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Be hip to the hops

A selection of craft beers from Red Dot BrewHouse (above from left in pairs)lime wheat, summer ale, English ale and stout. (PHOTO: MARK CHEONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES)

Publication Date : 19-10-2012


Singapore. Beer. Most people then think Tiger. But there is a lot more brewing on Singapore's beer scene than the famous Tiger tale. Things are not just hopping, but getting fruity.

Craft breweries are on the rise in Singapore, where boutique beer outfits make their own special concoctions for a discerning but appreciative bunch of drinkers.

And some, like the newest on the scene, Jungle Beer, which opened in July last year, are even coming up with flavours such as tropical wheat mango and orange beer.

Jungle Beer produces eight beers, and has already won multiple awards at Beerfest Asia in June this year. That mango and orange beer, for example, won the gold medal in the Asia fruit beer category.

Singapore, in fact, has more than 10 microbreweries and brewpubs, up from four just five years ago. Microbreweries are small breweries which produce less than 25 million litres of beer a year, while brewpubs are where most of the beer made at the brewery is consumed at a bar on its premises.

And showing that drinkers in Singapore are willing to say cheers to beer beyond the familiar mass-produced brands such as the iconic Tiger, Heineken, Anchor and the like - over 200 varieties of imported speciality beers are available here.

To cater to Singapore's increasing demand for craft brews, brewpubs such as Red Dot Brewhouse and Level33, craft beer bars such as Jibiru and Old Empire Gastrobar, and speciality stores such as 99 Bottles and Brewer's Craft, have sprung up (see side story).

It is no surprise, then, that Southeast Asia's first ever craft beer week will be held here from Monday to Sunday.

More than 100 outlets across Singapore will participate in Singapore Craft Beer Week's events, which include beer tastings, food pairings, brewery tours and promotional prices on craft beers.

Local brew masters will talk about the histories and flavours of beer, how it is brewed and what makes a good brew.

Visitors will learn the key differences between mass-produced and craft beer, such as that the latter is made in small quantities and with high-quality ingredients.

While mass market tipples tend to use unmalted maize, rice, and artificial flavourings and additives to lower costs, craft beers use high grade malt, wheat and barley.

Event organiser Charles Guerrier, director of beer consultancy Evolve Beverage, says: "It provides a stage for brewers and distributors to educate the public on the variety of beers on the market, how they are made and how to appreciate them."

Beer-lovers may be more familiar with Singapore's annual Beerfest Asia, which started four years ago. But Pauline Wee, marketing manager of Timbre Group which organises Beerfest Asia, says the two events serve the same purpose: to raise the profile of beer here.

"This level of interest and appreciation can only be a good thing for the beer industry as it makes consumers more educated about what they're drinking and also provides a wider range of business opportunities," she says.

Local interest in craft brews is increasing, say industry players, despite the fact they are about 20 to 30 per cent more expensive than mass produced brews.

Jungle Beer has experienced a sales increase of about 40 per cent every quarter since it opened last year.

Jibiru Craft Beer and Yakitori Bar, which opened at 313@Somerset in March last year, says it has had a 30 per cent growth in sales every month since the beginning of the year, even though it has not used any advertising.

Almost all the beers it stocks are craft brews.

Eastern Craft Trading, which specialises in importing Japanese craft beers, has experienced a 100 per cent wholesale growth of its craft beers in the past six months and expects sales to double in the next year.

Unsurprisingly, importers of brand name beers are also eager to gulp down some craft scene action. Pacific Beverages, which imports big name beers such as Hoegaarden, Stella Artois and San Miguel, signed an exclusive import licence for Little Creatures, a craft beer from Australia, in 2009.

Available in 75 bars, Cold Storage and NTUC Fairprice outlets around Singapore, the numbers of bars serving its beers and volume sold has risen 15 per cent every year since then.

Pacific Beverages' general manager for Singapore, Mr Mark Wilson, says the popularity of craft brew is due to its quality.

"Craft brewing is all about an artisanal approach to making outstanding beers, using the finest quality ingredients and small-batch production. A craft beer is not something that is consumed in huge quantity - it is savoured and appreciated in much the same way one might enjoy a glass of fine wine."


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