Craft brews are all the rage these days, and the latest players are taking it up a notch by serving up beers freshly tapped from their on-site microbreweries. Debbie Yong and Georgine Verano mull over a pint at three new brewpubs in town.
It's an oft-repeated tale of provenance by now: family X throws dinner parties with legendary dishes made from hand-me-down recipes, word spreads and soon, friends and distant relatives are hankering for more.
But while most families have gone on to incorporate online retail businesses around their homemade jams or sambals, the Yeos have decided to build a brick-and-mortar microbrewery around their home-brewed beer that has become a staple at family gatherings.
The master brewer behind the sought-after tipple is Yeo King Joey, 50, a full-time aircraft engineer who picked up home-brewing from an Australian colleague five years ago, and hasn't looked back since.
Together with nephew Ivan Yeo, 33, the two men will run The 1925, a microbrewery-restaurant set to open in Jalan Besar next month.
Spread across the first two floors of a shophouse directly opposite the Lavender Food Centre, the ground floor dining room will seat 40 to 50, while the wine and whisky lounge upstairs holds 30 for those who want a more intimate experience.
The space's highlight, of course, will be the four steel tanks behind the entrance bar counter, which can hold up to 600 litres of beer each. For starters, The 1925 will produce just two kinds of beer, a dark and light pilsner, to test the market.
Unlike most microbreweries though, the limited budget and space constraints of the family-run outfit means that only the beer production process from the fermentation stage onwards will be completed at The 1925. Ready-processed raw materials will be sourced in extract form from countries such as the Czech Republic and Australia to kick-start the brewing process.
To supplement any lapses in production - as a full brew cycle takes over two weeks - the restaurant will also carry three flavours from stalwart local microbrewery, Brewerkz.
"Our generation has more earning power, so they're starting to become more inquisitive about their food and drink. You see that in the number of craft beer shops coming up," observes Ivan, who used to run his own design agency and is a musician in local band Paraphrase.
But more than just tap fresh beer, the eatery's aim is to front a wider philosophy of adding a personal touch to the entire production process of food, from its start to end point.
Besides working with local wine purveyors De'Wine International to source exclusive wines from private estates from the Old World and New World, The 1925 will roll up its shutters early to serve up air-roasted coffee from Graffeo to cater to the morning foot traffic headed towards the CBD.
The seafood-centric food menu, meanwhile, will feature Western classics with local touches, such as pork knuckle rendered with char siew sauce, and fish and chips deep-fried Thai-style. Desserts will be presented in a creative cocktail format, with concoctions such as frangelico sour and a cheesecake-inspired creation still being tinkered with.
Where possible, dishes and drinks will work in fruits and herbs such as pandan, rosemary or thyme from the restaurant's backyard garden.
Named after the birth year of Ivan's grandfather or King Joey's father, the restaurant's holding company was also aptly christened Sons and Sons, Ivan points out, as they are hoping the business will eventually be carried on through generations.
"We're a family that believes a lot in preserving our culture and heritage," he adds.
180 Albert Street, Albert Court, #01-19
Open 4pm to 12am daily
You've tried Belgian beer, German beer, beer made by monks and even your home-brewer friend next door. How about crossing to the Eastern side of Europe to find out what Czech people drink when they want to get a yeasty buzz?
Enter Hospoda Microbrewery owner Anton Gorog and his business partner Pavel Samson, two experienced brewers from what was previously Czechoslovakia, who plan to brew the beer of their homeland right here in Singapore. "Singaporeans are always looking for something new and unique, especially in beer," says Mr Gorog, 49, who has over two decades of brewing experience in Europe. "Pavel and I saw the opportunity and took it."
Instead of doing the usual, importing beer and selling it, Mr Gorog decided to bring Czech beer-making technology here instead. "We wanted to make it ourselves, because we wanted it to be the beer we knew and made back home, not something you can buy in a store."
Hospoda, which means "pub" in Czech, opened in October last year - a decision Mr Gorog made during a stopover in Singapore while en route to Australia.
"I came once, about 20 years ago. Then, recently, when I came over again, I saw how different it was, with so many pubs, people and night life," he says. "The beer here can be expensive, but Singaporeans are willing to pay for good beer."
"The special thing about Czech beer, is that it's light," he adds, "it's important to us that you don't have a headache after."
The pilsner beers ($5.50 for 200ml to $89 a barrel), are a house specialty. Mr Gorog also recommends the Bohemia Dark beer ($5 .50 to $89), "it's a favourite with the ladies, because it doesn't create beer bellies". Another option is the mixed beer, basically a mix of both the light and dark beers ($5.50 to $89).
The food is also done in Czech style, which Mr Gorog says is quite similar to German cuisine. The menu includes sausages made with pork and their house-brewed beer. Another specialty in Hospoda Microbrewery? Their beer cosmetics. An entire line of soaps and lotions, all including beer as an ingredient. "Don't worry," he laughs, "it doesn't smell like beer."
Hospoda Microbrewery takes up a total of 900 square feet, its 40 seats located outdoors, while the indoor area houses the kitchen and three beer tanks.
While Hospoda packs in a nightly stream of patrons now, it wasn't always the case. "A few years ago, the area was dead, but now, we see more and more customers," notes Mr Gorog, who attributes the venue's growing popularity to social media. "When we post pictures on Facebook, people see them, become curious, and come here."
The booming trade in their first six months of business has also spurred Mr Gorog and Mr Samson to consider plans for another microbrewery here.
"As long as people keep coming, we will keep selling," he laughs.
The Alpine Restaurant and Microbrewery
Snow City, 21 Jurong Town Hall Road
Open 12nn-11pm (Sun-Thu), 12nn-12am (Fri-Sat)
If you're familiar with their pocket-friendly, fresh brews from your golfing day trips to Batam, well, good news: Indonesian microbrewery Fresh Beer has now launched a Singapore outlet.
Styled as an Alps-themed restaurant, The Alpine Restaurant and Microbrewery is the fourth outlet of the 14-year-old microbrewery business run by Indonesia-born Singapore permanent resident, Tan Mung Tjai.
Getting to The Alpine is tricky, though: you have to navigate your way past the Singapore Science Centre to the Snow City, an indoor ski slope and entertainment centre on the same premises. There, skip the tacky ice galleries and snow gear rental kiosk on the ground floor and head directly upstairs. Once you're in, the woody, ski lodge-esque surrounds will quickly transport you to a world far removed from hectic, downtown Singapore.
Beers are brewed entirely from scratch in the 800 sq ft microbrewery custom-built on the building's roof level, and come in five flavours: lagers in light and strong variants ($9 and $10), a refreshing Weizen brew ($9), a malty dark brew ($10) and a bright green brew infused with barely discernible seaweed flavours ($9).
Besides suitably Alpine-themed fare such as German pork knuckles ($29.50) and pan-fried veal and bratwurst sausages ($13.80), the hefty food menu works in plenty of family-friendly crowd-pleasers ($8 to $30) from pastas to pizzas and Asian dishes such as Sichuan claypot beancurd to fried rice done Indonesian-style to cater to the young families and global tourists who visit the attraction, says Mr Tan.
Drink it all in from the restaurant's timbre-panelled indoors that seat up to 50 (beer garden-style long benches accommodate larger groups), or from the outdoor terrace overlooking the placid greens of next-door Jurong Country Club.
Besides the Singapore and Batam venues, Fresh Beer has two more franchised outlets in Bali and Bintan. The Alpine opened on Boxing Day last year. It was his Singapore-based son who prompted Mr Tan to expand here, he recalls, and given the high cost of bottling and exporting his Indonesian brews to Singapore, it made more economic sense to set up a restaurant here with an on-site microbrewery.
From concept to realisation, the entire place took seven months to set up, with 60-year-old Mr Tan presiding over the brewing process as its master brewer.
He first got into beer brewing in the late 1990s, after frequenting a German microbrewery restaurant in Nanjing, China, while taking his aged parents for health treatments there. He now shuttles between the Batam and Singapore venues regularly to check on his brews.
The Alpine can produce about 1.2 tonnes of beer - or over 3,000 cups - per batch brewed, but demand has been slow to pick up to meet supply, he admits.
As to whether the brewpub business will be the next dining trend to spawn new outlets islandwide, Mr Tan is sceptical, citing the high set-up cost and lack of local know-how in this field as deterrents.
"Although there is more interest in craft beers and microbreweries, it's too costly to run this business in Singapore. I think we'll still have to hold out for another year before things pick up," he says candidly.
This article was published on May 3 in The Business Times.
Get The Business Times for more stories.