Casey Choo pours sweat as he wipes sweat from his glasses with his sweaty t-shirt. Clambering in thick rubber boots down from a brew kettle, his thick black beard and pulled-back hair finely dusted with powdery dry yeast, Daryl Yeap is absolutely soaked, too. It’s (a truly fucking hot) brew day at Singapore’s The General Brewing Company, and once this inglorious day’s work is done, the two twentysomethings must scamper tout de suite halfway across the island to Good Luck Beerhouse and launch Choo’s That Singapore Beer Project, which has percolated for months.
“The end goal is to understand how people drink, what people drink, and make a beer out of it,” said Choo during a recent interview, below, with Drinking Out Loud. “It’s to give awareness that there are other beers out there for us to try, and these can be locally brewed. Give our microbreweries a chance, and give other beer styles a chance.”
Extensive research and multiple focus groups, collaborative recipe development, pre-launch merch sales, sweaty brew days—it’s been a whirlwind few months for Choo, and it all culminates tonight with the first tapped kegs (aside from a low-key preview at Beerfest Asia) of his “social brewing” project.
Oh, and skeptical Mom and Dad will be there, too. No pressure.
Of All Places, Jurong
The public at large has no reason to ever visit The General Brewing Company. Surreptitiously located within a blocky lime-green monstrosity dubbed Jurong Food Hub, a dull industrial estate in a notably drab industrial area—if you’re looking for somewhere discreet to store dead bodies, yo—GBC is very much the dictionary definition of “production brewery.”
Here beer is brewed and kegged, rinse and repeat, nothing to see here, move along before you start sweating. Easy on the eyes though it may not be, however, this modest five-barrel facility is responsible for some of the best and most buzzed-about beers that have come out of Singapore in 2018. To be more specific, GBC’s resident caretaker and brewmaster, Yeap, is the one who has had a hand in the production of a series of exceptional ales from Brewlander & Co, That Singapore Beer Project, and his own Daryl’s Urban Ales.
“General Brewing Co is mostly a contract brewery, but more importantly, it’s an incubation space for new brands, like the one [Choo] is launching,” Yeap says. “Obviously, I would like to see more local drinkers rallying behind local brands, and of course to have that you must have good products.”
Early results indicate that Yeap is just the man to help make that happen. A certified BJCP judge and fervent homebrewer with degrees in business and engineering from National University of Singapore, the 28-year-old is the only full-time employee at GBC. Previously owned and operated by now-defunct Innocence Brewing Co, the brewery began its second life as a for-hire contract brewery when Kevin Ngan, who’s behind such popular local watering holes as Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall and aforementioned Good Luck Beerhouse, assumed control.
For those who may not be familiar with “contract breweries,” they’re essentially the same thing as, say, companies that print custom t-shirts or coffee mugs—you tell the company what you want, and it then makes and passes back the finished product, in this case beer. It’s a nifty exchange in the beer world for both parties: the brewery fills its extra (or sometimes all of its) capacity to help pay the bills, while the moonlight brewer gets to brew her or his own beers, and have them packaged, without needing their own costly brewery.
It’s an increasingly common arrangement, with Denmark’s Mikkeller perhaps the most famous brewery without a permanent home (though it did finally open its own facilities in San Diego and New York). Closer to home, Singapore-based Brewlander & Co and Crossroads Brewing Co both produce their core beers in Cambodia at Phnom Penh’s Kingdom Breweries.
Services offered by the contracting brewery vary, but at GBC the packages typically include ingredients, brewing, kegging, and customs duties and taxes. Clients can pass Yeap finished recipes for him to brew to spec, or work with him to develop the recipe. Once the beer is kegged, what happens with it from there in terms of distribution, sales, and storage is up to the client, though GBC does offer a cold-storage service for an extra fee. Operating at near-capacity for months now, Yeap says the brewery isn’t actively seeking new customers and that it’s mostly been a word of mouth thing thus far.
To start his transition at GBC from home to commercial brewer, Yeap assisted Brewlander mastermind John Wei with five or six beers in Wei’s ongoing The Fringe Project series. Considering the esoteric nature—particularly for Singapore—of these small-batch beers, that was a fairly heady first assignment.
“[GBC] is ideal because the brews are relatively small, and it allows me to be a little more reckless, take chances, and have more fun in creating beers that may be more niche,” says Wei. “It’s something we’re unable to do on a larger scale at the moment, so I get to scratch my ‘homebrew itch’ here. We’ve done 10 beers and counting, and have never done the same beer twice. That’s the charm of the place for us.”
For instance, the debut release, TFP-001, was a hibiscus-infused grisette completely fermented with Brettanomyces, a type of “wild” yeast that needs special care and, if nothing else, requires exceptional attention to detail when cleaning the facilities afterwards to avoid contamination in future brews. TFP-002 was a double dry-hopped IPA, TFP-003 a soursop and peach Berliner weisse, and TFP-005 (our favorite) a mixed fermentation farmhouse ale. In other words, Yeap cut his teeth at GBC helping out with just about everything but conventional brews.
“When we first started, Daryl was mainly learning the ropes and shadowing me during the cleaning, brewing, and cellaring. It just takes a while to understand that certain things are done differently on this scale, and that there are safety matters when dealing with things like strong chemicals, hot liquids, pressure, and mechanical stuff,” Wei says. “I’ve definitely seen his confidence grow in terms of brewing and managing the brewery, and now I can take a back seat on my brew days with full confidence that all is well. It’s awesome that he has his own label now, too.”
Unto the Haze
Launched in July with the release of Fermentation One, Daryl’s Urban Ales is, for now, what Yeap calls a “side project” with two or three brews a month. “I’m brewing more experimental styles of beers, and they’re expensive, so I don’t expect to distribute to many bars and restaurants,” Yeap says. “It’s mostly for craft beer bars.”
Fermentation One was a double dry-hopped New England-style oatmeal pale ale Yeap brewed with heaps of Citra and Mosaic hops, along with Citra Lupulin. Without getting too technical, lupulin is a yellow-ish powdery substance within a given hop cone that basically imparts all of the hop’s signature resins and aromatics. In its purified form, lupulin is like Mario on Super Stars when its added to the brew, which helps explain Fermentation One’s hyper-juicy tropical flavors.
“I started brewing this style about three years ago at home, but I didn’t know anything about New England IPAs. At that time Omnipollos were arriving in Singapore, and I thought they were great, so I wanted to try and brew what I thought was just a hazy Scandinavian imperial IPA,” says Yeap. “Luckily Omnipollo posted a recipe online, and I guess over time I just learned the style. I’m into hazy stuff.”
Indeed he is.
On the heels of Fermentation One Yeap released Nothing Fishy, a properly dank (and, again, double dry-hopped) NEIPA brewed with Simcoe, Citra, and Ekuanot hops, plus Citra and Ekuanot lupulins. One of DUA’s most recent brews is Happy Belly, a mango and passion fruit gose so dense and hazy it almost looks like a freshly blended mango smoothie. I tasted it straight out of the tank during our visit to GBC and was so impressed by its nuance and balance.
I’m convinced that, in time, sour beers have a place in Singapore, particularly ones as well-crafted as Happy Belly—and Choo’s Kiam Sng Di.
Brewed by and for Singaporeans
The third of four beers in That Singapore Beer Project’s “Citizens Beer” series, Kiam Sng Di is a 4.5% ABV gose brewed with sour plums and guava. “It’s uniquely Singaporean, and so far has been well-received by most,” Choo says. “Craft beer enthusiasts accept it, everyday drinkers like it, and non-beer drinkers are relishing its refreshing sweet-sour flavors. It’s checking the right objective boxes, and I’m very happy with that.”
Like each entry in the series, Choo, 26, did not simply conceive Kiam Sng Di on his own accord. Putting his psychology degree from Nanyang Technological University to work, Choo conducted closed focus groups with four disparate demographics of Singaporeans to learn about each group’s lifestyle, preferences, drinking habits, and more. With local homebrewers helping craft the appropriate recipes, Choo then used those findings to create what he hopes are the perfect tailor-made beers for each group.
Kiam Sng Di was informed by a session with local craft beer industry vets. For the youngest locals of legal age—think college students—Choo offers Drinks Like Teen Spirit?!, a Helles-style lager clocking 4.8% ABV, while Hawkers’ Dream Ale is a 4.4% blonde ale made for Singapore’s hawker center chefs. The fourth and final brew in the series, Local Table Beer, is a 4.7% session IPA imagined with various restaurateurs to be a flexible beer that pairs well with any meal.
At the project’s launch party in Good Luck Beerhouse, Choo rolled out Hawkers’ Dream Ale and Drinks Like Teen Spirit?!—they sold out within a day. “It was good to see repeat orders, which suggest drinkability and palatability, two things I’m gunning for in the project,” says Choo. “My parents were concerned that their studious, freshly graduated son was abandoning the pursuit of a stable career, but I think they were more convinced after tasting my beers.”
“My dad liked Hawkers’ for its subtle hop bitterness and crispness, and when she tried it a week later, my mum enjoyed Kiam Sng Di for its familiarity and sweet-sourness. She even asked for seconds!”
This story was written to the sounds of Mellow Beats.