The “Craft” in Craft Beer

Everyone, at some point in their alcoholic lives, would have wondered:

Why is craft beer called craft beer?

Surely, it shouldn’t have anything to do with facts and figures about how many billion litres it ships out a year, contrary to what the Brewers Association might think. Craft beer has always been complex blend of quality, taste and people. Consumers want a high quality, well made beverage. It should excite the senses, or, become a well balanced familiar go-to beer. Finally, the people behind the beverage matter – their inspirations and personalities.

In this post, I meet up with Ivan Yeo, Operations Director of The 1925 Microbrewery and Restaurant, for his take on craft beer in Singapore.

The 1925 is a rather unique operation – in the sense that their house beers are produced from extract. Extract brewing is a process which employs pre-processed ingredients – i.e. powders, syrups and concentrates derived from malt and hops to produce beer. Many have blacklisted extract brewing as an absolute beginner method of homebrewing, tainted with all sorts of imaginable off-flavors. However, after tasting their beers and hearing firsthand about their perspectives, I strongly believe otherwise.

Ivan(left) and Brewmaster Joey(right)

Ivan(left) and Brewmaster Joey(right)

Craft Beer Asia:

Why extract brewing instead of all-grain – did you decide after trial and experimentation?

Ivan:

My uncle, Joey, also the Brewmaster at The 1925,  started as a home brewer for almost eight years now when he first picked up home brewing using extracts from a Australian colleague. Since then he has experimented with all grain, all extract and partial grain / extract brewing methods and we had the luck to taste the produce at our home parties we hold so often every month.

It was only about three years back that I’ve gotten to learn more about craft beers and honestly, as the end consumer, I could never really tell which beers were brewed with all grain or extract. And that was important because we knew outright from the start, we needed to convince the mass market to consume our products when we started to conceptualise the idea of setting up a microbrewery and restaurant.

We debated about using an all grains vs extract system and we came down to one final roadblock – money. We had neither enough capital or manpower to operate an all grains system. Real estate is expensive and we were not intending to use up almost 20% of our space dedicated to producing beers we cannot distribute due to licensing restrictions. And it would be easier also to familiarise with a system that was similar to Uncle Joey’s home brewing system and processes, to ensure that we get the same standard of brew we usually enjoy at the home parties.

Furthermore, it was costly and also hard to find manpower that is dedicated to the quality of the craft we intend to brew, so the system we finally decided on allowed us to brew with just one person and with minimum space requirement.

But the most important bit is that, we are not contented with just partial extract brewing, it is part of the plan all along to work towards building a hybrid plant that allows both extract and all grains brewing processes and then distribute to the rest of SEA.

Craft Beer Asia:

Being one of the newer operations in local brewing – what’s your take on the culture/community of it?

Ivan:

We were expecting more from the local craft community, beckoning us forward with
open arms, however, that is contrary to the truth.

Barely two weeks from opening, we had people who arrived at our door step, wishing death to our business rather publicly.

We also had people who dissed us upon learning that we use an extract based system without tasting our beers. We have had people who passed judgement on a beer that was not even brewed by us and assumed that it would be our way going forward. And sadly, these people are people from the community we wished were much more accommodating, and would have worked together with to improve our own craft, and hopefully onto a greater road of evangelism for the those who are not yet on the craft movement.

In contrast, we had great rapport with foreign breweries, working with some brewmasters in the US, or with visiting brewmasters, who have helped us troubleshoot our brewing methods and improve our processes.

We have not yet given up on the craft community, and we do have plans to engage them, but our priorities are more for those who have yet jumped on to the craft movement, hence other than our own beers, we usually have guest taps that are relatively session-able and then progressively, move them along other stronger beer styles.

Craft Beer Asia:

With craft beer becoming all the rage here – how do you feel the 1925 fits into the picture?

Ivan:

Yes, craft beer is becoming all the rage, but extremely “shallow” rage, and extract beer has never borne a bad reputation. But the tendency to compare both methods are so rampant even online and throughout so many craft communities. True enough, each method have their exceptional advantages and disadvantages, but at the end of the day, it is the end product that matters and the target market that the beer is built for.

Using an extract beer system also focuses your attention to one of the most important but commonly overlooked processes, fermentation, and in our current phase of our business, it is important to get our basics right before we jump into an all grain system

In countries like Singapore, we do hope more people can take up extract brewing systems simply because of the cost of real estate, and if more people do so, it may also help with building a constructive “rage” for craft.

We do indeed now have more people who come in and ask for an IPA and then their faces contort from the bitterness of the hops, and then you realise that they don’t even know what IPAs are or what the acronyms stand for. The movement is very similar to what we are observing in the wine industry, people now want wines at their every event, but when asked what type of wines, it always draws a blank.

Craft Beer Asia:

Has running 1925 changed your perspective on beer?

Ivan:

No, it has not. Right out from the start, we decided that beers will be beers. We have visited so many craft beer places both locally and overseas, and had conversations with local suppliers and observed the trends overseas. There are slight differences but it is pretty much the same at the core. Most people just want beer, and if they can get a great tasting beer that they can drink for the whole day, that’s even better. And that is where craft beer steps in, we are the alternative to usual offerings we see conveniently on shelves every where.

Not everyone wants to talk about craft when they step into a craft beer bar, they just want a beer that is potentially better tasting than the ones that are readily available. 

We also don’t believe that craft beers are any more superior over commercial beers, you just don’t compare them that way, because they are created different for very different purposes. I still enjoy a good pint of Asahi or Heineken or a Tiger anywhere if craft beer is not available, but I am definitely not shy to be seen drinking a pint of commercial beer.

Craft Beer Asia:

What defines craft beer for you?

Ivan:

We define the beer as “craft” not by the beer itself, but rather, by the motivations behind making the beer.

The need to experiment and deliver the expressions of the brewer, to culminate the whims and fancy of the art with a logical dependence on science into a product that echoes all the wants of the brewer(s), with the desire to expand on the craft beer movement and to promote the merits of it – that differentiates if the beer is “craft”.It is silly to define a brewery as craft simply because of volume and people tend to get confuse with that a lot.

Production volumes defines the type of brewery, meaning, either large scale (commercial) brewery, microbrewery or nano brewery. And definition by volumes is only a necessity to absolutely define the facility for the purpose of the law.A microbrewery can produce both “craft” and “commercial” beers simultaneously. Profitability remains a very real concern, especially for breweries since overheads can get unreal hence why more and more breweries are agreeing to being bought over by commercial breweries in the US.

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About skinnybrewer

Found his calling as a professional brewer - life dosen't seem complete without shoveling malt, scrubbing tanks and smelling wort. Loves writing and talking beer when not making it. From Singapore.
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