Tapping into Singaporeâs craft-brewing scene.
Itâs a quiet, balmy weekday afternoon at Little Island Brewing Co., where a trickle of patrons are scattered about the cavernous microbrewÂeryâs communal timber tables. Behind the scenes, however, head brewer Steve Spinney is trying to catch his breathâand a break.
His day began at five oâclock this morning with preparations to make a pale ale, one of five brew sessions planned for the week, but a power outage has put him behind schedule. Now, heâs running back and forth to check kettle boil times and temperatures and to monÂitor his twentysomething assistants. âItâs just one of those days,â Spinney says. âEverything seems to have gone wrong.â
Things have otherwise gone right for the fledgling craft brewery, which founder Francis Khoo launched just over a year ago on a water-side plot near the Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Increasing demand has spurred Spinney to push production up to around 5,000 liters a month, and his Black Magic Irish Dry Stout won gold at Singaporeâs inaugural Asian Beer Medal awards in March. In September, Khoo spun off sister bar Alchemist Beer Lab, where Little Island beers are freshly infused with fruits, herbs, and other ingredients in a proÂcess similar to dry-hopping, when brewers add hops to a beer following its primary fermentaÂtion to enhance aroma and flavor.
Singaporeâs brewing scene stagnated after the closure of the much-loved and award-winÂning brewery Jungle Beer in early 2014. Little Island Brewing Co.âs welcome arrival has thereÂfore heralded a new wave of craft breweries atÂtempting to reinvigorate the local beer culture.
âItâs so easy for a middle-aged guy to start a beer company, throw down a bunch of monÂey, and then poof, itâs gone,â says Jim Kellett, founder of Crossroads Brewing Company. âI was really cautious about it, so it took a year for me to do what I could have done in three months.â
Kellett, a former financial portfolio manÂager, debuted Crossroads last April. Itâs a conÂtract operation, meaning Kellett hands off his beer recipes to host breweries that handle the production. The breweryâs signature, easy-drinking Summer Ale embodies Kellettâs focus on entry-level craft. âItâs bitter enough that you know youâre drinking a craft beer, but itâs not a âsuperâ craft beer,â he says. âWe donât want to be one of these esoteric brands, but we donât want to be Tiger or Heineken, eitherâwe want to be right in the middle.â
In September Kellett partnered with Michael Wong, founder of Innocence Brewing, on The Brewhouse Chin Swee, a cozy Chinatown watering hole where beers from the two upstart breweries flow from eight taps. Itâs a short walk away from the Chinatown ComÂplex hawker center, where another recent addition to the cityâs brewing scene, OnTap Brewery, pours its full range of beers, including a wheat that scored silver at the Asian Beer Medals.
Innocence Brewing is based in the western Jurong area, where Wong brews on a five-barrel system. Like Kellett, Wong designs light, low-alcohol beers that he feels cater not only to Singaporeâs humid climate, but also to localsâ still-developing palate for craft. Itâs no coincidence, for example, that Wong prioritizes his Midnight Roast, a coffee-infused amber ale and one of Innocenceâs four year-round beers, to piggy-back his emerging trade on one that is already established.
âWeâre planning to get that beer into more cafĂ©s beÂcause we think it pairs well with brunch and makes a great alternative to coffee,â Wong says. âAnd like the current coffee subculture,â he adds, âa craft beer subculÂture will continue to grow here and, with time, cater to more discerning tastes.â For serious beer lovers, thatâs reÂfreshing news indeed.
Alchemist Beer Lab
26 Beach Rd., #B1-16; 65/6386-4365.
The Brewhouse Chin Swee
171 Chin Swee Rd., CES Centre, #01-02; 65/8328-3581.
Little Island Brewing Co.
Block 6 Changi Village Rd.; 65/6543- 9100; libc.co.
65/8722-1230; Chinatown Complex and Newton Circus.
This article originally appeared in theÂ DecemberÂ 2016/JanuaryÂ 2017Â print issue of DestinAsian magazine (âBeer Essentialsâ).