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Cebu Craft Beer by Diane M.

I’m Diane, a fan of Craft Beer living in Cebu City, Philippines

Cebu City is the mother of all cities being the oldest city in the Philippines. The center of trade and industry hub in the Visayas and hailed as the “Queen City of the South.” The city has a lot of interesting history. Interesting facts that will make you want to visit the beautiful Visayan city. From economy and tourism, arts and delicacies (Tourism plays a big part in Cebu’s healthy economy) The Queen City has proven that she is capable of fine and quality products that are ready for the world. Craft beer is brewed independently by local brewers, enjoying the fruits of their own take on how a beer should taste. 

Are you thirsty? Want craft beer? Cebu has a lot, but I’ll be sharing two of my favorites. Enjoy! 


Turning Wheels 


It’s considered among the best craft beers in the Philippines. Turning Wheels turns out to be the pioneer craft brewery in Cebu, sometime in the middle of 2014. Located in P. Almendras St. Mabolo, offers some pretty fine cold pints for your drinking pleasure. 
To be honest, at first, craft beer sounded so peculiar to me. I did not really know about it, that I did not want to try it. All I knew about was bottled and canned beer, and beyond such was never my thing. Until such time when a friend of mine introduced me this craft beer thing and brought me to Turning Wheels, which according to him, serves if not the best, one of the best craft beer in Cebu City. When we arrived there, I immediately liked the simple yet elegant ambiance it has. Woods dominate the physicality of it and gives me the touch of vintage, that caused me to ask him a picture. 

Cheers from Turning Wheels Craft Brewery in Cebu City


With craft beer, I did not really have the knowledge, so I let him choose whatever flavor of beer he thinks best fits me as a first timer. He chose Sunny Raindrops for me, an American Pale Ale, 5.4% abv (P230). I drank it little by little just as how I do it with bottled and canned beer. And boom! My beer experience has never been better ever since. From aroma to taste, nature at its best! So from then on, we explored craft beers together. The love for beer even caused us to do craft beer hopping. 


Among my top favorites are:
Pinch Flat Porter – 5.0% abv (P230)

Sunny Raindrops – 5.4% abv (230)

Little Big Brother – 6.3% abv (250)

Mountain King – 7.0% abv (250)
Note: Their beers are best paired with Sal’s tacos and burgers! Hhhmmm. Yum! 

A favourite view enjoying a Turning Wheels Craft Beer

Baguio Craft Brewery Cebu


Beer and live music lovers will love this bar. Located in Garden Bloc, Inez Villa St., Cebu IT Park, Apas, Lahug. It’s hard to pinpoint what you’ll love about BCBC. 
This is my to go place with friends after a daily pressure of having to perform for young people that can be released with a couple of beers. Paperwork can add stress to an already stressful job so we decided to have a little helper because sometimes we need a glass after class. I make sure not to leave this brewery without trying their Keywheat, a kiwi fruit beer 5.04% abv (P240). After exploring BCBC’s list of fruit beers, it’s about time to have some of their Ales. A type of beer brewed using a warm fermentation method, resulting in a sweet, full-bodied and fruity taste, which I really love. My favorite Ale is the Zigzagger, a triple hopped double IPA, 10% abv, 119.97 ibu (P300). Six pack sampler is also available for (P560).

Pouring one of Baguio Craft Brewery’s beers in Cebu City


Best part of my Baguio Craft Brewery – Cebu experience, is when you’re tipsy, they’ll let you perform and showcase your talent in singing. So yeah, I have often been forced to do many things I didn’t want to do. But I was surprised when I got up on a platform stage and sang my heart out. I really had a fantastic beer experience! 

Live entertainment at Baguio Craft Brewery in Cebu City.

Manila: A World Class City Full of Culinary Delights, Friendly People and CRAFT BEER!

Something wonderful is happening in Manila, Philippines. Yes, the site of the world’s best sunset is being transformed through the cleanup of Manila Bay, but at Craft Beer Asia we aren’t about sunsets (although we love a great sunset). Manila is setting itself up to become a top destination for the Craft Beer Traveler.

Makati, Greenbelt, Manila, Philippines
Greenbelt Entertainment and Dining District, Makati, Metro Manila

Manila may not be on your list of must-visit cities in SE Asia like Bangkok, Saigon or Singapore, but if you love Craft Beer and don’t have Manila on your radar, you are missing out on something very special.

Unlike Singapore and Hong Kong, Manila is a very affordable city. Yes, Manila may have some terrible traffic, but the chaos and color of the city makes it truly magical as Asia’s friendliest residents welcome everyone with open arms and smiles. English is widely spoken by pretty much everyone which is an added benefit.

Makait Avenue, Manila, Philippines
Ayala Avenue in Makati, Metro Manila

Manila’s key financial district of Makati is home to The Perfect Pint, offering up close to two dozen craft beers all brewed in house. At the time of our visit in January of 2019, they had eight IPAs on tap, each with a distinct flavor and color profile. The Perfect Pint also pairs craft beers with some great food options. A second location is located in Manila’s southern suburb of Alabang.

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The Perfect Pint, Greenbelt 2, Makati, Metro Manila
Manila, Craft Beer, Makati, Philippines, Perfect Pint
The Perfect Pint, Greenbelt 2, Makati, Metro Manila

Not far from The Perfect Pint is Spektral Beer Lounge, offering a wide range of local craft beers on tap and in bottles. Order in food from a nearby restaurant and pull up a barstool to enjoy some of The Philippines top Craft Beers. Be sure to try some of Cebu’s Turning Wheels Craft Brewery, which may be some of the finest beer brewed in SE Asia.

Spektral Beer Lounge, Makati, Metro Manila, Craft Beer, Philippines
Spektral Beer Lounge – The Beacon Condominium, Chino Roces Ave, Corner Antonio Arnaiz Ave, Makati, Metro Manila
Spektral Beer Lounge, Makati, Metro Manila, Craft Beer, Philippines
Spektral Beer Lounge – The Beacon Condominium, Chino Roces Ave, Corner Antonio Arnaiz Ave, Makati, Metro Manila

Why not pair some great craft beer with amazing wood fired pizza? I can’t think of a reason why not. Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza has locations scattered throughout Metro Manila in Makati, BGC, Mandaluyong and Quezon City. Not only is the pizza fantastic, but Gino’s locations are home to the craft beer brewed by Mitchell’s Backyard Brewing. Their styles include the likes of Mocha Stout, Belgian Wheat or Citrus IPA and more. These are world class examples of craft beer being brewed in The Philippines. All Gino’s locations offer Mitchell’s beers on tap.

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Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza, Manila, Philippines (4 Locations)

Makati’s Poblacion District is the real Hot Bed of Craft Beer in the Metro Manila area.

The newly opened Pedro Taphouse pours their own Pedro Brewing as well as guest taps from the likes of 63 North. Pedro Taphouse offers an amazing menu of food items as well as live entertainment in their two story renovated character home in the Poblacion entertainment district. Oh, and if you need a palate cleanser, ask Nadine to make you her famous Pimm’s cocktail.

Pedro Taphouse, Makati, Poblacion, Metro Manila, Craft Beer, Philippines
Pedro Taphouse – 5910 Matilde, Makati, Metro Manila
Pedro Taphouse, makati, metro manila, Philippines, Poblacion, craft beer
Pedro Taphouse – 5910 Matilde, Makati, Metro Manila

Just around the corner from Pedro Taphouse is the home of Joe’s Brew, at House of Joe. This is a very cozy little pub serving the range of beers from Joe’s Brew. And save some room for food, the adjoining Holy Smokes BBQ will tantalize your senses with amazing Southern Style Barbecue.

Joe’s Brew, craft beer, makati, Poblacion, manila, Philippines
Joe’s Brew – 5834 Matilde, Makati, Metro Manila
Joe’s Brew, craft beer, manila, makati, Philippines, Poblacion
Joe’s Brew – 5834 Matilde, Makati, Metro Manila

A short walk away and staying in Poblacion (or stagger depending on how far along in the tour you are) is Polilya, home to Engkanto Brewing in Manila. The tropical themed venue offers some amazing food options as well. The full range of Engkanto beers are on tap here.

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Polilya – 5658 Jacobo Street, Corner Don Pedro, Makati

RYou don’t have to walk far to our next spot, Alamat Filipino Pub and Deli is just down the street. This place takes great care to offer some of the best examples of local craft beer on tap. The rooftop patio is the place to hang out and enjoy some amazing modernized Filipino food options (try the chicken or pork skewers) to go along with local craft beers such as Crows Brewing “De Puta Madre” IPA.

Alamat Filipino Pub, Makati, craft beer, Poblacion, manila, Philippines
Alamat Filipino Pub & Deli – 2/F 5666 Don Pedro St., Makati, Metro Manila

With two locations in Manila (Magallanes and BGC), The Bottle Shop is Manila’s first Craft Beer Bar opened by Jim Araneta, the Pioneer of Craft Beer in The Philippines. The Bottle Shops offer draft and bottled beers both local and imported. The Bottle Shop (aka Global Beer Exchange) is the importer of legendary Craft Beers such as Stone Brewing, Rogue and others. You’ll catch a local craft beer social influencer or craft beer celebrity here on any night of the week.

Bottle Shop, BGC, Taguig, Craft Beer, Manila, Philippines, Stone Brewing, Rogue
The Bottle Shop – Net One Center in BGC and Paseo de Magallanes in Makati
Bottle shop, makati, BGC, craft beer, manila, Philippines, rogue, stone brewing
The Bottle Shop – Net One Center in BGC and Paseo de Magallanes in Makati

Some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable bartenders can be found at our next stop, Nipa Brew Taproom. Brewed on premise, Nipa Brew has a strong offering of styles on tap alongside some guest taps such as the likes of The Professor’s Brew. The taproom also offers some unique Filipino Craft Beer in bottles as well. But, a night at Nipa Brewing would not be complete without their Sisig Rice Bowl. I’ll say no more other than, try it!

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Nipa Brew Taproom – 9639 Kamagong, San Antonio Village, Makati, Metro Manila
Nipa Brew, makati, manila, Philippines, craft beer, professors brew
Nipa Brew Taproom – 9639 Kamagong, San Antonio Village, Makati, Metro Manila

With four locations around the Metro Manila area including BGC, Makati and Malate, The Tap Station offers a multitude of unique craft beers on tap from The Philippines as well as some great imported brands (on tap!) including Omnipollo and Gotland from Sweden. The number of taps ranges with up to 40 taps pouring at their Circuit Makati location. Tap Station is also home to Craft Revolt which is brewed in The Philippines.

Tap Station, manila, Philippines, makati, BGC, Malate, craft beer
Tap Station – 4 Locations around Metro Manila
Tap station, manila, makati, Philippines, craft beer, Gotland
Tap Station at Circuit Makati – Plus three other locations around Metro Manila

Located in Quezon City is Pierre’s Beer Cellar. A cozy spot on the corner of Tomas Morato and E. Rodriguez (around the back and down below) is a wonderful beer hangout. Pierre’s offers 18 taps of local craft beer, along with a selection of bottles including a wealth of Belgian imports.

Tomas morato, Quezon City, craft beer, manila, Pierre’s craft beer and liquor cellar
Pierre’s Craft Beer Cellar – Corner of Tomas Morato & E. Rodriguez in the GYY Bldg.
Craft beer, Quezon City, Pierre’s craft beer cellar, manila, Philippines
Pierre’s Craft Beer Cellar – Corner of Tomas Morato & E. Rodriguez in the GYY Bldg.

Staying in the Quezon City area, you’ll want to check out the home of Wicked Elias Brewing. 13 Ubay Street is the name and location of the restaurant/bar serving one of the areas newer craft beer brewers. Wicked Elias is also known for their selection of ciders with flavors such as mango or guyabano.

Wicked Elias, craft beer, cider, mango, 13 Ubay street, manila, Philippines
Wicked Elias at 13 Ubay Street – Lungson Quezon, 1114 Kalakhang

If you are finding yourself in the southern part fo the Metro Manila area, then you are in luck also. Not only is The Perfect Pint pouring at their second location in Alabang, but Wicked Elias is pouring and brewing in their new taproom at BF Homes in Parañaque. This modern taproom and brewery is the perfect spot to find yourself in the evening in this lively district. No food is served here, but order from one of the many surrounding restaurants (try Yellow Cab Pizza!). Wicked Elias is one of the few places I’ve seen that are using the Untappd app to update their beer menu. They are cutting edge! And be sure to check out your Untappd “check in” on their live screen.

Wicked Elias, BF Homes, Parañaque, craft beer, Philippines, metro manila
Wicked Elias BF Taproom – 29 Aguirre Ave, Parañaque, Metro Manila

Craft Beer is available at many more places around Metro Manila so if you find yourself eating amazing street tacos at Lagrima in Makati, you’ll find some Joe’s Brew…

Tacos, craft beer, makati, manila, Philippines, Lagrima
Tacos and Craft Beer at Lagrima – BSA Mansion, 108 Benavides St, Makati, Metro Manila

… or if you are craving some amazing Filipino food in Pasig and find yourself at Locavore, you’ll find Craft Beer from Crazy Carabao…

Locavore, pasig, metro manila, Philippines, craft beer, Filipino food
Locavore Kitchen – 10 Brixton St, Pasig, Metro Manila

Manila has come a long way in the past decade with regards to Craft Beer. So if you have a layover for a day or a few days in this amazing city, be sure to check out some of the craft beer venues mentioned above, or explore whichever corner of the city you may be in and discover an amazing place to eat and ask for what’s available for craft beer. You may be in for a nice surprise. Most of all, enjoy the friendly people, colors and beautiful chaos that this big city offers.

If you need advice on where to stay, eat or drink craft beer during your stay in Metro Manila, feel free to email me at cheers@craftbeerasia.com

Hanoi’s New Brewpub – Turtle Lake Brewing Co.

Article submitted by Jonathan Gharbi from Beer VN

The new brewpub in Hanoi; Turtle Lake Brewing Company is stating the fact that the thirst for craft beer in Hanoi is as unstoppable as noodles in the night.

Craft brewery and brewpubTurtle Lake Brewing Co in Hanoi

There was a big wave in 2016 with several new craft breweries in Vietnam and in 2017 the focus became to develop the beer scene. One of the big beer news Hanoi 2017 was the opening of this 20-tap brewpub in downtown Hanoi. With a wide and changing number of own beers together with crafts from all over Vietnam, this lakeside brewpub is the perfect spot for beer in the sunset. In February, the guest beers came from 7 Bridges (Danang) , Pasteur Street Brewing and East West Brewing Company from HCMC.

Craft beer in Tay Ho

Craft beer and burgers

Turtle Lake Brewing is founded by four people; Lamont Wynn, Mick Francis, Roshan De Vass and Keith Thibert, the later who is also running the Moose and the Roo in Hanoi. The Head Brewer Khalid Kyler is running the small scale brewery, which is visible from the table. They hope that they and other breweries together will make Hanois beer scene as good as the one in Ho Chi Minh City.  Turtle Lake Brewing does also value corporate social responsibility and will later on tell us more about their community work.   Craft brewery, Hanoi

Turtle Lake Brewing Company 

Right now the following own beers were on tap: 1. Helmet Boy Saison 5.7% ABV 11 IBU citrus and spice with orange peel, coriander and ginger. 2.  Tet Imperial Red with komquat- 8% ABV 23 IBU.  3. Ho Tay VPA ( Vietnamese Pale Ale) 5.6% ABV 22 IBU pine forward and full bodied with Amarillo, Citra and Saarz hops. 4. Hoppy Lager 4.2% ABV 14 IBU Malty and light.   5. Turtle Lake Red Ale 6.1 % ABV 10 IBU Malty with hints of dark fruits. 6. Cold Blooded Triple Rye IPA 9% ABV 51 IBU.  7. 2 & 0 Stout 5.5% ABV 21IBU.

Craft beer by Turtle lake

Review: Getting Hammered at The Forge, Jeonpo, Busan, South Korea

Visit enough places in a certain city, or country, etc., and certain themes and trends begin to emerge.

In South Korea, at least in Busan, South Korea, these include projections onto concrete walls, inoffensive western rock music from the 70s and 80s, craft beer and seemingly nonsense writing peppered hither and yon.

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Nonsense writing, or a fan of Metallica’s early 90s output.
The Forge Taphouse, in the quieter and not yet completely gentrified section of Jeonpo-dong closer to Bujeon, has tapped into all of these. And while the combination can come off in equal parts as a bit weird and and a bit cooked up in an Instagram search for “trends in Korean nightlife,” it all somehow seems to work well enough together to provide an enjoyable nighttime experience.

The first word that came to mind when I thought of how to describe The Forge was “cute,” which is probably a win for Korean 20-somethings as “cute” is a driving force in marketing and presentation in just about everything in popular culture here. But, then there’s all the anvil themed stuff and the bare industrial walls (long a trend in the west, its Korean counterparts offer a different take, considering there’s still a lot of old building stock here that speaks to its own unique time). The large, bearded man working with molten metal being projected on the wall. But, then there’s also the aforementioned 70s and 80s western rock music coming from a retro styled sound system that reminds me of a similar set up at a popular coffee shop located about 10 minutes away. It’s an odd, but not entirely offensive mix, like orange juice in coffee instead of milk.

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I must not be the only one who thinks “cute” when they think of The Forge. While my friends and I enjoyed a couple glasses of Goose Island IPA (8,500 won) and Magpie Porters (7,000 won) on draft, as well as Rogue Cold Brew IPA (7,000 won) and a sour ale tallboy from Denmark’s To Ol for 8,000 won, groups of young Koreans in twos and threes came in to order beers and the craft beer bar in Korea equivalent to “anju (side dishes served with alcohol)”–sausage plates and ham and cheese plates that seem way more expensive than they should be but people always seem to order them without protest (15,000-16,000 won). They made cute faces at each other as they took photo upon photo of their drinks, the bar and themselves. All the wrought iron around the small establishment and the brutish looking beast making anvils on the wall didn’t seem to turn them off. It was kitschy, it was different. It was, somehow, cute.

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Overall, The Forge provides a good craft beer experience and I wish them well. That said, Daily Beer, located about a 10 minute walk away in the far busier Seomyeon district, nails a lot of these trends a bit better and kept popping in my head when deciding what I thought of The Forge. They have the projected movies and odd (to native English speakers, at least) writing on the walls. They have retro western rock coming from the speakers. But, they also have truly local beers on draft (meaning, stuff from Busan for the Busan locations on this large chain) and a more robust bar food selection (of course there’s sausage. This is still a Korean bar. But, they also have large portions of fries for far fairer prices, and some really great looking fried chicken). A lot of that comes from being a now well-established chain with a lot of money backing it. The Forge, by comparison, seems to be propped up by only a pair of young entrepreneurs. By all accounts, they’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

The Forge is off to a good start. They’ve settled in a location that is gaining a following but has not yet exploded and become cliche. They have a small, but decent selection of good drinks at fair (for craft beer in Korea) prices in a relatively comfortable space. But, if they want to be in business beyond the Honeymoon period, I hope they embrace more of their own voice, as well as more of Busan, moving forward.

Check out The Forge and all the other craft beer destinations in Busan on the Busan directory page.

Seojeon-ro 47beongil 17, Busan, crafttheforge@gmail.com, 010-3357-5786
[Instagram]

Five Marbles: Singapore gastropub strives to be the fifth ingredient

Singaporeans are passionate about their food. Eating is so important to the city’s life, that even professional gourmand Anthony Bourdain dubbed it a “food-crazy culture”. At Five Marbles Craft Beer Restaurant, they’re also passionate about beer. Beer and food together? So far, so standard, I hear you say. What makes Five Marbles stand out, however, is the level of attention they’ve given to the beer-food relationship. From ensuring every member of their staff is confident recommending food and beer pairings (as well as, rather uniquely, the progression of beers), to a menu infused with and inspired by beer, Five Marbles is a paean to the art of brewing.

But what makes the restaurant special? How did it come into being? Why is it called Five Marbles? Craft Beer Asia spoke to one of Five Marbles’ founders, Isaiah Tan, who answered all these questions and more.

Tan has been involved in Singapore’s craft beer scene for some time—he’s the owner of Alchemy, which when it opened seven and a half years ago was one of the city’s first craft beer bars. Within seconds of talking to him, it’s clear just how passionate about good beer he is. Alchemy, Tan tells us, was the site of Five Marbles’ conception: “I got to know quite a few friends through [Alchemy], and a lot of them like the vibe of Alchemy, and we’d been talking about the chance to open up another bar that was similar… So we’re all friends, and we connected, and we decided—so the chef used to run his own restaurant, and his lease was running out, and this place became available, and we thought—okay, the timing is right, let’s set up something. And where else do you get a ceiling like this, right?” Tan gestures upwards. The ceiling indeed lends the restaurant an expansive, airy feel; Five Marbles is located in the courtyard of Rendezvous Hotel, and the space above sweeps up several floors to the very top of the building.

Which comes first, I ask: the beer or the food? Tan laughs, before spending a long moment in contemplation. “It’s a mix of both,” he says, finally. “We brought in a chef who appreciates beer as well—we let him have a taste of the beer, and then he comes up with his creations… but once in a while he has something in mind, and we work together to recommend something that will go hand-in-hand with what he has.” Tan is clear to stress that neither elements are more important; it’s more than a restaurant which serves good beer, or a bar which serves good food. It’s a craft beer restaurant, both aspects alike in dignity.

The choice of beer was also a deliberate one. Tan’s love of a good brew seems driven not only by taste, but by the philosophy it represents. They considered wine pairing for Five Marbles, but “There are a lot of outlets doing that, and it can be a very upper-class affair, right?” Tan says. “So that is not something that we want, we want something down-to-earth, and I feel that beer is a lot more accessible to the masses. It’s slightly more affordable, and you can open up a few bottles and share it amongst friends. That’s the fun of craft beer.” The one hurdle the restaurant faces in making craft beer accessible to the masses is its location. Tan notes that “Being part of a hotel, everyone assumes—‘oh, you guys are going to be extremely costly’. But the fact is, we are not. And we’re trying to be the opposite of that, and to appeal to as many people as we can.”

 

There’s certainly something to suit all tastes; there are twelve beers on tap, four of which—Tuatara’s Helluva Helles Lager, Brewlander’s Love and Courage, and Young’s Double Chocolate Stoutare permanent fixtures. The other eight taps rotate in a tightly-curated lineup. None of the beers arrive on tap without undergoing a rigorous tasting process (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it), and many beers have previously been favourites at Alchemy. Which beers prove most popular can be surprising; Tan notes that goses move swiftly—each keg often gone in two or three days—as well as double IPAs.

The beer Tan is recommending at the moment is Stockade’s The Mountie. It’s a twelve per cent maple imperial stout, which, he says, is one of his top three all-time favourite beers. After our interview he gives me a taster and I can confirm it’s pretty delicious; a full-bodied brew with rich roast malt, chocolate and raisin notes and a sweet, maple syrup finish. Stockade is one of Tan’s favourite breweries, he tells me: “They rotate their beers every month. So they have, I think, four staple beers, and then the rest, every month they come up with something new. So I think that’s amazing, and that it part of the spirit of craft, right? You experiment and you come up with something interesting every month. It’s good and bad—it’s bad because what I liked last month isn’t available this month. But you are always waiting, thinking—hey, what are they going to come up with next?”

As well as always having one Stockade beer on tap, Five Marbles is currently running an exhibition of Stockade beer label art. The artworks are printed in large-scale, allowing drinkers to appreciate the craft behind beer. The exhibition has been carefully thought out: Tan points out the different mediums on which art has been printed—wood, canvas and metal—telling me that artworks were printed on the appropriate media depending on the label’s theme. The unique concept is something Tan wants to continue, with a number of breweries interested in taking part after the current exhibition finishes on 25 December.

And why is it called Five Marbles? “Marbles is a very traditional game, something that everyone can identify with worldwide.” Tan tells me. “And it is a game that you don’t play on your own. You play with friends, and I’d like to think that we’re building a community for friends to come together and experience good beer and good food together. And why five? Because there’s four major ingredients in beer. You have the water, you have the malt, you have the hops, and the yeast. So we aim to be the fifth ingredient, by providing the place for people to come together and experience this.”

Like everything about Five Marbles, it’s a sentiment that’s very carefully thought through, but also a sentiment that comes from the heart. Five Marbles currently only has five-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Out of around fifty reviews, Tan tells me, “There’s not a single four-star rating. Only five stars.” And there’s a reason for this—Five Marbles is born of genuine love for craft beer. May it live long and prosper.

Check out CBA’s Singapore directory for more info on this and other great craft beer locations. And check out our Singapore News & Events page.

Article and photos by CraftBeerAsia’s correspondent in Singapore, Phoebe Taylor.

Review: SKÖLL Gastropub, Seomyeon, Busan, South Korea

The Swedish word “sköll” is used when making a toast. It’s also an easy name for folks speaking various different languages across various different cultures to remember for a gastropub looking to draw an international audience.

SKÖLL, in the heart of Busan’s Seomyeon downtown area, has a lot going for it right from the start. Members of this family-owned establishment that opened in November have spent considerable stretches of time outside of South Korea, including in London and the New York City suburbs, which is definitely not a guarantee of knowledge of what may or may not appeal to a cross-cultural audience. But, the Hong family seems to have put their international time to good use.

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With a name that is used as a toast, one would hope there’s more to drink than just Korean macro beers and, for international flair, Budweiser, Heineken or Guinness. SKÖLL does not disappoint.

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The number and breadth of draft beer options here are staggering. No Cass, Hite or OB are to be found. If you’re really craving those, head downstairs to the galbi restaurant, where I’m sure your wish will be granted. At SKÖLL, about 30 taps are employed with four separate temperature-controlled levels (from 2 degrees C. to 12 degrees C, depending on the brew). Options include cost-conscious (for craft beer in Korea) selections from Korean brewers such as Busan’s Wild Wave Brewing, Trevier and Whasoo, as well as a very reasonably priced contract-brewed house brand line up featuring pilsner, hefeweizen, IPA and stout; mid-priced and increasingly-familiar (for craft beer aficionados in Korea) selections from Brewdog, Goose Island and Brooklyn Brewery; and “treat yo’ self” but be sure you’ve got enough money in your bank account to do so options such as North Coast’s Old Rasputin and the 15,000 won per glass flavor bomb from Founders, the Backwoods Bastard.

 

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If you’re feeling particularly flush, there are also wines available by the bottle and limited bottled beer options that start at 8,000 won and go as high as 95,000 won. Hey, big spender.

All of these delectable beers are enjoyed in what is honestly one of the prettiest restaurants I have visited in South Korea. Noori Hong, the face of the business, said her family tried to bring a European aesthetic that has perhaps been tried here before, but to varying levels of success. I would say they succeeded.

“It is good that craft beer is developing in Korea,” she said. “It’s the reason we can build this. It’s because of them (the craft brewers in Korea and those interested in trying them). More and more Koreans are becoming aware of craft beer.”

SKÖLL has also succeeded in putting their money where their name is. In South Korea, too often it seems English words in businesses are used simply as window dressing, to present customers with a sense of international cool. Thankfully, the “gastropub” in their name is not just for show, as every food item on the menu offers drink pairing recommendations for those who want their “gastros” and their “pubs” to truly come together. Ms. Hong noted that she has personally tasted every single beer available at the restaurant.

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Stepping away from alcohol for a moment, what we ate the other night here was decent. We did not try the delectably-photographed two-day smoked ribs (32,000 won) or the brisket (29,000) in their proper form, but we did order a Cobb Salad (15,000 won) that featured chunks of the brisket, which was tasty and paired well with a (not a menu recommendation, I just wanted to drink it) Stone Brewing pale ale (12,000 won). We also ordered a 10,000 won veggie stick platter and a very tasty cheddar cream burger (13,000 won), which competed valiantly for command of our taste buds with the aforementioned Backwoods Bastard (15,000 won, which is actually cheaper than what we’ve seen at other tap houses in Korea).

 

Coming back to that burger, however, one finds what I would consider the only real hiccup in our debut SKÖLL experience. Maybe it might be a small deal for some, but it always seems petty to me when a dining establishment makes french fries an up-charge item. They shouldn’t be. You don’t need to crowd the plate with them, but at least some should be there, especially when a burger is 13,000 won (or, in the case of the chili burger, 16,000 won). Currently at SKÖLL, however, a small addition of fries is 3,000 won. Why is that? Did they crunch the numbers and decide they absolutely needed to not include them with a burger? Or, do South Koreans, obviously SKÖLL’s main customer base, not care so much about fried potatoes and the gastropub is just trying to avoid wasted food? That seems unlikely.

Perhaps it’s a small thing, but perception is important. So are value-added incentives. Come for the burger and fries, stay for several pints of beer, maybe an appetizer or two. Come for a burger without fries, pay 3,000 won for them and get a small handful of potatoes, feel a little ripped off and ultimately spend less than you would have if they had just included the fries in the first place. Perception matters.

(Side note: Currently, as of this posting, SKÖLL is open for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and has a burger (with fries!) special for 10,000 won. That is definitely some good value.)

But, the proof of value in a place is in its pours (at least, when it comes to Craft Beer Asia), and the pours available at SKÖLL are extensive and inviting.

One final gripe (and I would say this is a big bigger than even my french fry bugaboo), is what is as of this writing a somewhat inconsistent pour from the business’s current bartenders. Apparently Koreans like foam on their beers. Ms. Hong said as much and I’ve heard it elsewhere. And, fine, I get that it makes a beer look pretty. And, I don’t mind some foam. But, some does not mean 1/3 of a 12,000 won glass of Stone.

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Just a little off the top, please.

I don’t even like it in a considerably-cheaper (12,000 won for a flight, 5,500-6,000 won a full glass) SKÖLL house beer. I came for beer, not beer-flavored bubbles.

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The biggest crime in this lineup is the best SKÖLL house-beer is hands-down their IPA (the third).

But, SKÖLL is still young, very young. So is the craft beer movement in South Korea. And, I have been consistently happy to see pours throughout this country’s movement getting better and better, so I am optimistic this, too, will improve.

Overall, I remain optimistic about SKÖLL. The sheer size of the project–from the drinks selection to the structure–is massive. The Hong family has certainly undertaken an ambitious endeavor that hopefully will continue to improve and not, as many other ambitious endeavors of the past have done, drop off in quality when it becomes apparent their initial ambitions went far beyond their means. I hope this does not follow that unfortunate path and that they can cultivate a large community of loyal customers from both Korea and abroad. I certainly hope I will consider myself part of that community.

Hours: 11:30a-12p Mon-Thu; ~ 2a Fri-Sat’ ~ 10p Sun.
Tel. 051-715-7115
Email. info@skoll.co.kr

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SKOLL GASTROPUB CAN BE FOUND ON THE BUSAN DIRECTORY PAGE.

Brew Review: Abnormal Beer Co.’s ‘Crushability’

Here in South Korea, a craft beer boom in recent years has started to make some of us (me) a little spoiled for choice. Gone are the days when anything, anything that wasn’t Hite, Cass, OB, or Max was welcomed with often outsized enthusiasm. Red Rock? It’s not great but at least it’s different. San Miguel? Yes, please, that’s so much better than Red Rock. Indica IPA? Holy crap, this is so good.

But, times have changed. Indica IPA is no longer so good but simply a decent beer. San Miguel is drinkable but not far removed from Korean beer if we’re being honest. Red Rock still isn’t good.

It is with this mindset that I present Abnormal Beer Co.’s “Crushability,” a 5.0% abv hazy pale ale recently brought over from the States for the first time, joining the four other Abnormal beers already being consumed at a few places in SK, notably at the Abnormal Taphouse in Haeundae, Busan.

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My first experience with Abnormal beers came during a brief offering of their delicious Boss Pour IPA at HQ in nearby Gwangan. That served as something of a test run for the beer and, ultimately, the taphouse that carries the “Abnormal” name. And, the Boss Pour remains my favorite Abnormal Beer Co. beer. It’s bitter like IPAs often are, but approachable and drinkable like a good IPA should be. I am far from a “hop head.” I do not ask what the most bitter beer is at a bar and order it. I enjoy things other than IPAs (on the menu above, I would also recommend Abnormal’s Mostra Mocha Stout or Maloney’s Gaahhdn Laahga.. Garden Lager. Think bad Boston stereotype… without hesitation).

But, would I recommend Crushability? If it was the only Abnormal beer on the menu, or only it and the 5 p.m. Session IPA were the only ones, then yes, I would. Abnormal Beer Co. is producing some good stuff and it’s definitely a drinkable beer, one with bitterness that belies its lack of “IPA” in its name.

Unfortunately, as can be the case with some so-called “session” beers, it also lacks enough flavor for me to be interested in it beyond one glass. It drinks fine. Like Boss Pour, it does not leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Unlike Boss Pour, however, I did not find myself excited for the next sip. I found myself wishing I had ordered a Boss Pour, instead.

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Ultimately, if you’re looking for something with a low-to-moderate alcohol content that isn’t another IPA but which still carries a bit of bitterness, Crushability is certainly a decent beer to enjoy. But, amid South Korea’s crafty craft beer salad days, it does not offer enough to rise above the increasingly-crowded field of very satisfying suds.

Shenzhen Craft Beer Fest: Day One Photo Album and Tips

Day one of the third annual Shenzhen Craft Beer Fest is in the books, and day two is currently underway. If you haven’t gone yet: GO! This might literally be the best craft beer festival I’ve ever attended.

Why?

A full review will be up next week but for now there’s two main reasons:

  1. Joe from Bionic (the festival organizer)only invited real local and craft breweries. That means the beer must be brewed with Chinese water AND no breweries with ties to mega corporations are allowed. There’s a TON of great local beers here. 
  2. The beers, which you pay in cash or with WeChat, are priced lower than you’d find in a pub. I saw beers ranging between RMB 30-45 per glass. That’s a steal, especially for a glass of beer from Hong Kong’s Young Master, which cost me 96 HDK just a few days ago at TAP in Hong Kong.

A few quick tips if you go today. I had tons of great beer but barely scratched the surface. However, a few beers stood out.

Young Master’s Mott Street Milkshake was a heavenly blend of an IPA and a vanilla milkshake. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does.

And Devil’s Brew’s (from Wuhan) Hot Dry Noodle Golden Stout is a golden beer with enough tweaks to perfectly mimic a roasty, peanut butter, and chili stout. Why bother? Because it’s a take on a popular Wuhan breakfast noodle dish, and the beer even resembles the color of the sauce. It scores 10/10 on the difficulty scale and it also tastes surprisingly good.

For food, I’d recommend Magpie (at the Bionic booth). They’re serving up a foreign version of the Chinese “Hamburgers”, sometimes known as Roger Moore for those of us who don’t speak Chinese. They go for RMB 15-20 each, which is a great value!

Now enjoy some pics of Day One!

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Korea’s Kabrew Seeking Head Brewer, Apply by Nov. 17

KOREA–If you are even remotely following South Korea’s exploding craft beer scene, the name “Kabrew” will be immediately familiar. One of the largest, and oldest, craft brewers in the country, Kabrew has expanded with a second brewery and are looking for a new head brewer to head up the project. More information is below.


POSITION TITLE:

Head Brewer – Fast Growing South Korean Craft Brewery (KABREW)

JOB DESCRIPTION:

KABREW, established in 2000, is one of the first generation craft breweries in South Korea. KABREW is currently the largest craft brewery in South Korea in terms of sales volume as well as sales coverage. They have two breweries in Ga-pyeong, Gyeonggi province (one hour from Metropolitan Seoul, home to 10 million people). Annual production volume was roughly at 12,000 hL in 2016 and is targeted to be over 15,000 hL in 2017.

On the back of the fast growth of Korea’s craft beer industry, this year KABREW completed its 2nd brewery and are looking to strengthen the brewing team with an experienced head brewer, who can ensure beer quality is world-class. The right candidate will have a passion for growing the brewery, a desire to experiment, a deep understanding of all aspects of the brewing process (scheduling, ingredients, brewing, cellaring, packaging), strong communication skills, a positive attitude, and an open mind for Korean culture.

Specifically, the brewery is seeking a candidate with the ability to create and implement quality control processes, and who possesses experience with sours and barrel aging.

  • Brewing: The brewery currently brews the most extensive line up among Korean craft breweries (15+ beers), and expects the head brewer to ensure beer is comparable to world-class beers. The brewery is also eager to expand their line up with high ABV-beers, sour offerings, and barrel-aged beers.
  • Compensation: Competitive compensation with American standards and negotiable depending on career objectives and fit, with additional considerations for relocation (e.g. flight tickets for holiday, free accommodation, etc.; options are open for discussion depending on your career objectives), and performance-based bonuses. Health care is included, as well as free Korean lunch and beer.
  • Environment: KABREW is a small company with a family-like environment. Most employees are very young with a passion and love for craft beer. Financially, the company is very sound with competitive business results and strong support from its mother company (the oldest ham manufacturing company in Korea). KABREW encourages its employees to have global perspective by providing regular opportunities to visit overseas breweries (for example, some of the brewing team visited the West Coast of the U.S. and the GABF in 2015, and Denver-based breweries and Hong Kong’s Beertopia festival in 2016.). The brewery is committed to providing the right candidate with all the resources to grow together.

JOB REQUIREMENTS:

  • Education and experience: 5+ years of experience in a production brewery. Formal brewing education and experience at well-known brewery is preferred. Strong knowledge of QC procedures. 1+ years working with barrel fermentation and aging, as well as bacterial cultures. Strong desire to create challenging new beer styles.
  • Leadership: Looking for a leader that fits well within the family-like culture of current employees
  • Physical: Comfortable lifting and maneuvering malt, kegs, and oak barrels (e.g. 55+ lb repeatedly). Proper handling of hazardous materials and operation of machinery.
  • Working hours: Flexible schedule, although will require evening and weekend shifts from time to time. May require attendance at festivals and trade shows, as well as some education-related events for staff/ customers.
  • Commitment: The brewery is hoping to find someone who is interested in spending at least 1 year abroad and is comfortable with the challenges of living in a foreign country. The brewery team can assist with your transition.
  • Criminal record check, and drug screening are required by Korean Law

If you would like to apply for this position, please send your resume to Patrick Truman (patrick.truman@firstkey.com) no later than Nov. 17, 2017. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

The First Ever “Crafty Beer Fest” in Shenzhen, China – A Review

Leading up to last weekend’s Crafty Beer Fest in Shenzhen, I couldn’t help but think of Hong Kong’s Beertopia. Although the amount and range of beer, and the location, were incredible, I documented how bummed out I was at the prices there. Although after visiting Hong Kong a few more times and drinking in some pubs I realized it might be more of a Hong Kong problem than a Beertopia one.

Either way, with Shenzhen’s brand new Crafty Beer Fest I was hoping for the opposite: a smaller, simpler, and more affordable festival. I’m happy to say it delivered.

 

Here we go again

For craft beer fans in Shenzhen, it’s hard not to compare the Crafty Beer Fest to the Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival. The latter is about to have its third iteration this November and, until last weekend, was the only Shenzhen craft beer festival in existence. To further the comparison, last week’s Crafty Beer Fest was held at Sofun Land (behind Tanglang Mountain), the location of last year’s Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival. That confused some people.

I wasn’t here for the last Shenzhen Beer Fest, so I can’t compare the two. However, this festival was definitely a well-executed first time craft beer fest. It was attended almost exclusively by foreigners, which is how these things start. It had a cozy, friendly feel: almost intimate. About 400 people attended, according to the organizer. There were a few rough edges, which is to be expected for a first time event, but overall I think the first Crafty Beer Fest was an impressive success.  

 

Lay of the land

Hosted at a sort-of residential complex called Sofun Land (So Fun Land?), Crafty Beer Fest chose a smaller alley in contrast to last year’s Shenzhen Craft Beer Fest which, I was told, spread itself down a bigger road.

The entrance to the alley

Entrance to the fest

The alley was in an artsy neighborhood that peaked my interest a little, but didn’t compel me to explore further. On one side of the alley was a line of six booths: Treehouse, E.T., Fubar, Zhenker, Mash (a burger restaurant), and Firestone Walker. Some of these booths did double or triple duty. For example, Treehouse (from nearby Dongguan) had two of their own beers as well as one each from Dongguan’s Liberty and Cheers breweries. The beer was solid overall. Not as spectacular as Beertopia’s by any means in selection or quality, and I did have one beer with some off-flavors, but considering the focus was on local: the beers were pretty damn fine. 

The far end of the alley was bookended by a music stage were DJs and acoustic guitarists took turns in providing the festival’s soundtrack. Opposite the beer booths there was a seating area.

Although I thought the location was out of the way, one feature that made it cool was the rooftop area. Near the stage there was an entrance into the building where you could climb three stories and find yourself overlooking the festival. The rooftop was where all the food stalls (aside from Mash) and most of the seating was located, with a view of the mountains in the background. There were also a games booth and an e-cigarette booth.

Rooftop area

Mountain view

Sausages from The Deli

Was it a good location for a beer fest? Hard to say.

It was charming and I’m sure its distance from the downtown areas helped keep things affordable. But the venue was tucked behind Tanglang mountain in the North-central part of the city. I didn’t take the free shuttle bus, which might have made things very easy, but instead followed two more seasoned commuters who lead me through a few city bus transfers. Not a huge deal, but intimidating for someone liek myself who is still pretty new to Shenzhen.

Even after we arrived in the Sofun Land area the festival wasn’t easy to locate. Twice we entered areas with big Sofun Land signs thinking we’d made it, only to be confused and disappointed.

But if you knew how to get there easily, or simply took advantage of the free shuttle buses, the venue proved to be near perfect — enough room to walk around without it feeling empty, two distinct areas to help mix up the vibe, and plenty of seating for you and your friends.

Crafty ways of creating value

The organizer of the Crafty Beer Fest, Dane Smith-Burchnell of Crafty Marketing, really went out of his way to create as much value as possible. Providing shuttle buses to and from Shekou and Futian showed both foresight and commitment towards the customer.

The tickets themselves came in two varieties: Early Bird and Slow Bird. The Early Bird tickets offered spectacular value, but even the Slow Bird tickets were impossible to complain about. For 70 CNY ($10.57 USD) I got 2 x 200ml samples (not without controversy), 2 game tokens, 1 raffle ticket (whose existence may or may not be real), 1 free drink at Dolores Park the night before, 1 free drink at each of 3 different locations throughout the city, and admission to the festival. The Early Bird got you all this, plus an extra 3 x 200ml samples. Even without taking advantage of the four different free drinks outside the event, the shuttle bus, or the raffle ticket, I was happy with what I got.

There were definitely a few rough edges though, which I expect will be ironed out by the next event. And although the festival’s pros by far outweighed the cons, some of the cons are just too delightful for me to ignore.

 

Sofun’s Nofun Games

I never found out if there was a raffle. I bought my festival ticket online and was instructed to give my name at the festival entrance, where I got a wristband AND a ticket without the stub torn off. Maybe that was supposed to be the raffle ticket? If so, why wasn’t that explained or my stub taken? What was the prize for the raffle? Did it even happen? None of these questions were answered during the time I spent at the festival.

The games booth on the rooftop was a great idea in theory. I used both of my free game coupons, but it was never clear if anyone could pay for more games. I would, however, guarantee that no one asked. Truth be told, the games are more in need of an upgrade than anything else at the next festival. 

I feel like these games belong at a carnival either in a sad ghetto or a horror movie. It’s dark, dingy, and only missing a really creepy pedo carny to complete the picture.

There were three games to chose from: throw a ring around a pop can, throw a ping pong ball in a plastic cup, or magnetically fish a plastic duck from a kiddie pool. I played the first two and failed both. Under most circumstances I’d spend some money to try a few more times. I love games, especially when I’m having some beer. But the games area just looked awful. Pop cans and plastic cups on two long tables adorned by nothing. It looked more like a tables for people to leave their trash on, as did the wall directly behind the tables. There was clearly no thought or care put into setting it up and, for that, I feel bad for the organizer. When so much thought is put into the rest of the festival, I can guarantee the games booth was left up to someone else: someone who is either unreliable or had literally never been to a carnival before.

Another example of the lack of foresight: the booth’s banner hung too low, preventing players from comfortably throwing their ping pong balls in a basketball-style overhand release. And these games were played on a windy rooftop, in semi-dark, with no attempt to compensate for either. The only prizes I saw were these ridiculously funny (and cute) fox hand puppets. Next time I’d love to see better games, more care put into the presentation, a way to buy game tickets (or an incentive to), and more beer-focused prizes: glasses, merch, drink coupons, food coupons, or really anything at all valuable.

I wanna throw my drunken ping pong balls Beer Pong style, but that damn banner… plus, where was the bean bag throw?

Two lucky game winners sporting their fox puppets

Interpretive beer samples

Providing free 200ml samples is awesome. That’s basically a small beer. And getting five of them with an Early Bird ticket? That’s incredible. Unfortunately, the 200ml sample concept was not clearly communicated to the vendors.

At Treehouse, I was poured about a half-full plastic cup of beer for my coupon. That seemed about fair, if maybe a little short assuming the cup is about 350ml. 

At Fubar, they poured me about one-quarter of a cup; so I pointed out that Treehouse gave me more. Shockingly, they asked me how much beer were they suppose to serve for a coupon. I thought that odd, considering the marketing behind the early bird tickets (5 x 200ml) especailly emphasized that this added up to one full liter of beer for free! I informed Fubar of the 200ml volume, and they generously gave me about two-thirds of a cup.

On the other extreme, Zhenker gave me a paper shot glass of beer. My friend helped pour beer for Zhenker and he told them not to accept my coupon — so maybe that’s why I received such a small sample. But they had several sleeves of paper shot glasses, so I don’t know. If they were freely giving away paper shots to everyone, then they really should have explained that. That would have been a huge selling point! Needless to say, I didn’t risk spending a real coupon to find out.  

Pretty loose interpretation of 200ml.

But perhaps my favorite aspect of the festival was that you could pay the booths directly for beer. The free 200ml samples were paid for with tokens you picked up at the front of the festival with your wristband. But the rest of time you bought full-sized beers directly from the booths with cash or smartphone. Most beers ranged from 30 to 50 CNY, which is about your standard Shenzhen pub price — or even a little lower. Not too shabby for a fest that had a very affordable admission price to begin with.

Conclusion

The Crafty Beer Fest was a success by any measurement, offering lots of value for craft beer geeks and Shenzhen expats looking for a more Western social experience. For a first-time festival, it was especially impressive. The organizing company, Crafty Marketing, certainly took great pains to provide value. Assuming that the next version of the Crafty Beer Fest will improve upon this one, it’s safe to say that this festival has earned itself a spot on my Asian craft beer calendar and I look forward to the next one.