The momentum continues for Singaporean craft brewery Brewlander & Co, which bagged four medals at the 2017 Asia Beer Awards: A silver in the “Sour/Wild Beer” and gold in the “Best in Singapore” categories for its wild IPA Love; a silver in the “Strong Ale” competition for its double IPA Courage; and a gold in the “Golden Ale” battle for its summer ale Hope.
We catch up with brewmaster John Wei, whom we profiled in our in-depth feature story on the brewery, over beers at Temple Cellars to discuss Grace, a new collaboration beer with Si Chuan Dou Hua restaurant first poured in August at Beerfest Asia. The three kegs sold out well before the festival ended.
What It Is: “Making this was a nightmare, man, it was a real nightmare,” says Wei. We’ll take his word for it, but this is one nightmare we’re happy came to life. Grace is a 4.5% lychee red tea ale with a restrained floral aroma, round body, pleasant hints of lychee, and a dry finish. “Without naming names, I find that a lot of ‘tea beers’ are astringent and have a lot of tannins; they tend to taste more like tea than beer,” Wei says. “I wanted to get the fragrance of the tea, and retain the refreshing qualities of a kölsch, without the beer tasting like carbonated alcoholic tea.”
Wei planned to use a white tea for Grace, but after spending a few hours working his way through Si Chuan Dou Hua’s extensive Chinese tea menu—tasting hot steeps and cold steeps, first and second runnings, first and second brews—he found the white teas too tepid. He instead opted for the lychee red tea, which is made by drying the tea leaves on lychee shells. No actual lychees were used in the brew, which helps explain why the lychee flavors and aromas are (thankfully) more of a backbone than anything else.
To complete the recipe Wei chose Green Bullet hops from New Zealand and pilsener malts from the United Kingdom, lurking ingredients that glue rather than define the beer’s nuanced profile. “The malt was a neutral, blank piece of paper that allows the tea to shine and express itself,” Wei says. He pitched about 20 kilograms of tea into the 2,000-liter batch of Grace, which ultimately produced a far lower final yield than expected due to the tea’s heavy liquid absorption.
Why It Matters: Made in concert with Sichuan and Cantonese restaurant Si Chuan Dou Hua, Grace is Brewlander & Co’s first collaboration beer and first stab at a kölsch, a crisp and refreshing beer style that originates in Germany. “Collaboration is all about working together with the partner,” Wei says. “For me it was about understanding what Si Chuan Dou Hua represents and what they’re trying to accomplish in their kitchen and in their tea house, then incorporating that with our values into the final product.”
Indeed, it is one thing for restaurants to slap a few craft beers on the drink menu willy-nilly, and something else entirely to work with a local producer to create what is essentially a house beer that reflects your ethos, ingredients, and/or overall theme. There’s a place for good beer everywhere, and upscale-ish Chinese restaurants are no different. We applaud this collaboration and hope to see more craft breweries and restaurants in Singapore and around the region work together in a similar fashion.
Where to Get It: Wei says there’s a chance that Grace could eventually become a seasonal release, but for now it’s a limited batch exclusively available at Si Chuan Dou Hua’s branch at UOB Plaza, where views from the 60th-floor location command just as much attention as the food (and beer). There are three other Si Chuan Dou Hua outlets in Singapore, the most notable of which is at the PARKROYAL on Beach, which has the distinction of being the island’s first restaurant housing a dedicated Chinese tea house (Tian Fu Tea Room). At the time of publication we weren’t certain whether Grace would find its way to these other three venues. Best stick to UOB Plaza, and do it tout de suite—Wei says Grace will probably sell out in few months max.
Food Pairing: Wei designed Grace to be a palate cleanser for the oily textures and spicy flavors prevalent in many of the restaurant’s signature Sichuan dishes. Go with the mildy spiced cold-steamed chicken tossed in chili oil, or something richer like deep-fried chicken doused in Sichuan peppercorns.