In the world of beer, provenance matters.
It’s how styles like pilsner gets its name. It lets New England and West Coast IPAs define themselves. So, it feels odd when Brewlander, a Singapore beer company and pioneer of the current wave of independent local brewers here, makes most of its beers overseas.
[Read more: What is a Singapore beer?]
But Brewlander can now call itself a truly Singaporean craft beer with the opening of its new brewery in the country, in the industrial heart of Tuas. Situated in the western part of the island, the facility is a realisation of founder John Wei’s dream since he started making beers commercially.
“It’s always been a goal to come back and brew here,” says Wei.
Wei’s journey dates back to 2008, when he started homebrewing in his Singapore public housing flat – more commonly known by the acronyms HDB – after drinking a craft beer in the United Kingdom. He scooped up a few beer awards along the way and started contract-brewing at Cambodia’s Kingdom Breweries in 2016.
In 2018, Wei decided to move operations home and found a space in Tuas early last year. Construction barely began before it was halted by Singapore’s Covid-19 lockdown from April to June. Work eventually finished at the end of last year and Brewlander received its brewing license in January 2021.
The brewery spans over 12,000 square feet, about the average size of 12 four-room HDB flats, and is one of the biggest craft breweries in town. It can produce about 3,000 litres of beer per batch and is designed to keep the beers as flavourful as possible.
One way it does that is by controlling temperature. To make beer, grains are steeped in water to form a sugar-rich liquid called wort. The wort is then boiled with hops to give beer its recognisable aromas. If the temperature is too high, the beer might turn overly bitter. Brewlander’s system allows the brewers to make fine adjustments to the heat so only the desirable flavours remain.
Another way is by using a centrifuge. Some brewers use a filter to clarify beers like lagers, but that strips away a lot of flavour. Brewlander instead rapidly spins them around in a centrifuge, giving the beers a clean and crisp profile while retaining their aroma.
“It’s definitely over engineered. In a good way,” Wei says with a laugh. “It’s a steeper learning curve, learning to brew on it, but it’s incredible. The efficiency we get from it, and the stability of the beer, it speaks for itself.”
Brewlander also has its own packaging line – a rarity among many craft breweries due to its cost – with the capacity to churn out 9,000 bottles or cans each time.
According to Wei, the line alone is worth more than the entire brewhouse, but he believes it’s a necessary investment. It allows him to reach bars that cannot sell his beers on draft due to exclusive contracts, and lets him ensure his beers’ quality.
“Once the beer leaves your care, no one is going to care for them,” Wei says. “Those are things that I can’t control, but what I can control is to package the beers and make them as shelf stable as possible so that they can withstand a good amount of abuse.”
The facility is not fully ready yet – future plans include being an incubation brewery for foreign beer brands looking to enter the local market – but they’re already holding tours on the weekend for the general public.
The brewery is also now making a number of beers from Brewlander’s core range as well as four new seasonal beers. According to Wei, these one-off brews are an evolution of The Fringe Project, a sideline that lets him experiment with wilder, funkier styles.
“Some of those beers really had a following,” he says. “So we thought it was not a bad idea to give these beers a proper brand and name.”
There’s the Acid Hop, a sour ale that mashes a Berliner weisse and an IPA together with pineapple. The Psychedelic New England IPA is like drinking a fluffy, tropical cloud, and the Cherry Sundae Pastry Stout is a Black Forest cake in a can. They also brought back Courage, their dank yet sprightly West Coast double IPA.
Brewlander’s homecoming may feel like a culmination of its journey, but Wei says it’s only the beginning. In the pipeline are more seasonal beers and some non-alcoholic options as well. Plus there’s the matter of getting his beer into the hands of more people here.
“It’s still an upward battle to try and put Singapore beers in more accounts,” he says. “It’s still almost non existent outside of the bars (craft beer consumers) frequent. That’s still the goal: trying to get ourselves recognised as the leading Singapore craft brewery.”
Stay updated on Brewlander’s latest via their Facebook page.
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.