Craft Beer Asia stops over on the soft launch for TAP Craft Beer Bar – and talks to Beer Chief Roland Utama about the beery times past and yet to come! Roland’s been a prominent figure in local circles, from getting beers out to the masses through Thirsty, The Drinkery and now TAP.
Share with us the story of how you got hooked on craft beer!
Truth be told – I didn’t like beer at the start. I was more of a wine and spirits person (I still am!) because of the way mass market beer tasted – it has this smell and taste to it which has always put me off, and it’s gassy – such that you feel bloated way before you get buzzed.
There came a time when I found myself in Belgium – and I noticed beer shops which had such a huge lineup of bottled beer. I decided to give one of them a shot – and that was it. I was taken by the complexity in flavour that I never tasted before and that stuck with me – beer could this way! To me, everyone has a ‘gateway’ beer – one that changes their impression of how delicious a beer can be – and that one did it for me. I can’t recall which beer it was now… (that beer was actually Orval).
What do you know – it was the Rochefort 10 that pulled me into beer too!
From that point on I would give beer a try wherever I went, sampling local offerings and expanding my horizons. After spending some time in the states and getting a taste of the latest in craft brewing – I was hooked.
Tell me about TAP – concept, ideology and anything else.
Our focus at TAP is to provide a great variety on draft, to push consumers to try new beers and explore their tastes. Not so long ago – there really wasn’t much choice for beer – you would walk into a restaurant and perhaps order their house pour – but there would never be anything other than commercial options. Now we see that changing. And we want it to change! I see more craft beer options opening up as a plus. My feel is that the market can support it as the local palate evolves to appreciate craft beers.
In Singapore, being seen and accessible is a big boost to business and this definitely includes craft beer. My approach is to be visibly seen in order to offer people a choice, and this will get more drinkers to catch on. This location was key – people may not necessarily come here looking for craft beer – but if we can get them to sample craft beers, they will return because of craft beer. Once they find their ‘gateway’ beer, they’ll be telling us what else they want to try!
Where do you see craft beer headed in Singapore?
Singapore is in a great spot for craft beer. High disposable income, an influx of visitors and a growing appreciation of things ‘handcrafted’ will pave the way for craft beer to become mainstream in time. Beer here has taken quite some time to get on wine’s popular track, but it’s a matter of time now. People are willing to pay more for quality, and expect more out of their products – and this can be seen in the rise of specialty offerings such as supermarkets and smaller grocers. I don’t believe that anyone who has gone craft, will ever return to mass market beers.
Thanks for your time, Roland! We’re looking forward to your official opening!
Thanks for coming by! Stay tuned for more new beers from new breweries at TAP.
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.
Craft beer Asia has descended upon Manila, to check out some local developments, meet those driving the beer scene, and most importantly to drink local!
We head to The Perfect Pint in the evening. It has a nice lineup of local beers on tap – about 12 taps total – some bottles as well, and a selection of American styled dishes on the menu.
I have 3 hops and a hop by Katipunan ales – lively, bright grapefruit and floral notes with a touch of malt sweetness.
After my burger, I move on to get the dumaguette dubbel by the Cebruery. I like my Belgians, and this one was on the spot. Notes of caramel, honey, dates and peppery spice, with a smoothness that deceives – it is 8% alcohol!
We get up early for coffee, and work on our future plans till lunch. We head to Mr Delicious, a smoked-meat joint in a food court(hole in the wall) that boasts a bottle and draft selection.
I get started on People Power Pale ale by the Cebruery again – this one was pretty assertive coming up with a softer, melon-mango hop profile. A prominent bitterness and quick finish rounds out the beer. I think pale ales are quick becoming the mainstay of Philippine craft beer – they work well in a hot climate and locals have been pretty accepting of bitterness.
I move on to summer passion by craftpoint brewing. It is a spiced beer – but well balanced for the weather – I couldn’t really pick up the ingredients yet they worked together to create a great profile.
Apricots, honey, ginger heat and a buzzing carbonation made it really easy to put away, and didn’t leave me satiated.
We had a round of beer bites from Mr Delicious, including the pulled pork burger with handmade chips.
The afternoon, we return to the Perfect Pint where I try 2 of their house brews – not produced on site but contracted. Born to Fly, a pale ale and another IPA, not on the menu, were similarly tasty and pleasant as hoppy beers go. They were much rounder and a little sweeter than others, as my beer infused mind recalls.
We move on to the Global Beer Exchange in the evening where I spot something that I’ve been itching to try – the chocolate hills porter – by the Cebruery.
Toasty, with a touch of coffee and cocoa powder – this is a robust porter with a big but not cloying mouthfeel. Finishes surprisingly hoppy.
That was about all the local beer I put away; I had a few sips of others here and there but not enough to comment on fairly.
All in all it was an awesome time in Manila and I can’t wait to see how the scene heats up in the near future.
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.
Full title: Beer guide to Vietnam and neighbouring countries Author: Jonathan Gharbi of BeerVN language: English
This is the first book about the amazing beer culture in Vietnam. The result of more than two years of travelling and beer drinking in Vietnam. The book describes every microbrewery and brew pub in Vietnam and a few other beer establishments. There is also a interview with a brewer, history behind the beer and important facts you should know if you are having a business meeting in Vietnam. Short summaries about each place are combined with pictures and interesting facts. It contains details and pictures of 51 establishments all over Vietnam. It has also short descriptions of beer culture and breweries in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Philippines and Japan.
Where to buy it? You can buy the book online at amazon.com or at Vulkanmedia.se , you also buy it as PDF for Kindle on amazon. It will be available in the middle of May at Bookworm in Hanoi and Zeds Threads on 51a To Ngoc Van street in Hanoi. You can see a example from page 69 in the book below and a few more pictures.
Is it easy for a foreigner to find these places? It is often very difficult just to find the breweries and they do not market themselves towards tourists. This is the first book that have listed every brewery in Vietnam. A few other guide books mentions a few of them, for example Lonely planet has listed five breweries. Most breweries just gathers the local crowd but after reading the book you will know how to drink the local way and understand the shouting and cheering that goes on from lunch time to late night.
Media Paran co-founder Kang Da-mi pours me a glass of Clown Shoes Undead Imperial Stout and welcomes me to take a seat in their small office a few steps outside of Itaewon. Sipping craft beer isn’t unusual at the office of this young, small company. Media Paran has been busy lately, with three consecutive months of beer festivals this spring. The other co-founder, Kyung-hee, turns on some music as I take a seat.
The first event I covered for CraftBeerAsia.com was a beer festival at Food Week in COEX back in 2013. I didn’t know it at the time, but that festival was hosted by Media Paran. It was their first one. I asked Da-mi how they grew from a small PR and advertising company to become the most successful organizer of craft beer events in South Korea.
“One of our biggest clients was COEX. COEX is hosting Food Week Exhibition every year. They wanted to promote Food Week to foreigners in Korea and they asked us to promote some event to really drag [ex-pats] to the exhibition. Kyung-hee and I used to work for 10 Magazine and also used to hang out in Itaewon a lot. We are kind of Itaewon expert[s]. So we knew craft beer [was] going to be really big. We asked COEX if we could host a beer fest under Food Week. We got that idea from Kyungridan Beer Festival with homebrewers, hosted by Bill Miller.”
Although it was only a year and a half ago, suggesting a craft beer event at a major commercial mall like COEX was even more radical than it is now. It had simply not been done before. Plus, COEX wanted ex-pats—but not necessarily drunk ones. Predictably, Media Paran’s suggestion was met with skepticism.
“When we first suggested the idea to COEX, they really didn’t like it because they were worried about drunk people. So we talked to Bill and others who had hosted events before and they said we don’t need to worry about it because they are… special drunk (laughs)… they are professional drink[ers].”
Da-mi and Kyung-hee pointed out the success and civility of the previous homebrew festivals. They acknowledge that they owe a lot to the established local craft beer experts: “Bill, and Dan Vroon from Craftworks, [were] like our mentors. We just loved the beer but we didn’t know what to prepare to pour the beer. Giovanni [from Seoul Brew Club], too.”
That first event at COEX was a big hit. COEX has since invited them back for another Food Week event, and Media Paran’s Great Korean Beer Festival will be a highlight of COEX’s first ever C-Festival from April 30th – May 3rd.
Although their first beer fest was a major success, the young company was not content to simply repeat their formula. The girls asked everybody for feedback on that event, and one thing kept coming up again and again: the early last call at 4pm. Consequently, they decided to host their own event called the Great Korean Beer Festival. The company once again turned to the established experts in the field for guidance.
“Kyung-hee and I decided to do it separately, but we hadn’t, like, hosted a festival before by ourselves. So we were a little worried about it. But we had our supporters like Bill, Dan, and others.”
Media Paran hosted two very successful, independent festivals at the War Memorial in 2014 (July 2014 and Halloween 2014). They will host their third independent event there again from May 30th-31st.
With such quick success and rapid expansion comes added pressure.
“I think we [were] just having fun last year. We didn’t worry too much because we didn’t know about [hosting] festivals very well (laughs) so we were just like, ‘Let’s just do it. We can do it,’ you know? Because we didn’t know how hard it is. Now we know (laughs). It’s a lot of work. So now we are more, like, worried… more stressed.”
All the hard work was worth it. Although they were far too busy to enjoy the events at the time, Da-mi admitted that she almost cried when she saw a promotional video of the GKBF last Halloween: “When we saw the video from the festival we were like ‘wow, people really enjoy the festival.’”
As Media Paran have continued to improve their festival, customers have been getting better value, more beer, more food, and more space to congregate. I asked Da-mi if there was anything that Media Paran wanted to do at one of these festivals which they haven’t yet been able to do.
“First of all, more beers (laughs). We want to, like, exchange booths with other big beer festivals outside of Korea like Japan or Hong Kong’s Beertopia. So we can have [a] beer booth in Beertopia and they can have booths in our festival. We think people can launch their beer at our festival in the future.”
They also want to arrange for beer tasting contests involving both established brands and homebrews. Media Paran have reached out to judges at the Great American Beer Festival and will go overseas to observe the next one. They also intend on expanding to six regular events every year, including an event in Busan.
Their festivals will continue to showcase craft beer with a determination that is admirable. June’s festival at Everland will have a GKBF as well, thanks to that determination. The organizers at Everland envisioned a booth serving Hite to thirsty and tired parents. But Media Paran stuck to their guns. They showed the same promotional video that had Da-mi tearing up with pride, and Everland agreed to give craft beer a try.
Craft beer’s growth in Korea has many people to thank, but perhaps not enough people realize the role Media Paran has played since late 2013. If they didn’t convince COEX to let them do a craft beer festival—if their GKBF was never born—fewer people would have been exposed to craft beer. In promoting their events, Media Paran works hard to educate the Korean market about good beer. They’ve refused to serve Hite, Cass, and other popular adjunct lagers. They’ve even refused to allow rebranded craft beers.
As they continue, Media Paran will help craft beer penetrate into the Korean market; this will be needed if craft beer is to truly thrive in Korea.
Check out the listings for the three upcoming GKBF events and make sure to visit our events page for more information.
The folks at Maloney Brewing Company have teamed up once again with The Hand & Malt brewery for another fantastic beer. This time Bill Miller is unfettered and unbound: creating the true lip-smacking, face-peeling, hoppy IPA he always intended.
Weighing in at 7.5% abv and about 80IBUS, this IPA proves to be one of the hoppiest made in South Korea. The launch at Nairobi saw lots of SBC members gather for a wild night (though, perhaps not as wild as the Southie launch last year!)
We are in the process of making some big steps forward here at Craft Beer Asia. Tell us what you’d like to see on our site! EMAIL US HERE
New team members are in place and we are developing content. We are also drinking a lot of craft beer. So if you are in Tokyo or Bangkok, Mumbai or Manila and everywhere in between (Yes, even Vladisvostok, Russia!), stay tuned for some great resources here at Craft Beer Asia!
Pasteur street brewing company is the newest brewery in Vietnam and the first to produce a wide range of handcrafted beer locatedin the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
The team behind Pasteur street brewing company is Alex Violette and Bethany Lovato from Colorado along with John Reid; an American who has been living in Vietnam for a few years. There are many who have tried to open a brewpub like this one in Vietnam but this is the first one to succeed. It’s really difficult for foreigners to run small scale businesses in Vietnam and requires a lot of patience and a strong dedication.
Alex and Bethany were working at Upslope Brewing Company in the United States which offers a wide selection of beer on tap. A few beer styles that Upslope makes are: Pale ale, craft lager, pumpkin ale, christmas ale, thai style white ale, india pale ale, brown ale, belgian style pale ale, foreign style stout, imperial pale ale and brown ale.
Currently, their tasting room is the only location to try their beers which is open Friday-Sunday from 11am-10pm. The menu will change frequently and they will also debut a small food menu to pair with their beers soon. The ingredients used are a combination of local specialties and international malts and hops. As of today all breweries in Vietnam import malt and hops, only the rice is produced locally. Most pale lagers in Vietnam has a mix of rice and malt; Pasteur Street produces their beers exclusively with malted barley in order to get full bodied flavors.
Beer history is made in Vietnam
There are about 45 local microbreweries in Vietnam making Czech and German style lagers but the trend with Ale and IPA (India Pale Ale) has been waiting until 2014 to make its entry into the beer history in Vietnam. The first brewery that had an Ale on tap in Vietnam was Luoisiane Brewhouse in Nha Trang and the second was Platinum ale that came out with the first mass (delivering to more than 10 places) produced ale in Vietnam 2014. Platinum ale can be found at many beer clubs in Ho Chi Minh City. Pasteur brewing Company is the first one that serves several different beer styles on tap with a more experimental approach. Pasteur Street brewing is added to the Vietnamese beer map below and expect to hear more from them later on.
Craft Beer Asia is here in Mumbai, India and sampling some local craft beers at a few establishments. Although the selection is limited, the quality is fantastic so far. Check back next week for our full recap on Mumbai’s craft beer scene.
Below is the brewer, Varsha, at The Barking Deer in Mumbai. Taken last night. The Barking Deer is the city’s first microbrewery. Will be back for the launch of “Going Bananas Hefeweizen” on Friday the 23rd.