Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Phnom Penh Again Again

I just got back from a long weekend in Phnom Penh Cambodia (great town). This was my 4th time to Cambodia and my third time to Phnom Penh (once in Angkor Wat/Siem Reap with my sister). I have enjoyed all four of my trips to Cambodia immensely - and each one was distinctly different (in it's own way).

Phnom Penh is changing fairly quickly. It is getting some well deserved economic growth. And Phnom Penh is working hard at improving it's image. Just two years ago the water front along Tonle Sap & the Mekong was just dirt - dusty, devoid of tress or grass and scattered with litter. Now there is grass, tress, shrubs, a nicely tiled walkway, and the area is alive with activity (well at least at night when it is cool enough). In the evening brightly lit boats drift along in a cool breeze. (well, passes for a cool breeze in Phnom Penh)

If you wanna see some of the pictures check here

or Jeff's photos

I will say that Phnom Penh is a fun town with lots to do and see; the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda (Wat), nice & friendly people, three micro-breweries, lotsa great food (that is inexpensive), cheap beer, several good markets, nice coffee, Nagaworld Casino (if you are into that kind of thing), a nice river front walk, Boat trips down the Mekong, cheap massage, inexpensive hotels, a few good clubs (if you are into that kind of thing), good bands, some great random wanderings, beautiful Wats, an interesting national museum, (albeit somewhat in need of a make over), Tuk Tuk rides, a variety of fried insects (if you are into that kind of thing), historical buildings, and a rich & complex history. Did I mention how nice & friendly the people were ?

And I will say I find it disturbing that there seems to have grown up a whole industry related to their very unfortunate recent past (how many time will you have to tell Tuk Tuk Drivers "No thank you, I don't want to see the killing fields - ever!"). Honestly it was hard enough just to read about their suffering (there are dozens of books on the Khmer Rouge rule, those sad years & the genocide of their own people), I do not want to see those places first hand. Tuol Sleng, the Killing Fields, and blowing up a cow with left over army missile launchers - those things should not be tourist attractions.

But I digress - Cambodia is a great place to visit. If you have not visited there yet you should go (and soon, before it all looks like the Nagaworld Casino - not that there is anyting wrong with NagaWorld, per se ...... )

Middle Age Brains

About 10 years ago a young man (we'll call him Joey) said to me "You're old dude, what's good about that ?" And at the time* I thought well, several things; I own my own house, I make good money (at least better than he did), I have gained some wisdom over the years (and although some might disagree - they did know me at his age), I am a calmer person now than I once was, and maybe best of all - I know better than to treat people with disrespect (saying dumb things like - "You're old dude, what's good about that ?").

But my only response was "lots of things" and left it at that. I felt it was a bit of a weak retort back then, but it was all I could come up with (spur of the moment and all). I didn't really have a lot of facts to back up my thoughts on the subject.

Well, now I can add to that. Recent studies have shown that although middle aged people may not be the best choice for pro sports players and they may have more trouble remembering names, or some individual facts and factoids, they are better at several types/ways of cognitive thinking. It turns out that when it comes to the brain there are several advantages middle aged people have over younger people.

Check out the article below. (and the Podcast on NPR Fresh Air - with Mary Gross - below)

or the Pod Cast here

So if you are approaching or in middle age (defined as 40 - 60) you have a few things to look forward to, and you can .... ahh .... whats that word I'm looking for ?? - oh yeah - postpone. You can postpone your mid life crisis till your 60+

"MYTH FIVE: Our brains operate best in our 20s.

In fact, our brains, in most important areas, reach their peak in midlife. We get better in a whole range of areas, including inductive reasoning, vocabulary, judgment, even the ability to get the "gist'' of an argument and find solutions. There is evidence that we can also become more creative as we age."

Yo Joey - "HA HA !" (ok, mature brain doesn't mean you always act like a grown up)

* at the time - I was still in my early 30's and not even at middle age yet

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What the …. @#%*!!?!? (Brewing in the Tropics – things you never thought you would have to think about)

So, like most brewers I learned to brew in a temperate climate (in Seattle in America’s NW corner). It may be damp but it is cool (or even cold) and when it is warm (the short period that it actually is warm) it is dry. But it is not so my friends when one lives in the tropics. It is ALWAYS warm and almost constantly damp. And these two things together can cause you some interesting problems for a brewer. For example I had bottom man-ways installed on all our fermentation vessels – they are safer, easier to access, have no cleaning shadow and are thus easier to keep clean – but because of the way they (necessarily) have to be made they are not insulated. In the north (where it is at least cool at night) the cold from the rest of the tank “telegraphs” down the stainless steal of the cone and keeps your yeast cool. In SE Asia, where it is about 32 degrees (94 F) most of days and nights the whole of the cone warms up and all your yeast sitting down in the bottom of the cone warms up as well - and then it dies. Bottom access manways are just not ideal for a tropical climate.

The heat; Yes, I know it sounds obvious but heat build up in an already hot climate can be a killer. The average ambient temperature in Singapore is about 33 degree C (about 92F). Add to that, heat absorbing brink or cement building or an un-insulated roof or poor ventilation, or steam leaks, or just a hot brew house full of boiling wort and the temperature can hit 38 degree C (around 102 F) and the humidity – that is a lot of sweating and at least one change of clothing a day (usually two).

Also one never thinks (or at least I never gave much thought to) malt vermin. In most temperate climate breweries their malt source is near by, deliveries are frequent, malt gets used fast and the temperature is cool (at least at nights). But did you know that there are weevil eggs in your malt (in all malt, it is already there) – the malt comes to you with the weevil eggs in it, and moth eggs too. Given enough time (about 2-3 months) at a warm temperature, these eggs will start to hatch and the resulting vermin will eat the insides out of your malt, leaving you with only brittle husks (which don’t really make a very tasty beer). There is not much you can do to combat this – except use the malt fast – very fast.

An additional worry is moldy malt. During the rainy season it can stay near 90% humidity for weeks on end and that can be enough to start mold growing (especially in an improperly sealed malt bag). Are if malt dust is left to settle or cling to almost any surface mold will grow on it. A frightening example of that is our grist bin. If left (without a water cleaning) for more than a few days the malt dust in our grist bin starts to mold and turn a wonderful color of hairy blue. So at the end of every week of brewing we wash down the grist in and let it air dry over the weekend. Temperate climate brewers never have to face such a potentially troublesome problem.

Surface Black Mold (which all but the luckiest brewers have to deal with in some area) in most climates is somewhat more aggressive and thus more of an issue. The warm and damp climate is perfect for it and it grows constantly, on everything – even on stainless steel. There is a fairly constant pressure washing, scrubbing and chemical abatement program. And that is just to keep it at bay.

These are a few of the unusual problems faced by breers in the tropics. If you brew in a temperate climate (much like the one I am returning to soon) you are luck and don't have to worry about t most of these issues - although then you may have freezing pipes or a zillion fruit flys or any number of other local problems. Brewers; just remeber - Luck you make beer for a living. A temporary solution to all life's little problems.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Exit Strategy

I have been in Asia for five years, but now my time here has come to an end. It is with mixed feelings that I box up my belongings and my life here in Singapore. I have enjoyed my time in Asia very much. I have met great people and traveled to exotic and interesting place. I have tasted some of the best food on the planet and my share (and a few other peoples share) of good beers. I have had the amazing opportunity to help build a brewery and create a brand. I was lucky to have worked with a fantastic team of people - at every stage. I have been fortunate enough to be welcomed into people's homes and lives and to share their experiences. I have made many good friends here. I have indeed been very fortunate.

I arrived here (14,500 km from home) knowing not a single person, and I am leaving with what I am sure are life long friends. And as many of my friends know my preferred exit strategy is the Mas Selamat (better know outside of Singapore as the French exit) but saying I am going to the jamban & then sneaking out the back seems (for once) inappropriate. So - I want to thank all my friends and colleagues for making my time here so enjoyable, for making my job here so much easier than it might have been, for taking me with you on all those great adventures, and for showing me Asia. I promise you I will be back.

So where to next ?
I am returning to my home in Anderson Valley, Northern California. I will start a new job with my old friends and colleagues at Anderson Valley Brewing Company. I will have to replace my Singlish & Bahasa with Boontling and Spanish. I will have to make the shift from living in one of the most populated places on earth to one of the least populated. There will be no more late night hawker center visits, but there will also be no traffic jams.

I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with old friends and the excitement of pushing some brewing boundaries in the land of hoppy beers. I promise we will be doing some interesting thing in our quiet little corner of NorCal. I hope that you all will take the time (and make the arduous drive) to come visit me in what really is one of California's most beautiful places.

Stay tuned .....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Really ?!?!

Come on Ford - WTF ?!?!

Ford releases a engine called EcoBoost - But it is all total marketing foolishness. It is touted as getting 17 mpg city and 25 Hyw - cracka Pleeze !! My 7 year old Toyota Pickup truck gets 18 - 19 mpg city and 25 Hwy. (without a canopy some more). Ford should be ashamed of themselves for not bringing out an engine that REALLY was more eco-friendly. Is this the future of marketing ? Repackaging the same old stuff and marketing it as "green" - or are we actually going to do something to better the environment ?