusual. We are a small brewery, but we are attached to a fairly large one. This means that (for the most part) we do better than other breweries our size on environmental impact. Often times small brewery just don’t have the economic efficiencies of scale that we have available to us, like re-capturing their carbon dioxide – but I am getting ahead of myself.

Beer is made with three basic ingredients (Malt hops and water)

All our malted Barley comes form the closest possible source; Australia*. This saves on shipping and the Aussies make some fine malt, so – no worries there. The larger brewery gets all their malt in bulk (17,600 kg containers). We have to get ours in 25 kg bags and thus our shipping container can only fit in 16,000 kg. The result is higher shipping costs (more fuel per kg of malt). We are looking at alternatives and we do reuse or recycle all the plastic bags when they are empty.

After we extract the sugar from the malt to make the beer what’s left is called “spent grain”. There is some small amount of sugar left as well as significant amounts of protein and amino acids. All our spent grain is picked up by lorry and taken to northern Singapore for animal feed (mostly chickens and goats). It use to go all the way to eastern JB (haahh, too far, cannoh tahan) so we found local farms that were closer –less trucking, less petrol burned.

Hops (like Malt) will not grow in the tropic and so we must also import it from areas of temperate climate. Most hops are grown in America and Europe and that is where most of our hops come from although we are using some New Zealand hops as well. Hops are usually mixed in with the grains and sent out as animal feed as they also retain significant nutritional value too. We recycle all the packaging that they arrive in (plastic liners in cardboard boxes)

Much of the water used in brewing ends up as beer, some is retained by the spent grain, some is evaporated off during the boiling of the wort (which will later become beer), the rest goes down the drain (mainly in conjunction with tank cleaning). The subject of brewery effluent could take up a whole blog post on it’s own. So, suffice it say that the Singapore waste water municipality is set up to deal with our effluent better than we are. We pay them a surcharge for that service. Brewery cleaning is done by non toxic alkaline cleaners, and thus for the most part brewery waste water is less acidic than the normal effluent stream and the municipality enjoys that neutralizing effect.

Carbon dioxide
(CO2) is a byproduct of fermentation. It is a major greenhouse gas of concern, but before you get all wiggy lets do the math. The barley (used in brewing) takes in CO2 from the atmosphere, it converts it during photosynthesis to sugars, and other organic compounds (in a reaction something like this: nCO2 + nH2O → (CH2O)n + nO2 ). The barley is harvested and sent to us (the brewers). We extract the sugars (and other organic compounds) and feed them to our yeast. The yeast eat the sugars and produce flavors, CO2, alcohol (in a reaction exactly like this: C6H12O6 → 2 CO2 + 2 C2H5OH ). In smaller breweries it is not economically viable to sequester the CO2 produced during fermentation – but at larger breweries (like Tiger next door) it is. They capture all the excess CO2 from fermentation and compress it into liquid, they package it in usable quantities and send it to bars/pubs around the island to dispense the beer on draft. So all the CO2 produced by fermentation (of which 100% was fixed from the atmosphere during the barley growth) is captured and used to carbonate and dispense the beer = equaling = no net CO2 produced in the beer cycle. (the brewery can not be held responsible for any methane production on your part).

Brewer’s Yeast is a eukaryotic unicellular micro-organism that that turns sugar into alcohol (see formula above). In doing so it increases (in population) through asexual reproduction by about 800%. This excess yeast is a highly nutritious food source. It is harvested, dried and sold in health food store around the world or in less fortunate circumstances it is turned into a dark food paste with a highly questionable flavor profile that can be found in certain areas of the *southern hemisphere. In either case it is returned to the food chain and is not a direct waste product of brewing.

Now that we have made the beer it has to get to consumers. The best thing to do here is quote Seattle brewer Mike Hale – “Think globally, but drink locally”. The most obvious advantage that Singapore brewers have over the imported beers on the island (from a Low carbon footprint aspect – or LCFP) is that there is almost no shipping to get our beers to you. But wait – unless you are drinking at a brewpub (like Brewerkz, Paulaner, The Pump Room, RedDot or Tawandang) who mostly serve directly from bulk “serving tanks” then the beer will need to be kegged, bottled or canned. Kegging is the obvious best container (not just for protecting beer flavor but from an “LCFP” stand point), cans are next best choice and bottle come in last. (whispered aside – “see, this is just one more reason to go out and drink draft beers”). Kegs are cleanable and reusable, they are very durable and they are made from a completely recyclable material (should they be damaged beyond use). Cans use very little raw material and are super light (resulting in a lower shipping cost). Their aluminum is 100% recyclable as well. And Can are the most recycled beverage container on the planet (about 75% get recycled compared to about 16% of bottles). Bottles take more raw materials to manufacture, are heavier to ship and harder to recycle (and take more energy to recycle) – but they are 100% recyclable too.

Associated packaging
Keg win in this area as well, most kegs only have a small sticker or tag for labeling. Cans are sold with a minimum of associated packaging and are by far the lightest to ship. Bottles have metal caps, paper or plastic labels, six pack carries and a “mother” carton - luckily all these can be recycled with a minimum of effort. Great care is taken here (in house) that all of the “waste” from the brewery’s packaging line gets recycled; all the broken or rejected bottles and cans, all the damaged paper products, all the plastic wrap and strappings and all the damaged metal caps – all these get recycled.

All of our pallets are made of durable reusable plastic (some percentage of which is post consumer recycled – but I cannoh find out how much) and all of our returnable bottles go out is plastic reusable crates.

So the next time you are worried about being green enough, relax and have a beer. You can rest assured in the knowledge that although we are not a zero carbon footprint product - at least we are not wearing clothing made of our own body hair - and we are a fairly green industry.