By Brian Spencer
It’s been a little over three months since I moved to Singapore, and in that short time I’ve been fortunate to meet and talk with a number of the island’s craft-beer enthusiasts, some of whom work in the industry and others who just enjoy drinking high-quality beers. I’ve visited a handful of microbreweries, participated in the first Singapore Craft Beer Week, tested home-delivery services, and, you know, put down a pint or two.
I still have a lot to learn about the emerging craft-beer scene in Singapore — people to meet, locally brewed beers to taste, markets to study — and in this piece I’m not going into too much detail about the island’s microbreweries or their beers. For now, here are just a few takeaways from three months of microbrew-centric exploring:
If you want it, you can have it, but be ready to pay for it. From wine to whiskey no alcohol is truly cheap in Singapore, though if you’re just looking to get blitzed there are cost-effective ways of doing it since most grocery and convenience stores stock high-ABV beers — like up to 13% high — that will certainly get the job done quickly. Believe me, though, you’ll pay for it in the morning if you go that route. Of course, most people don’t drink craft beers just to get drunk, and even in craft-beer crazy cities like Brooklyn and Portland connoisseurs are happy to pay extra for quality.
Still, a key difference between Singapore and places like Brooklyn is that here you won’t commonly find a wealth of craft beers on draft at most bars, and the take-home growler craze that’s sweeping across the United States has not yet found a foothold in Singapore, for various reasons. That means that unless you go to specific, small group of bars with a strong selection of microbrews on tap, such as JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar or Brewerkz Microbrewery, you’ll have no choice but to go the more-expensive bottle route. Microbrew bottles can be pricey no matter where you are in the world, but the import/export logistics, coupled with smaller shipments of the beers due to the nichey market size, drive the cost up even further in Singapore. Craft beer is very much in the same premium product class as wine and liquor.
That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that the number of restaurants, bars and specialty retailers offering micro beers has significantly expanded, a trend that figures to further accelerate in the coming years. In addition to shops like Brewers’ Craft and 99 Bottles, below, other craft-beer outlets to pop up over the past year or so include Lil’ Papa’s Wieners and Thirsty – The Beer Shop.
Restaurants and cafes are hopping on the craft-beer bandwagon, too, such as Mexican restaurant chain Senor Taco, the exclusive retailer of Cerveza Habanero, a well-balanced, spicy ale from upstart Singaporean microbrewers Jungle Beer. The limited beer selection at Japanese restaurant and market Sakuraya includes Hitachino Nest White Ale and Yona Yona Ale. The Wok & Barrel, a small cafe on upscale Duxton Hill, also offers Hitachino Nest and Jungle Beer along with Moa, Delirium Nocturnum and 25+ others. This is not close to a comprehensive list.
Craft beer home delivery services are also on the rise. The Beer Cellar, masterminded by affable beer importer and Singapore Craft Beer Week organizer Charles Guerrier, offers monthly deliveries of 12 handpicked bottles of craft beer from around the world. Tippletown, Mabuk Monkey, and some of the aforementioned shops deliver local and international craft beers to any address on the island; BeerStyle delivers cases.
It’s all about the happy hour (and the occasional promotion). Singaporeans are understandably hawkish about sales and promotions, a mentality you have to adopt if you hope to give your craft-beer budget a break every now and again. Most Singapore bars have decent-to-good happy hours, some of which include beers produced outside of the monotone, monopolistic empires of Tiger and Heineken.
My favorite daily deal is at JiBiru, which from 12pm – 6pm offers 500ml glasses of Jungle Beer’s refreshing Tropical Wheat Mango & Orange on draft for S$9 and from 6pm – 8pm for S$11, while Hitachino Nest White Ale and Pale Ale are S$10 and $13.50. Brewerkz Microbrewery, which has locations at Riverside Point and Indoor Stadium, breaks their draft beer prices down into five time blocks: It’s predictably cheapest from 12pm – 3pm, when 500ml jugs are just S$6 – $8, while from 6pm – 8pm the same-sized glasses shoot up to S$12 – S$14. (Finally you have somewhat of a viable excuse to drink at 1pm.)
Craft beer discounts from retail shops are less frequent, but still worth keeping an eye out for. Senor Taco’s new location at The Star Vista, for example, has a one-for-one deal on 330ml bottles of Jungle Beer’s Cerveza Habanero through November 11, temporarily cutting the otherwise hard-to-swallow price of S$12.60 per bottle in half. Mabuk Monkey ran an unbelievable introductory promotion on Jungle Beer’s Imperial Stout and Tropical Wheat for S$8.80 per 640ml bottle. Tippletown offers monthly promotions.
Speaking of Jungle Beer and monthly promotions, the very best running deal on craft beer in Singapore is the brewery’s monthly open house, which features six hours of free-flowing draft beers for S$40 per person. It’s an adventure finding the place — it’s located in a commercial food-production facility in the far reaches of Sembawang — but know that you will be handsomely rewarded for making the trek. Unfortunately the Jungle Beer guys have a bad habit (or perhaps it’s intentional?) of not announcing the date for each month’s event until the last minute, so it’s a good idea to regularly check the events page for updates.
Craft beer can be found in unexpected places. There aren’t many traditional bars in Clementi, a quiet residential neighborhood in western Singapore that I call home. When locals want to go out for a drink, it’s usually for a bottle of Tiger or Carlsberg at one of the local hawker centres — or it’s a short taxi ride to Holland Village, Bukit Timah, or one of the other nearby areas with more boozing options.
I was surprised, then, to stumble onto Brewers’ Craft, a small bottle shop randomly located in a housing block on Clementi Avenue 2. Run by soft-spoken owner Meng-Chao, Brewers’ Craft offers a well-curated selection of beers from some 50 microbreweries around the world, including BrewDog (UK), Brouwerij de Molen (Netherlands), Hitachino Nest (Japan), Mikkeller (Denmark), and Jungle Beer (Singapore).
Going back to Singapore’s famous hawker centres, it’s nice knowing you can show up at just about any of them and enjoy a tall bottle of Tiger with your food for S$6 or less. I get a kick out of walking by my local hawker and seeing a table with three old “uncles,” as they’re commonly called in Singapore, sucking down cigarettes and shooting the shit, five or more empty Tiger bottles lined up on the table like trophies. Still, for those of us not raised on a lifetime of Tiger and Carlsberg, the lack of beer diversity at the hawker centres can be drag — and local entrepreneur Daniel Goh agrees.
Goh’s The Good Beer Company is still Singapore’s only hawker centre craft-beer stall, with a fine selection of 50+ local and imported craft beers and ciders available at prices comparable to other specialty bottle shops on the island. You’ll find it within the maze of stalls at the Chinatown Complex and Food Centre (#02-58) on Smith Street, just off the Chinatown MRT station. Goh also recently gave a shot of craft beer to the East Coast with his new 99 Bottles.
More on craft beer in Singapore to come. In the meantime, you can check out the writer’s other Perceptive Travel Blog features here.