“Who among us can deny? We love a good fire… we love a good fire.” – Clutch, “A Good Fire”
As our three-way Skype chat wound down, Pedro Fernandes and I lobbed ideas back and forth about the type of hops we might use, I asked about the malts and quantities of mangoes and calamansi that we’d need—essentially we’d descended into recipe nitty-gritty—and all the while Ross Goh sat there quietly, as the young Rye & Pint brewmaster is wont to do, listening, nodding. We finally stopped and asked Goh what he thought. “I think that sounds fine,” he said. “What’s most important is that we just have fun.”
And with that, Goh summed up succinctly what collaboration beers are all about—just having fun.
Debuted on November 7, 2018, at Mikkeller Bar Singapore, and in the works for nearly eight months, Haze Me Up Before You Sago and 50 Grams of Fire are the fruits of shared labor between Rye & Pint Brewery (Singapore), Boxing Cat Brewery / Liquid Laundry (Shanghai, China), and Beer Travelist. R&P brewed both beers at their clandestine facility in far-west Singapore, which of course means that Goh handled by far the heaviest lifting on this project.
Collaborations between craft breweries happen all the time these days, with good reason. Assuming everything goes smoothly, collabs are a beneficial exchange of ideas and feedback for the participating brewers, they produce a “unique” and marketable product and, as Goh astutely noted, they’re an excuse to have a good time on the clock. R&P already released two collaboration beers in 2018 with Singapore’s Archipelago Brewery, and Boxing Cat Brewery has done numerous collabs over the years with breweries from all over the world, including Mikkeller and Young Master Brewery.
These meetings of the minds are, indeed, becoming the norm for any craft brewery that’s been around a bit. Still, each and every collaboration beer carries (or should carry) some interest in one way or another, whether it’s the beer itself, the methods used to brew it, or perhaps just the story behind it.
Collab beers are generally only brewed once and have limited availability; Haze Me Up and 50 Grams, for instance, are both 500-liter batches only served in Singapore. These beers capture a moment in time and a shared idea between like-minded people, and they represent a small leap of artistic faith, too, because nobody knows just how well all those ideas tossed into the brew kettle will ultimately mesh.
This spirit of experimentation is one thing that sets craft brewers and craft beer apart, and it’s worth celebrating. With that in mind, we wrap up this enlightening experience with a brief behind-the-scenes look at how it all went down.
“I come from Portugal, a country where wine is historically the most popular alcoholic beverage, so it’s no wonder that I had to travel all the way to Australia to discover craft beer,” says Pedro Fernandes, the head brewer at Liquid Laundry, which is sort of Boxing Cat Brewery’s trendier little sister brewpub in Shanghai. “Once the fermented goodness hit my lips, I never looked back.”
By that Fernandes means that he soon turned to homebrewing and then, a few years later, took a Brewing Technology course at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. Shortly afterwards he moved to Shanghai, where he picked up a job at Boxing Cat Brewery.
Fernandes contacted us in March 2018 via Facebook. “Hi, I really like your blog, and I’m happy to read you like our beers, even though not so much our bars,” Fernandes wrote. “I often travel to Singapore since my fiance lives there, and was thinking it’d be cool to do a collab beer with a local brewery. I was wondering if you could suggest a partner brewery.”
Ed Note: Once upon a time this writer named in a CNN Travel story Boxing Cat Brewery as one of the 10 best beer bars in Asia; link omitted because the story is now four years old and horribly outdated. BCB is the first brewpub we ever visited in Shanghai, and we do indeed still enjoy popping in, though as Fernandes noted it’s more for the beers than the sporty ambience.
For the collaboration we immediately thought of Rye & Pint Brewery, which brothers Ross, Rufus, and Luther launched in 2015. These guys excel at brewing easy-drinking, Southeast Asia-style beers; R&P’s Sunday’s Brew pilsner, for instance, is hopped with Citra, which isn’t exactly “on style” but sure is delicious. With an annual capacity of around 10,000 liters we thought R&P might have the space, too, and we’d been looking for a good reason to work with the boys after we met during Beer Travelist’s launch party in May 2017.
We put Fernandes and the Goh brothers in touch, mentioned that we’d love to pitch in, and away we three went. Following a few email exchanges we all agreed that we wanted to brew something sessionable, tropical, and that showcased some kind of culinary tradition shared between Singapore and China. In the end, we decided on a traditional dessert popular in both countries—mango pomelo sago—as our inspiration.
The result is Haze Me Up Before You Sago (5.5% ABV), a moderately hazy, fruit-forward IPA brewed with some New England IPA-style ingredients, though none of us would call it a true NEIPA. We used three different malts, a blend of Centennial, Citra, and Ekuanot hops, a hefty amount of flaked oats, and fresh sago. There are heaps of ripe mango puree in there—Ross sourced the mangoes from a fruit distributor operating out of R&P’s building—and instead of using pomelo, which Fernandes and Ross felt might impart too much bitterness, we replaced it with fresh calamansi juice.
“I really like this hop combo because it should give us lots of pineapple, mango, and other tropical notes,” Fernandes says. “As for the calamansi, which mostly grows in the Philippines and Malaysia, I absolutely love their sweet and sour flavor, and thought they could help add some sourness to mimic the sour mango flavor. Plus, the delicate mango and bold calamansi greatly complement each other.”
For the final touch, Ross dry-hopped the brew with loads of fresh Ekuanot and Citra hops once a day, every two days, for a week. Though we collectively finalized the recipe, this particular brew day was a one-man show starring Ross Goh—we were away in Byron Bay at the time, and a family emergency caused Fernandes to abort his Singapore travel plans.
Since we couldn’t get our stars aligned for a Singapore pow-wow the first time, we decided to make it happen with a second brew.
“What do I remember most about that day? Rushing!” Fernandes says. “I was getting married the following weekend and made everyone come with me to get our rings sized. Ross hardly had any sleep because he was in the brewery all night, and Brian was… enthusiastic. Overall, a great day.”
Ed Note: It’s nice of Fernandes not to compare us to a hyperactive puppy.
The brew day for what would become 50 Grams of Fire (5%) was indeed a wee scramble, which was appropriate since the beer itself was, to borrow an earlier phrase, a wee leap of faith. Whereas Haze Me Up Before You Sago aimed for fruity and tropical flavors, here we wanted to try and impart some heat into a sessionable pale ale. Chili padis, however, aren’t exactly subtle.
Originally I had this plan to embark on something of a “chili padi expedition” deep into the heart of Little India to track down the trader with the freshest, most potent peppers available anywhere on the island. Due to time constraints and some other things, however, we ended up sourcing the chili padi from a local supplier we all knew and trusted—Redmart. Singapore’s popular grocery delivery service handled the order with aplomb, and my son devoured the marked-down, one-day-from-expiration baby food pouch included in the order, too. Nothing but the very best for you, son.
The final recipe lists 250 grams of chili padis to be added five minutes before the end of the boil, but we only used 50 grams because, well, after a morning taste test we realized we had a super fucking potent batch of peppers on our hands, and we were rightly concerned as much about the spice as we were the stronge vegetal flavors from the flesh.
Aside from the chili padis we used mostly pale ale malts and a mix of Centennial, Hallertau Blanc, and Kent Goldings hops. Ross dry-hopped it first with Hallertau hops and then, just a few weeks prior to carbonation, 300 grams of Mosaic hops.
We think these both turned out beautifully, and we’re particularly pleased by the delicate manner in which the chili padi presents itself in 50 Grams of Fire. It’s no small task to let that heat shine while still keeping it in check—the chili padi is definitely there, but not in an overpowering or novelty way. “Chili pepper heat is a pretty extreme way to go with brewing, and odds were that our first attempt would not be the greatest,” Fernandes admits. “But that’s what collaboration brews are all about, right? Luckily, after a bit of experimentation, we hit on the perfect recipe.”
The Release and Aftermath
In Storycraft, Jack Hart’s essential guide to writing narrative nonfiction, Hart writes of a story’s denouement:
“The powerful engine of story has shut down, leaving little momentum to carry your audience farther forward. So don’t push your luck. Wrap things up as quickly as possible and leave the stage.”
With this story at more than 1,600 words and counting, that’s apropos advice; bear with us just a little longer.
We launched Haze Me Up Before You Sago and 50 Grams of Fire on three successive nights at Mikkeller Bar Singapore, The Good Beer Company, and Smith Street Taps, all very fine beer bars in their own way. Fernandes was unable to join us, and is in fact on his way to different pastures with his last brew at Liquid Laundry in the can (more on that shortly) and a potential transfer to another brewery in Anheuser-Busch InBev’s crafty wing in the works. In his stead, Boxing Cat brewmaster Michael Jordan flew to Singapore to meet us and the R&P crew for the occasions.
Haze Me Up sold out two of the three nights, while 50 Grams seemed to garner the strongest reactions, most of them positive, or to be specific, positivity mixed with surprise that it was not necessarily a half-pint-and-done novelty. Mikkeller Bar was relatively packed, and that night all three parties took turns on the mic to talk all good things beer. Local beer videographers Drinking Out Loud sat down with all of us for a chat, and the last thing we remember is spotting The Cockroach Specialist van parked in the street as we hopped in a cab in the middle of a serious thunderstorm.
Craft beer bingo at The Good Beer Company was a comparatively mellow affair, while Smith Street Taps was, as ever, the perfect place to put these beers in front of the more dedicated beer enthusiasts, and on this occasion not just those based locally. A contingent from Shanghai happened to be in town for a business conference, one that included Jackie Zhou of Jackie’s Beer Nest fame. Some of these folks showed up at each release party. Zhou, in fact, visited R&P’s brewery, and there may be a kernel of an ongoing relationship between the two.
And why not? R&P doesn’t yet export, but they’ll soon plant a small stake in Shanghai with a third collaboration beer with BCB / Liquid Laundry; we’re not involved this time. Brewed at Liquid Laundry in late October while Ross was in Shanghai, Nitro Kaya Saison (5.5%) is inspired by Singapore’s traditional kaya toast breakfast. Tropical yet malty, with notes of caramel and vanilla, Kaya Saison was brewed with coconut and pandan leaves and will be served on nitro.
It was Fernandes’ last brew. At Mikkeller Bar, we ask Goh how it went, and his response is a familiar one. “Yeah, it was good. It was fun.”