Young 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.
Still, 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 …
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.
I 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 …