A phenomenon is brewing in the midst of the glitzy metropolis of Singapore. Forget the humdrum of commercial lagers from the usual suspects; just about a decade ago, beer fans would have to visit dedicated taprooms just to enjoy a hoppy dose. Today, these locally brewed suds are easily found everywhere in fancy restaurants, casual coffee shops, and even on the aisles of major supermarkets.
And as the nation's thirst for unique and locally-produced libation grows, there's no better way to redefine its drinking culture than by supporting local. In this feature, we speak to the founders of three homegrown breweries that have quickly won over the hearts of seasoned beer geeks and budding enthusiasts. But first, a quick introduction.
ALIVE BREWING is co-founded by two passionate hopheads, Cheong Qing Yang and Ryan Yue. Their travels across the globe in search of the best-tasting beers led them to an inspiration – starting their own brewery. Founded in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, they designed, engineered and self-installed the brewing equipment in their Tuas facility. To date, the pair is proud to have made 72 different beers enjoyed by many craft beer lovers around. And the dream remains to provide craft beer lovers with high-quality alternatives to high-end imported beers.
SPECIFIC GRAVITY was founded by Devin Kimble and Kim Wong back in December 2020. Beer geeks would know that Devin founded Singapore's first successful brewpub, Brewerkz and revived Hong Kong's oldest craft brewery, Hong Kong Brewery. Kim worked with Devin for close to 20 years until she left Brewerkz. She carried on with some consulting for a couple of international breweries. When the pandemic struck, the duo came up with the idea of starting their very own brand.
NIANG BREWERY CO. is a modern Singapore craft beer brewery established in 2020 by brewer Mark Chen. The beers tap into both the tangible and intangible which marry local flavours with colloquial memories to tell the local story. From storied label designs to our thoughtful food pairing, it is all pursued in hopes to bridge the gap between foodies and craft beer enthusiasts in this food-driven nation.
From humble beginnings to not-so-instagrammable moments, each brewery has its own tale to tell. Here are the new faces with the freshest suds in town as we sip through seven sessionable questions together.
What are your core brews?
AB I love hops and the best canvas to showcase their range is with the IPA – we’re especially big on New England IPAs. On Untappd, a global beer rating app, the top five locally produced beers on the app are made up of four of our New England IPAs. It is a great indicator that we’re giving craft beer fans what they want. On the other hand, we also produce a wide variety of traditional and easy-drinking styles like lagers and pilsners to appeal to a broader spectrum of consumers.
SG We have four core beers in our range: British-style IPA, German Wheat, California Common-style lager and Bohemian-style lager. They are all classic beer styles which easily date back over a couple of hundred years. I can feel your eyes rolling back like “That’s boring, get on with the times.” But here’s why we’re going with the classics. Devin, Tang (my husband) and I enjoy drinking them and they pass what is called the ‘three-pint test.’
After your first, you’ll long for the second, and after that, you’ll go for the third. And it is of the same beer! As we say colloquially, it doesn’t get too “jelak” (flavour fatigue).
NB We generally lean toward beers that are drier. We found that full-bodied beers tend to compete with the flavours of the paired foods – be it having a simple plate of fried carrot cake or a fancy Tomahawk steak. It’s all about balance and to avoid flavour fatigue, we like brewing these styles: Pale Ale, Kolsch, Session Sour, New England Hazy and West Coast IPA.
How will you explain craft beer to someone who has never had it before?
AB There is no one single style of craft beer, so there is always something for everyone. Craft beers are simply beers produced in small batches using artisanal brewing techniques and the best possible ingredients out there. Good craft beer should be immensely drinkable and yet surprise with an explosion of flavours!
SG I still come across a few at tasting events. Whenever they taste my beers, I don’t say much but just listen and observe their reaction. I’ve had serious wine lovers – who’ve not had craft beer in their lives before – rave about the fruity beer aromas even before taking a sip.
NB I tend to be fun and easy when sharing about the beers. I’d also drop the technical jargon and hope that customers are open to exploring. For Niang Brewery, one of our best touchpoints has to be the backstory of our designs and the relatability of how we pair our beers with food, especially local food.
What inspired you to get into brewing?
AB We’re just motivated to provide hard-to-come-by beer styles and make them accessible to a wider audience. From our travels, we tried many different styles and what really bubbled our inspiration to brew was wanting to recreate beers that we personally enjoyed and weren’t available in Singapore.
SG The pure love for beer. In my teenage years, good wines were not widely available and certainly not cheap while cocktails are just too sweet. So beer was my favourite go-to despite it not being a popular choice of drink among the ladies. It was also how my husband Tang and I met. And our favourite dating spot was the beer aisle at Cold Storage, checking out different brews apart from the usual suspects.
One thing led to another, we opened a cafe during the coffee shop boom and to differentiate ourselves from the rest, we sold exotic craft beers from the US, UK and Belgium. Later, Tang learnt how to brew and I followed suit – the rest is history. Today, he loves telling people that I muscled him out of a job. Maybe I did.
NB I was previously a full-time architect which meant really long hours. So I started home brewing in 2016, out of necessity if you may, just so I get to enjoy good beer without having to step out of the house. I also shared my brews with friends and family whenever they visited and got plenty of positive feedback. One thing led to another, I went head first into establishing the brewery with the goal of making quality local craft beers accessible to everyone.
Why should people care about drinking local craft beers?
AB Beers in general, like any food product, tend to taste more vibrant and delectable when fresher. Locally brewed craft beers are about as fresh as anyone can get whereas imported craft beers tend to be months old when they arrive here via sea or air freight. Classic David and Goliath story – by consuming locally produced craft beers, you are directly supporting the burgeoning local craft brewery industry which is up against a constant battle against multinational beer conglomerates and their cost-saving mass-producing measures.
SG They just should – like how we care about eating good and nutritious food. Though, I must say it is absolutely pointless to drink a badly made craft beer just because it is local. Real craft beer uses good quality ingredients like full-grain malts and real fruits, and not malt extracts, fruit flavouring or hop essences.
NB Because local beers are just as good as what we locals do with food! Just like local produce, locally brewed craft beers will always be fresher than imported beers. I look at it this way, just like having a plate of fried Hokkien mee: would you choose to have it right after it's cooked or leave it out for tomorrow? I’m also a huge advocate for being open-minded about trying new flavours and craft beers are a world of flavour waiting for anyone to explore.
Is there anything about the craft beer industry you'd like to see change?
AB Despite the growth in locally produced craft beers and imports, we believe many folks in Singapore are still not exposed to what this beverage industry has to offer. I certainly hope to see more exposure to the world of craft beers.
SG The regulatory environment, albeit improved since we first started, still has room for improvement. Industry folks like Devin and I work tirelessly to improve work processes that have hopefully made regulating local breweries a much easier task for all parties. We encourage everyone in the industry to continue working with the authorities, as we find that they do listen when the suggestions are constructive and help improve the system.
NB I believe in cross-pollinating industries beyond the realm of food and beverage, think like partnership collaborations. The more exposure craft beers get, the more likely it is to be widely accepted. Of course, education is essential. We must strive to create content that is fun and relatable yet approachable, or even through events and festivals, to have the opportunity to interact with the community. I think that is the true meaning of supporting local.
Are you working on anything exciting for the future?
AB We’re always pushing the envelope with continuous improvements on our existing beers and look toward collaborating with the best breweries in the world on equally unique yet thoughtful brews. We’re also strong advocates in the region and we firmly believe that high-quality craft beers should stand side by side with fine wines and rare spirits (both already well-recognised in Singapore). One step at a time but we will get there!
SG We strive to be a regional local craft beer company. Our tagline is “Something’s brewing”, which means that something exciting is always around the corner. Right now, we do consider ourselves a regional craft beer company, besides contract brewing here, we also contract brew in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Australia. I’ve set our sights on Taiwan and South Korea next. Basically, we are looking to brew where we sell.
NB Since the inception of the brewery, I’ve experimented with and brewed about 20 beer styles in the span of just two and a half years. Though I think consistency is key to keeping our fans happy hence there’s quite a bit of focus placed on fine-tuning every bottle that is produced. For the exciting, I’m always on the lookout to engage with the community, both in and out of the F&B industry. So you’ll most likely find me collaborating with different partners and vendors over a new beer launch or repping my beers at an event.
Where can we find your beers?
AB Our beers are commonly found on rotation islandwide at major craft beer bars from stalwarts like Smith Street Taps in Chinatown to up-and-coming watering holes like Get Some in Clementi. Or just hit us up on our website.
SG The best places to enjoy SG taps are at the Little Farms Bistro, Culina at Dempsey, and in the comfort of your own home where you can order from our webpage.
NB You can find us in most craft beer bars and even some restaurants such as 808 Eating House, Social Smokers and Folkyard. Otherwise, I have them stocked online for those who like to imbibe at home.