At Beerfest Asia 2018 in Singapore, Craft is King, The Ugly Face of Fake Craft, and Other Stray Observations

Beerfest Asia Singapore

Beerfest Asia 2018 X Edition was the first iteration of the annual Singapore beer festival we’ve attended in some years, and my how things have changed for the better since our first encounter. With our heads sufficiently cleared and the dust settled from the four-day blowout held from August 30 – September 2, we look back with a few thoughts on the festivities.

The Band is Kickin’, and I See Lots of Beer

Much has rightfully been made of Beerfest’s pivot to craft beer in 2018. It was less a pivot, though, than a bear hug. Most of the more than 600 beers poured at the festival came via legitimate craft breweries, from the local (Daryl’s Urban Ales, Brewlander & Co, Brewerkz) and regional (Yardley Brothers Beer, Gweilo Beer, Pasteur Street Brewing) to the international (BrewDog, Garage Project, SweetWater Brewery).

Furthermore, for this its tenth anniversary Beerfest even collaborated (read: contracted) with five craft breweries—four if you don’t count the Heineken Asia Pacific-owned Archipelago Brewery as craft—and one meadery on a series of bottled “birthday beers.” The series included a hibiscus-infused mead from Gosnells Mead, Paulaner Brauhaus’ Smokin’ Lager, and—our favorite—RedDot BrewHouse’s dragonfruit earl grey lager. All in all the lineup wasn’t particularly exciting, but we appreciated the effort.

The last year or so hasn’t been particularly kind to major craft beer-focused festivals in Southeast Asia. Kuala Lumpur’s Better Beer Festival was shut down in 2017 for politically motivated reasons, and just recently Hong Kong’s Beertopia was severely crippled when members of the Craft Beer Association of Hong Kong voted to pull out of this year’s event—but then spun off their own festival.

By most accounts, however, Beerfest Asia X was a resounding hit for festival-goers and vendors alike. We had a great time. It was fun seeing so many familiar faces in the beer world in one place. At the same time, we don’t remember seeing more than one or two scantily dressed “beer girls,” thank god—that ship has sailed. Spread out across three large tents, with ample green space on the lawns for hanging out and soaking in the scenery, the layout at The Meadow at Gardens By The Bay was ideal. The prices were generally reasonable.

Beerfest Asia Singapore

Beerfest Asia Singapore

It wasn’t perfect, of course.

Trying to cash out leftover credits on the prepaid wristbands was a fool’s errand. The dated live music (or at least its ear-shattering volume) needs a rethink, and though the marketing was considerably toned down compared to recent years, there were still a few bro-like “chug, chug, chug, chug!” overtones on social media. Even though it’s a beer festival predicated on serious boozing, we’d like to see more reminders about drinking responsibly. Sorry to be the Debbie Downer, but binge drinking has been on our mind lately. It’s not something discussed in the beer world as much as it should be… but that’s for another day.

Overall, bravo.

Young Master Does It Again

Kudos to Hong Kong’s Young Master Brewery for again dominating the Asia Beer Awards, which are held in tandem with Beerfest Asia. For the second straight year the brewery scored “Best in Asia” honors, this time for its barrel-aged Hak Mo Sheung imperial stout. It’s crazy how much things have changed at YMB since we published our feature story on the brewery last year in May. For more on what’s what, check out our rundown of The Guild Singapore, the brewery’s first permanent overseas outpost.

From Busselton to Eternity (or Just Singapore)

Smith Street Taps, one of the premier purveyors of fine ales in Singapore, is now dabbling in the import business and at Beerfest Asia debuted one of their major early gets. We were already fans of Rocky Ridge Brewing Co, a family-owned, locally focused operation based in Busselton, Western Australia, and are thrilled to see them now stepping out into Singapore. Keep a particular eye out for the brewery’s Ace Pale Ale, which SST poured at the festival; it was probably our favorite “new” beer we tried that night.

As for the not so good…

Like an unwelcome turd that erroneously tumbles out while doing a third set of pull-ups, Bira 91 seemed to appear en masse in certain corners of Singapore overnight, without notice or advance warning. It’s specifically prevalent in the beer section at Cold Storage grocery stores across the island—you can’t miss its brightly colored packaging and cheeky monkey logo. Or, to borrow the company’s phrase, its “quirky and contemporary packaging” aimed squarely at millenials. “By 2014, I realized it was time for us to introduce a brand that resonated with the young urban population of India with key focus areas being taste, flavor and quality,” said founder Ankur Jain, with wooden cynicism, in one interview.

Bira 91
Buyer Beware!

The price is right—we’ve seen six packs as low as $22, a proper bargain for beer of any kind in these parts—and the branding, well, it’s quirky and contemporary, all right, and nails the fake craft beer vibe with aplomb. The only problem is that taste, flavor, and quality thing, unless you’re into beers with parrafin aromas and flavors that, I imagine, combine the worst qualities of gasoline and formaldehyde. Bira 91 may be selling like hotcakes in India, and maybe it doesn’t taste quite as lethal over there, but the stuff being sold in Singapore (and I assume the other poor, unsuspecting export countries) tastes satanic.

Despite its cynical packaging I once bought a bottle of the IPA out of curiosity. I dumped it after a few sips. Speaking as a poor journalist who can’t afford to dump beers of any quality, my first regret is not dumping that bottle after one sip. My second regret is for some reason wasting a welcome beer at Beerfest Asia on a second chance for Bira 91, though I didn’t make the same mistake I did with the IPA. I dumped the White after one hearty gulp; I couldn’t stomach a second. My wife made it to three begrudging, horrified sips before following suit. “This literally tastes like it’s bad for you,” she said.

She was right. There’s something seriously wrong with this stuff.

B9 Beverages, the New Delhi-based company that owns and produces Bira 91, has reportedly raised upwards of $100 million in equity funding. So long as Singapore’s Health Promotion Board doesn’t shut B9 down as a public safety hazard, surely the brewery will have the backing to continue muscling its way into the marketplace and spring for an even bigger booth at Beerfest Asia 2019. For your own good, dearest beer drinkers of Singapore (and Thailand and Hong Kong), save your precious coin and do not feed this monster’s nefarious mission.

And please, Beerfest Asia, don’t let money talk next year when Bira 91 submits an application—let the bullshit walk.

A Little Insider Baseball

Beer Travelist was one of many outlets and so-called social media “influencers” (gag) invited to a special media preview on Beerfest’s first day, though we couldn’t make it. Kudos to the media relations team for extending us two entry passes and four welcome beers when we showed up Friday night to see if we were on the media list. We weren’t, but they proactively added us on the spot, briefly highlighted the aforementioned birthday beers, and offered to orient us to the festival layout. They also asked us to email them a link to any article we might put up about the event.

This is standard stuff in the media world; that is, Company X offers something to Media Outlet Y in return, hopefully, for coverage. In Singapore as in the rest of the world, said coverage in today’s media climate tends to be glowing when a freebie is involved. Some refer to this practice as “pay for play,” and it’s hardly a new thing, particularly in the worlds of travel and beer.

Beer Travelist is 100% independent media. Our stories are entirely picked and driven by internal choice. We dislike conflicts of interest, and try to avoid them as much as possible, which admittedly can be tricky at times when friends and acquaintances here and abroad work in industries—beer and travel—that we cover. We generally do not attend mass media events, and never promise or exchange positive coverage for freebies. We only accept minimal comps and freebies while working on a story.

For example, when we visit a brewery to interview the owner and/or brewer, we’re often offered a beer or two on the house as more of a friendly gesture than anything else. They’re not trying to “buy us off,” and we’re not going to say the beer is the most amazing liquid you could ever pour down your gullet just because it’s free. But that’s because we have at least some journalistic integrity, and when we do receive some kind of freebie, or if there’s some kind of other potential conflict of interest, we disclose it.

Maybe that’s old school, but that’s how we do it. Many media outlets, and most in Singapore, do not. We’re not patting ourselves on the back here. Any media outlet with integrity has conflicts of interest in mind, too, and though each handles them in their own way, they do at least handle them.

To bring this back to Beerfest Asia, it’s time for the local “influencers” and media to start disclosing all the freebies they receive in exchange for the coverage they provide. We didn’t see a single disclosure about that media preview in any coverage we happened to see.

Be honest, be upfront, and let your readers decide whether what they’re reading has been influenced in any way by all that free booze or whatever it might be. Certainly, it should go without saying that if you’re actually a part of Beerfest Asia in some way—perhaps as a sponsor or vendor—and then also covering the event under the guise of independent media, this type of clear and direct conflict of interest should be disclosed.

With that said, there’s only one way to wrap up our Beerfest Asia 2018 X Edition coverage:

Disclosure: Beerfest Asia comped us two entry tickets and four welcome beers, and Smith Street Taps insisted on buying us a beer. While that hasn’t influenced this story, we believe in the old-fashioned thing called transparency.

We wrote this editorial while listening to Clutch’s Full Fathom Five.

Brian Spencer
written by: Brian Spencer
Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance journalist and the founder of Beer Travelist. Say hello at brian [a]