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