Feature: LeVeL33 Craft Brewery and Brewmaster Gabriel Garcia
We sit down with Gabriel Garcia – an Argentinean native and German trained Brewmaster.
How did you get started in brewing – from pursuing it as a career all the way to brewing in Singapore?
It all started in 2006 – I was on a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic with friends, and we ended up at a pub-brewery for pizza one afternoon. It so happened that they were brewing that day, and I was really taken in by the smells of wort and the brewing processes. So I told myself – this is what I want to do.
In that same year, I applied to the Technical University of Munich and was accepted. I graduated with the title “Diplombraumeister” or Brewmaster. I then began my education with a year-long internship at the Allgäuer Brauhaus. It was in this time where I was given the opportunity to experience working in all sections of the brewery. I spent time in the laboratory, filling line, filtration, cellar and most importantly, the brewhouse (Sudhaus in German).
Most of my classmates had only filling line experience for their internship – I consider myself extremely lucky! My brewmaster was really nice in this aspect – he gave me great hands-on exposure to brewing in all departments.
In 2009, I visited Singapore as my brother was residing here. He suggested to me then, “Why not Singapore?” I was bemused – Singapore had only 5 microbreweries serving the entire population – the market was really too small for beer. Little did I know.
After graduation in 2010, I spent the next 2 years brewing for Fabbrica Birra Busalla in Savignone, Italy. My brother visited me in 2012, where he again suggested that I join him in Singapore. This time however, had me looking up opportunities out of curiosity and I chanced upon the opening for a Brewmaster position at LeVeL33. At the same time, a friend of mine who was working for SALM (brewing equipment manufacturer) also mentioned that he knew of the opportunity. My then fiancée (now my wife) was also supportive of the possible relocation; I sent in my application.
Weeks later – I received a confirmation. I came to Singapore to brew craft beer at LeVeL33.
What is the concept behind LeVeL33 and its beers?
The beers we craft are traditional and balanced. My interpretation of a beer style follows closely to the roots of it and how it was originally produced. Let’s take our 33.15 India Pale Ale as an example – we use specifically English hops and yeast. I wanted to re-create how it was brewed in England and shipped to India.
Our beers are designed to be approachable and enjoyable – we do not look to create extremely or overly flavorful beers to compete with what other breweries do. Our guests come to LeVeL33 for the full penthouse dining experience with excellent ambience, food and craft beer, and not only for the uniqueness of the craft beers.
However, we are always open to brewing different beer styles and are definitely not limited by any traditional beliefs. The brewing traditions are more as inspirations.
What are the more exotic or unique beers you have brewed with this system and your experiences with them? Do you have any favourites?
Well – I like all my beers equally – like children! I don’t really have a particular favourite.
We brewed chestnut and pumpkin seasonals and as brewers, we will understand – lautering or running off the wort was a nightmare. The pumpkin formed a sticky layer, and the chestnuts were roasted and ground to extract flavor – so we spent up to 4 hours longer at work to produce one batch of beer. But it was all worth it. An oaked bock – matured on French oak was also well-received.
We also brewed for the WGS (World Gourmet Summit) in 2014 and the theme was classics – where we produced old ale to complement a 5-course meal inspired by Shakespearean quotes. In Shakespearean times, malted barley was not traditionally light and golden, but usually dark, smoky and inconsistent due to kilning technology then. We designed the recipe using the information from a research on “Brewing in the Elizabethan Era”.
With the increasing popularity of craft beer imports from the States, Japan and Europe – how do you think that has impacted the local scene?
From a business perspective, this does not affect us as we produce enough beer with our system to sell on-site, and nothing more than that. But if we were a production facility and were losing accounts to other brands with taps and shelves on the street, that would be a different story. Today, the craft beer segment is expanding and it is normal to see more craft beers arriving from overseas.
My opinion is that more choices are much better for the consumer – where they can find out what their preferences are with a larger range of choices and flavors. As mentioned earlier – we strive to produce balanced and stylistically traditional craft beers here. Therefore, if you wanted something with 100 IBUs, we would not be able to offer that. I have observed that it may be the expat crowd that seeks out the more extreme and experimental beers, and it is taking some time to catch on for the locals. However, most of the people still prefer the classic and easy to drink beer styles. Just like how you cannot just serve a Lambic to an average beer drinker and expect him to like it. I feel that it is a conceptual mistake to expect every single consumer to be an experienced beer enthusiast or a home brewer.
Last question! It’s been a long interview and you must be thirsty – does the ‘ideal’ beer exist, and what would it taste like? What is your favourite commercial beer?
I don’t believe in the ideal beer – but I believe that there is one that will suit a person’s mood at any one time. I always look for balance in a beer – I feel that it is really important for the beer to be enjoyed. Those that are extremely bitter, too fruity, or high in alcohol are not my really to my liking though.
Let me see… one of my favourite commercial beer is the Aventinus from Schneider Weisse!
But that’s a doppelbock and not really balanced – and about 8% alcohol?
Well… that’s my exception to my rule! That is a beer that I always enjoy from time to time.
Readers, if you plan to send a case of beer to Gabriel, it’d better be Aventinus.
Thank you for your time and hospitality, Gabriel. It has been a lovely afternoon learning about the craft and interpretation behind the beers, sampling them and visiting the microbrewery.
If you’re only going to try a pint or half of the beers, then I strongly suggest the seasonal Golden Ale(33.16) and the Wheat(33.9).
The Golden Ale brims with overtones of mango, peaches, passionfruit and citrus – finishes briskly – and you naturally reach out for the next sip.
The Wheat, in the style of a German Hefeweizen, strikes a refreshing balance between the familiar banana aromas topped off with cloves. A pleasant toasted cereal flavor rounds out the mid-palate, and finishes with a smooth mouthfeel.