Third culture kids have been observed to have homes that are everywhere and nowhere, but Singapore taproom 3rd Culture Brewing Co. is proving to be the exception with a rebrand, its own beers, and an upcoming brewery that all double down on the bar’s place in the country’s beloved hawker culture.
Opened in 2016 amid hawker stalls at Maxwell Food Centre, the business changed its name to Ren Min, or people in Mandarin, in December 2020.
Despite 3rd Cultures’s popularity among local craft beer consumers, founder Manbeer Singh wanted a rebrand to better reflect the company and his experience operating in a hawker centre, which gave him new appreciation for the men and women who worked beside him.
“I admire the aunties and uncles, but I never really understood what they’ve gone through till I had my experience,” he says. “And even then, my experience is still more privileged than theirs. Because I don’t cook my food, for example. I see uncles and aunties come in at [3, 4am] to start getting ready for breakfast. That blew my mind. I thought, ‘Hey, I’m having it tough but these guys, it’s a whole different level. And they’ve been doing it for years.’ It’s been a very humbling process.”
Besides the new name, Ren Min has a new logo: a red chair typical of the seats at hawker centres across the island. They have also given their two branches separate identities. The Maxwell stall is now known as Welcome Ren Min, and the Old Airport Road Food Centre outlet is called Hello Ren Min. This is so customers can distinguish them as the taprooms evolve separately, says Singh.
Coming soon is Ren Min’s own brewery, a realisation of Singh’s dream when he started 3rd Culture. Currently under construction in Sembawang, it will have a capacity of 20 hectolitres – in comparison, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore’s capacity was 2 million hectolitres in 2015 – and its own packaging line. The brewery is slated to open in the third quarter of 2021.
“Twenty hectolitres is a balance between, on one hand being able to brew efficiently with large batches, on the other hand also giving you flexibility to do really unique beers that only a certain segment of the population will truly enjoy,” he says. “If you had Tiger’s capacity and you brewed a sour beer, that would be a bit tough.”
[Read more: What is a Singapore beer?]
In the meantime, Ren Min is working with different brewers around the world to brew their own beers. For the first series, they collaborated with Dario Scuito, formerly of Birra Del Borgo in Lazio, Italy and Goose Island Brewhouse in Seoul, who brewed at Birrificio Alveria in Sicily. For a Singapore beer, Italy is an unconventional place to brew, but Covid-19 lockdown laws prevented Scuito from travelling outside of his Sicilian hometown.
The result: three beers that nod to Singapore’s architectural icons while hinting at Italy. There’s the Kallang Airport-inspired Aerodrome, a citrusy session IPA made from Norwegian farmhouse yeast and Mosaic hops, as well as the Progression American IPA, a hoppy number with Jinrikisha Station on the label.
Then there’s the Eureka grisette, a bright, easy-drinking farmhouse ale originating from the mining regions between France and Belgium. It’s also popular in Italy, says Singh, and is brewed with Sicilian orange peels and pink peppercorns. Both Aerodrome and Progression are available on tap and in bottles, while Eureka is draft only.
For Ren Min’s next batch of beers, they’re working with Ryan Lemish, who got his brewing chops at places like Widowmaker Brewing in Massachusetts and Pasteur Street Brewing in Ho Chi Minh City, to brew beers in Vietnam. The beers are expected to arrive next month.
Ren Min continues the trend of more craft brewers setting up shop in Singapore in the past two years. Since 2020, brewers like Off Day, Niang, Civilization, and Specific Gravity have joined the fray, but Singh is confident that the country is big enough for everyone.
“If you use other countries and cities as comparison, we still have a long way to go,” he says. “We can all be doing particularly different styles and have our own niches to play with.
“[Yet] I think the idea of making Singapore, within Southeast Asia or within Asia, the capital of beer, is very enticing.”
Follow Ren Min on Instagram for updates.
About the Author
Jethro Kang enjoys boozing, biking, and climbing, and he’s still figuring out how to do all three at once. When not writing for Spill, he’s pouring beers, opening wines, and hoarding bottles of cru beaujolais. You can find him at @thisrocksmysocks.