It took about three minutes, or the first round of pours, for representatives of BrewDog to untap the first keg of BrewDog’s Punk IPA tapped by one of the Scottish craft brewery’s newest importers. That they pulled it down—and had no choice but to do so, really, since it was skunked—hints at why the brewery went hunting for a new Singapore distributor in the first place, and perhaps why Eastern Craft Trading is the company they chose to reboot the brand.
That the keg was off isn’t a huge shock in Singapore, where beer’s cold chain is still often broken at some point on the beer’s journey to its final destination (and this is true in many developing markets across Asia, too). When it does happen, that break is one thing that can contribute to beer served in less-than-perfect condition. By the way, for those of you who’ve never heard the term “cold chain,” it’s basically what it sounds like: keeping beer chilled from the moment it leaves the brewery to the time it hits the lips.
To be clear, the keg was still within a month or so of its sell-by date, but when beer isn’t properly stored, which was likely the case here, its life span shortens. Consider this, too, in comparison: According to BrewDog ambassador Robyn Reid—her official title is “Brewing Tour Lizard / Cicerone Wizard / Retail Training Blizzard”—in the UK the brewery aims to serve Punk IPA less than two weeks after each batch is finished. Such a standard clearly isn’t possible in Singapore or other destinations abroad, but it demonstrates how important the brewery feels it is to serve Punk IPA reasonably fresh.
It was this skunked keg that Eastern Craft Trading founder Jeremy Reynolds (unknowingly) borrowed from another vendor to put on tap at The Good Beer Company, his new beer bar at Savourworld, to commemorate his importing business’ new account. After all, Reid was at the bar for a training session with Eastern Craft, so it made sense to tap something from the brewery. The first BrewDog shipment was still weeks away, though, so since Reynolds had no luck buying directly from the old importer, he called in the last-minute favor.
Few craft breweries have as much overseas brand recognition as BrewDog, so it’s a little surprising that a keg of Punk IPA was left sitting in storage for almost a year—and, really, in our view that keg probably had no business being sold at this point. Surely the importer, which has done business in Singapore for many years, has or had kegs that were kept well; this one was not.
Aside from that, we’ve noticed that the overall volume distribution of BrewDog in Singapore has been notably poor the past few years, particularly on draft. Given the ongoing proliferation of so many other craft breweries it’s been easy to overlook the absence, but for no good reason BrewDog’s presence slowed to a trickle when it should have been on par with, say, the omnipresent Stone Brewing, which in Singapore is handled with aplomb by BeerStyle.
All of that—lack of consistent quality control, questionable cold chain delivery, flagging distribution—Eastern Craft plans to change as the team brings BrewDog into a portfolio that also includes Hitachino Nest (Japan) and Fourpure Brewing Co (London), two breweries thriving in Singapore’s still-nascent market. “We look after the beer; we don’t want to see people having beer which isn’t good quality and up to the standard that we think it should be,” Reynolds says. “We aim to have all of our brands arriving in the best possible condition. Everything we do now is reefered. We can still improve; we’re basically 95 percent cold chain at the moment, and we’re going to fix that last mile very soon.”
[Ed Note: In this context, “reefered” is not slang for doing something whilst smoking marijuana, but rather refers to “reefers,” which are a type of refrigerated shipping container.]
The change coincides, too, with increased focus on quality at BrewDog itself, which in May launched a new cold chain process across the UK. Reid says the entire company, from receptionists on up, will have First Level Cicerone Certification (Certified Beer Server) by the end of the year, too. It’s at 94 percent when we meet in October. “We have more than Stone now,” she says with a laugh. “We checked!”
The first “rebooted” BrewDog shipment, arriving in Singapore this month, will largely feature core beers that include Punk IPA, 5AM Saint, Dead Pony Club, and Jet Black Heart, though Eastern Craft plans to introduce more of the brewery’s seasonals and esoteric offerings in 2018. For now, expect to see a helluva lot more Punk IPA, in particular, a beer that Reynolds says BrewDog “wants to be synonymous with IPA in the way that, in some circles, Guinness is with stout.”
Indeed, he sees Punk IPA as Eastern Craft’s new flagship IPA, if you will. “We have the great Indy Lager from Fourpure, the great White Ale from Hitachino Nest, and now a great IPA from BrewDog,” he says. “We do everything in between from all these breweries, of course, but these are the flagships of each brand and I think they’ve all fit together nicely for us.”
And for good beer drinkers in Singapore, more BrewDog kegs—and ones that aren’t almost a year old—are a good fit, too.
The Good Beer Company, also recently rebooted following a move from its original hawker center location, offers eight taps and 200+ bottled craft beers. It’s located at 2 Science Park Drive, Savourworld, #01-23. +65 9430 2750. Open daily 4pm – 11pm.
Disclosure: Reynolds also manages JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar and Malthouse, both of which are co-sponsors of the 2017 Beer Travelist Guide to Singapore. While that hasn’t influenced this story, we believe in this old-fashioned thing called transparency.
This article was updated on November 3, 2017, for clarity and to reflect that it was BrewDog, not Eastern Craft, that untapped the skunked keg.