We make a date with Lincoln Goh and Corrine Chia, co-owners of the bar that’s been drawing beer geeks – DRUGGISTS!
How did you guys get started out in distributing – and how did craft beer invade your lives?
Well, all of us(The Drinking Partners) lived overseas for a time and when we returned to Singapore – we couldn’t get any of the beers we wanted to drink. So we started off importing beers for our own consumption, really. From there it stayed within our circle of friends, whom we would try to introduce new flavors to. Beyond friends, price and a lack of awareness really put most would-be tasters off.
How did we discover beer that we now know and love? We used to live in Manchester, UK. There would be long holidays round the year, stretching for up to 3 weeks. We would travel up and down the country, and also across continental Europe by air or driving. From then, we were exposed to the real ale culture of the UK, the sours and monasteries of Belgium up to the beer gardens of Germany. We experienced a range of cultures where beer is an everyday affair, one enjoyed with food. And we wanted to bring it home to Singapore.
What we do was never a novel business idea to begin with – it was really just our love for the beers that brought us into distributing – and we’ve been at it for 9 years now.
Druggists has been your recent project after The Great Beer Experiment’s two locations – how did it all come together?
This one was really a labor of love – we had the idea of a multi-tap bar for a long time now, and we were in no hurry to get one running. We’ve been to beer festivals and conferences, and the idea was definitely not new. This concept has been percolating in our heads for years but one which would materialise only if we found the right site – the look & feel, the history. We must have viewed around twenty to thirty locations in our search, but when we saw this – we knew we HAD to have it.
Walking past this row of shophouses, you would definitely stop in front of Druggists and do a double take. “Wow, such architecture still exists”? When we first peeked through the doors as you see them – we saw a dimly lit room, really dark with an altar where the counter is. There were old black and white photos of association members lining the walls. You could tell this home and shop (it used to be a home more than 60 years back) had lived through many events, and anyone with the tiniest bit of curiosity would feel an urge to step in.
Pitching the idea of a craft beer bar to share the premises with the clan association members was definitely memorable as well. Thankfully we didn’t have to educate them on what we were selling – rather we had to assure them that we would maintain the integrity and serenity of the place and not attract an unsavoury clientele(the image of beer drinkers to the older generations).
We spent about 3 months designing and putting the place together – even our son helped with the washroom basin, the marble tables and cast iron legs, and of course, the never-ending cleaning. It helped that our industry friends gave us a hand in areas we were less familiar with- such as the kitchen. Having said that, Druggists is not a finished project yet- we still like to think it’s a project in progress. It’s made a lot of progress, with a lot more to come.
What’s your take on local craft beer culture – and how do you see it growing?
Craft beer is still in its infancy here. And the word craft is quite a misnomer and coined by Americans. Before the word ‘craft’ took off, the Europeans already had it down as ‘specialty’ beer. The term ‘craft’ is still very vague and revised according to what the Brewer’s Association deems is acceptable.
I think consumer education is really important for people to understand and love what they drink. It’s important to get new drinkers on board, which will then grow up and older with craft beer as part of their culture. However when you cannot find enough staffs, how are you going to train them to spread the craft beer love?
We’ve got a long way to go. Beer right now, is an indulgence and not part of daily life. Elsewhere, people would have a beer with breakfast, lunch and dinner – and there would be no raised eyebrows. Over here, beer is something we seek out – a lifestyle indulgence. It will take time for mindsets to change, for beer to be appreciated as one would do food, and not limited to weekends or ‘having a good time’.
Do you think consistency in quality for craft beers are important – ensuring the customer gets the same experience each time?
One characteristic of craft beer is that it is largely unpasteurized and unfiltered. Flavor changes as it ages, and undergoes temperature fluctuations, is almost unavoidable. I once sat down with a brewer who flew in, and we talked about his beer while tasting it. I asked: “Is the flavor what it should be, as you intended?” His response was, “You know, trying to ensure flavor stability from batch to batch is akin to fighting nature. We have a live product here and I think it is more important that we drink it, and appreciate the variations and understand them.”
With that, I think better education for consumers is key – that people understand what they’re drinking and why it tastes a certain way. As long as we do due diligence with our supply chain and ensuring it’s cold – the beer should not be undrinkably off.
Druggists has come up with quite a range of food to serve with beer – what’s your favourite local food-and-beer match?
For a long time now, we’ve been matching local beers and food. We take a drinks cooler out to the hawker centre and draw eyes as we sip our beers. We’ve also done quite a few beer dinners for the public now, born as a result of our continuous experimentation.
Here are 3 pairings which we have discovered on our own to much delight:
Chinese Rojak and Op and Top, Ikan bakar with Golden Tripels and finally…
Heong Piah and Pannepot!
A little information – Heong Piah is a flaky flour biscuit with a sweet molasses filling. This was really unexpected and we really love how the flavors complement each other. Remember to microwave your biscuit for a quick 30 seconds to warm before serving!
Check out Druggists on Facebook for their latest beers and updates. Do check what’s on tap before going(favourites run out pretty fast on busy nights!). Whether you fancy an IPA, a stout, or a pale ale – there’s sure to be a few choices on tap to satisfy you.