by Emma Nobes
With the high ceilings, exposed ventilation shafts, tell-tale handwritten chalkboards and seventies-inspired artworks you would be mistaken for thinking that you had just stepped into any old east London brewery. Except we aren’t in east London and this isn’t any old brewery; we are nearly 7,000 miles away on the little island that is Singapore.
Singapore, just off the coast of Malaysia, is renowned for many things; cleanliness, the chewing gum ban and Formula One spring to mind. But craft beer is not one of them. Recently, however, things have started to change. Singapore’s 2015 Beerfest Asia saw 30,000 beer lovers tasting over 400 beers, including leading players in the Asian beer industry like Singha Beer (Thailand) and San Miguel (Philippines), as well as lesser-known artisanal craft beers from countries like Japan, New Zealand and Italy. Originally set up seven years ago to raise awareness of the beer industry in Singapore, the four-day festival grows from strength to strength each year. The festival doesn’t have the raucous singing and dancing to folk music that one would expect in Europe, but it has its own vibe, and people here are beginning to take beer seriously.
The Little Island Brewing Company has spotted this growing market and knows its clientele. Hidden in the eastern end of Singapore, we found the brewery by accident at the end of a 20km post Christmas-indulgence cycle ride. Ten old-school tanks brew blends on site that contain no additives and patrons serve themselves with a top-up card, an Oyster card for beer, if you will. The six offerings work on a rotation system and, sadly, when we visited three had already sold out. This will, hopefully, not be a constant complaint and is merely a sign of the immediate popularity of the place, particularly over the Christmas and New Year period, in the six short months that it has been open.
Golden Ale was one of these three to be unavailable, but employee, brewmaster and all round nice guy Greg was kind enough to let me have a little taste of what was left in the barrel. Initial hints of peppermint were quickly followed by grapefruit undertones. “This stuff will not touch the sides on a hot sunny day”, said Greg. I agreed. Born to Scottish parents in Dubai, he grew up just down the road in Changi and has worked here for a month. He “came for the food and stayed for the beer”. A professional brewer, he asked for a job and has been enjoying the life of the Little Island Brewing Company ever since. His enthusiasm speaks volumes and his love for his craft and for his team clearly spills over into the customer experience.
A full pint of Oh Yeah, Singapore Pale Ale gives a certain sharpness that prickles the tongue ever so slightly. The overall fruitiness certainly wets the palette in this tropical climate and is most welcome when considering the brewery’s location; unless you live nearby, you will need to cycle here via the East Cost Park/Changi Beach coastline or grab a taxi. The full-bodied Ruby Tuesday, on the other hand, is maltier, darker and has real depth. Its powerful flavour packs a good punch.
I am sorry to say that, on this occasion, I was unable to try the final offering that was available; my responsibilities as Parent overtook my interests as Beer Drinker and I did have to cycle the 20km of coastline home slightly tipsy with a tired two-year old in the child seat of my bike. Before leaving, however, we did sample the kitchen’s offerings. Often when the beer is great, the food menu leaves a lot to be desired and it is a rare thing that an establishment achieves both. But, with its onsite smoker and locally-caught fish battered with whatever light beer is on rotation, the Little Island Brewing Company is making a good effort. Husband and Toddler finished off the meaty fish and chips before I even had a look in. I ordered the vegetarian bruschetta, which had a little too much mozzarella and lemon for my liking, but the bread was thick and the garnish was full and fresh.
In a country where restaurants and drinking holes close down as quickly as they open, I truly hope that this one gains the recognition that it deserves. Little Island Brewing Company will be partnering, alongside fellow national microbreweries, Singapore’s first ever craft beer festival CRAFT Singapore 2016 in March, which will do a lot to bolster the industry in Singapore, as well as their trade. The Little Island Brewing Company is one of the few craft beer brewers in Singapore and they have clearly put a lot of thought into building the business – as one would hope when discussing something as serious as beer. This is certainly a niche, for the moment at least, and one that Singapore is craving.
Emma Nobes is a writer and former Londoner, who now lives in Singapore with her husband and daughter.
Little Island Brewing Company is at 6 Changi Village Rd, Singapore 509907; +65 6543 9100. Open 12-12.