Beerfest Asia Singapore: the sublime and the ridiculous

Brewerkz IPA 2Young Singaporeans love to PARTAAAY. Which means that while Beerfest Asia, held in the city every June since 2009, now places a hefty emphasis on craft beers from small producers, for very many of the more than 25,000 people who pour in over four days to the festival site, the 400-plus different beers available, from Sweden to New Zealand, and Japan to Belgium, are less important than the opportunities to get pissed with friends, wear very silly hats, listen to very loud music and dance on the tables.

This probably explains why no one seems to think it incongruous that alongside all the craft beers (such as the highly regarded and multi-awarded Feral Brewing from Western Australia, Mikkeller from Denmark via various other places, Hitochino from Japan, De Molen from De Nederlands, Stone from California, Moa from New Zealand and our own dear BrewDog) there was not only a large stand for Jagermeister, but big bars run by AB InBev (featuring Stella Artois, Becks and Budweiser) and by Asia Pacific Breweries, the Far Eastern arm of Heineken, selling the Dutch brewer’s eponymous eurofizz, plus Strongbow cider, Desperado tequila beer, and Sol. Truly the sublime being served alongside the ridiculous.

Moa beer matStill, this is a commercial venture, not a campaigning one, which is why there were 20 or so “official sponsors” involving everybody from an “official financial services partner” to an “official comedy club partner”, Magners cider (hush, that person who said Magners got the gig because it’s a joke anyway), an “official energy drink”, and even an “official personal brewery partner”, the guys from Williamswarn, plugging their “all-in-one brewing machine”. It also explains the “whisky and wine lodge”, where some 40 different spirits from Finland to Japan could be sampled (though if you were an oenologist I doubt you’d have been impressed with a wine selection that featured only France, Chile and Australia, and looked to be mostly Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc). Spirits makers have much bigger advertising and promotional budgets than craft brewers, and will pay silly sums to get access to a young and impressionable audience.

The commercial imperative also explains the existence of a top-of-the-range “VIP ticket” offer at 180 Singapore dollars (£91) a pop for one night only, designed to separate – er, well, mugs like me, actually – from their money with the promise of an exclusive air-conditioned “VIP lounge”, an all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with hot buffet, S$50 in beer tokens and a free “beerfest asia” polo shirt. However, if you’re flying in from Hong Kong in the afternoon, staying overnight at a mate’s apartment and flying back the next day, paying a little extra not to have to mix it with hoi sweaty polloi

Kinshachi Imperial chocolate Weizen

Kinshachi Imperial chocolate Weizen Nagoya Red Miso Lager

It was certainly rather different to the Great British Beer Festival, where I cannot imagine Camra ever persuading young women from different countries to get up on the stage at Olympia and spell out “b-e-e-r-f-e-s-t” by waving their tits about. You wouldn’t see the huge selection of “flavoured” bottled ciders from half a dozen different countries, all presumably chasing a lucrative young market (must read Pete Brown’s new book – maybe it will explain this …) And, of course, there wasn’t a cask ale within several thousand miles. Here in Marina Bay, close by the F1 circuit, on the south side of Singapore island, it was strictly keg or bottles, at (mostly) S$5 to S$10 (£2.50 to £5) a time. But the beers I tried – admittedly I was mostly going for stuff I knew by reputation to be good – was  uniformly excellent. Brewerkz, for example, a Singaporean microbrewery established in 1997, was offering a range of eminently drinkable beers, good, clean, all hitting the spot in their styles. They included a fine “Anglo-American” India Pale Ale mixing British and Pacific Coast hops, and Black Pig, a black IPA. This is normally a style I cross my fingers at and hiss, but this little piggy deserves to find a market.

Feral Hop HogI was also surprised to be very impressed with the beers from Archipelago, which is the “crafty” operation set up in Singapore by Asia Pacific/Heineken under the name of the city’s original brewery, founded in 1931 by Beck’s. Its Summer Ale is dry, sharp and, at 4.5 per cent abv, very moreish. Other beers recorded in my increasingly illegible notebook include Feral Hop Hog, sweet underneath, masses of lemon and grapefruit on top (hideous label for such a fine beer, though); and Kinshachi Imperial Chocolate Weizen, 8 per cent abv, full in the mouth, cloudy, sour, and with masses of chocolatey yumminess, from Nagoya in Japan. Chocolate wheat beers seem such an obvious idea, and yet this is the first one I’ve come across, I believe.

In all, Beerfest Asia IS a great party, the Led Zep tribute band were terrific, the crowd, a vastly more mixed scene than you’ll see at GBBF, all obviously enjoying themselves hugely and mostly, too, much younger than the GBBF constituency (there were certainly few, if any, people as old as ME there). But it’s perhaps not worth making a trip to Singapore for, unless, like me, you’re in the region, you can get a cheap walk on/walk off flight, and you can stay at a mate’s …

It's party time

It’s party time … the green hats were given awaqy by Magners, the red firefighter ones by Fruli.

Never mind the quality … some people were there for the beer – any beer, so long as it was wet and alcoholic.

Never mind the quality … some people were there for the beer – any beer, so long as it was wet and alcoholic.

Some familiar names

A few familiar names: I confess I went for the St Bernardus Witbier

The local brew: beers by Archipelago, the Heineken-owned Singapore "craft" set-up

The local brew: beers by Archipelago, the Heineken-owned Singapore “craft” set-up

The evil empire attempts to lure Singaporeans away from the One True Craft Path ...

The evil empire attempts to lure Singaporeans away from the One True Craft Path …

Are we having fun yet, Kevin?

Are we having fun yet, Kevin? A couple of expat ladies and a real Singaporean

Sugarcane juice

Sugarcane juice and limes, an excellent morning-after-the-beerfest pick-me-up

0 thoughts on “Beerfest Asia Singapore: the sublime and the ridiculous

  1. Great to hear Brewerkz is thriving. I have very fond memories of the place.

    And I’d say there’d be sufficient wavable tit available at the GBBF each year without having to involve any actual women.

  2. Very interesting report! But even at the GABF in Denver the general public are there to drink beer and more beer , isn’t that normal ??
    I think your article is a little bit too detailed sometimes with words like – tits – that I would not use in such a text. Sorry for being so old fashioned!

  3. Hope springs eternal, and thus one day I hope to read in one of these well-drawn reports that Diageo made available a batch of cask-conditioned Guinness FES – all-malt with late 1800’s-style hopping would be even better – or an unfiltered bottling of ditto. It would be relatively easy to do, maybe do it as a collab with the local brewpub that was mentioned. Where is the imagination…?

    Gary

  4. Great to hear about international alcohol events featuring craft beer, great coverage! Even thought the Evil Empire was there luring people away from the One True Craft Path, it helps to see the bad contrast with the good. When you go from a Stone to a Bud, you are aware of the change, no matter the level of partyness and that converts people.
    Hopefully the years to come for Beerfest Asia will be less “consume and be drunk” and more “consume GOOD BEER and be drunk.”

    XOXO

  5. Martyn, you wouldn’t have been so surprised at the quality of Archipelago brews, if you had been aware of their, now former (gone to Anderson Valley to the best of my knowledge), brewer Fal Allen. Fal has been in the craft beer movement for decades, and has always preferred to experiment with new ideas and quality. If Asian Pacific/Heineken hired him, it meant they were looking for quality, full stop.

    • Archipelago Summer is almost always my first beer off the plane. A quality product that is perfect for the climate. Oh, and you need to try that Limited Edition tap. It is whatever the brew master wants to make and has had quality/interesting beer over the years.

    • Wow Joris – thank you for your kind words. Sadly I did get to BeerFest Asia this year, but I have been to several in the past. I do not think it incongruous that the big brewers are pouring next to the craft brewers. After all it is all beer, and that is OK by me. And yes I am at Anderson Valley brewing now. (also – Hi Gerard !! Hope to run into you one day at a beer fest) – Fal

  6. You mentioned that there wasn’t a cask beer within a thousand miles of Beerfest. Not true. Brewerkz always has its Hopback real ale on the hand pump at the Riverside Point location, which is just a bit more than staggering distance from the F1 pits.

  7. Note that in your picture of “Kinshachi Chocolate Weizen”, the bottle is actually “Kinshachi Nagoya Red Miso Lager,” which is as the name says, lager made with red miso… (which tastes as weird as it sounds, but … interesting… definitely not eurofizz!)

    [To my recollection, the color of red-miso lager is also quite deep (it’s certainly not a pale lager), so that might be what’s in the glass as well.]

  8. Hopefully you were able to try some of the offerings out of Singapore’s Jungle Beer. (Believe they export to Hong Kong now.) Their Tropical Wheat Mango & Orange is a great warm weather beer and the Kiasu Stout is simply a world class stout. Also the best Americanized IPA/Pale Ale I’ve had from an Asian brewer.

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