Southeast Asia was familiar, so I didn’t have many qualms about relocating to Singapore in July 2012. Aside from packing drudgery and other officious matters, the only real concern was flying around the globe with a teenaged cat, then putting the poor girl in quarantine for a month. Well, there was that, plus one other thing—the good beer situation. It was the one unequivocal downgrade.
Things have changed drastically over the past seven years, with Singapore now standing firmly as one of the region’s craft beer capitals. The picture wasn’t so rosy in 2012, however, both in terms of locally brewed products and quality imports. There was Brewerkz and RedDot BrewHouse (both in a bit of a down period) and now-defunct Jungle Beer; The Good Beer Company was one of a few beer bars onto something; the legendary, recently shuttered Brewers’ Craft was just about the only bottle shop.
In the words of Yoda, however, “there [was] another.”
When I popped into my Brooklyn local, Beer Street, for a growler fill a week or two before the move, the owner asked if I’d heard about Singapore’s Japanese craft beer bar. He was a fan of Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest beers, and mentioned the place had a bunch of them on tap. As it turned out, that place was located right across the street from where we’d stay while waiting to move into our apartment—that place was JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar, and that place is the first place in which I enjoyed a proper craft beer in Singapore.
JiBiru was an outlier when it opened in March 2011. For awhile, it seemed like it might be too far ahead of its time, and perhaps go the way of Jungle Beer and other short-lived craft beer ventures. Surreptiously tucked into the pedestrian-packed 313@Somerset mall courtyard—one of Singapore’s finest people-watching spots—JiBiru for a few years was significantly overshadowed by its bigger, more mainstream neighbor, Brotzeit, the German-themed gastropub franchise. The crowds, in other words, were decidedly one-sided.
The tide has since turned. Brotzeit no longer feels quite so novel (or stays quite so crowded), while JiBiru has long since weathered the early storm. Today this open-air izakaya is something of a rare crossover success story, packing its modest 80-seat space with a healthy mix of both beer enthusiasts and everyday drinkers. Chalk it up to the advantageous location, to Singapore’s affection for all things Japanese, or to a wider interest in craft among locals and regional visitors alike—or, more likely, all of the above.
Whatever the reason, JiBiru thrives as one of Singapore’s best and longest-tenured beer bars as it celebrates its eighth anniversary with a blowout bash on Saturday, April 27, one which not only serves as a point of reflection on how far the local beer scene has come over the past half decade, but also a showcase of how much the bar itself has expanded its beer range.
Japanese craft is still JiBiru’s focus. Hitachino Nest, the bar’s signature brewery, figures prominently in the 10-tap lineup, and the full Hitachino bottle range is available, too. Shiga Kogen Beer (brewed by Tamamura Honten), Minoh Beer, Yo-Ho Brewing Co, and Morita Kinshachi Beer are among the other Japanese breweries regularly offered in one form or another. Recently, however, JiBiru has worked breweries from the UK and Hong Kong into the mix, a move which not so coincidentally happened when Eastern Craft, the import and distribution company running the bar, brought Gweilo Beer, Fourpure Brewing, and BrewDog into its portfolio.
Of the 18 beers pouring at JiBiru’s eighth birthday, eight come from Japan, five from Hong Kong, and five from the UK. That’s not necessarily indicative of the bar’s everyday Japan:Rest of the World ratio—special occasions, after all, warrant special beers—but it does represent the shift to a more diverse offering. Nobody is complaining.
Today Singapore has nearly 70 beer bars, breweries, bottle shops, and other craft beer specialists across the island. It’s a far cry from July 2012, but even as the times have changed, if I walked into Beer Street next week to fill a growler, there’s a good chance the owner still might ask if I’d heard about Singapore’s Japanese craft beer bar.
JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar is located at 313 Orchard Rd, 313@Somerset, #01-26; 6732 6884. Open daily 12pm – 12am. The bar’s eighth anniversary party takes place Saturday, April 27, from 4pm to midnight.
Full Disclosure: JiBiru was a sponsor of the 2017 Beer Travelist Guide to Singapore, which is still available here as a free download (though the discounts are no longer valid); we’ve also gotten to know the owners over the years, as one does. While this hasn’t influenced our coverage whatsoever, we believe in the old-fashioned notion of transparency.