The Beer Renaissance

There’s been a lot of talk about cocktails of late. Every week, we hear about a new joint that’s “set to change the nightlife scene”. Spirits, too, are getting their time in the spotlight, not just whisky, but rum, gin and vodka. Then of course it’s F1 season, so you can’t walk past a nightspot without seeing a sign touting some hilariously overpriced bubbly. As Oktoberfest rolls around, it’s time to take a long, hard look at our old friend beer. You’re going to like what you see.
1. Food Pairings
One of the key ingredients in the beer renaissance is the way it’s now valued as a gourmet product. The hoity toity will always insist that they don’t drink to get drunk, merely to enhance an experience, and so pairing beer with good food takes it beyond the realm of a working class beverage.
One contributor is a recent addition to the Clarke Quay area, SQUE Rotisserie & Alehouse. They’ve got a selection of beer that numbers in excess of 200, but they’re a member of the Emmanuel Stroobant Group, so they’re not just about the amber nectar. In addition to hearty pub grub, they’ve also got a range of rotisserie meats suited for matching with beer, like cumin, garlic lemon zest and cayenne pepper marinated beer ribs ($38) which go well with a Rogue amber ale ($12.50) and pork knuckle prepared with bay leaf, juniper berry, herb de provence and mustard ($31) which matches nicely with a Schneider Weisse Aventinus ($20.50). “Sque’s food has been designed to complement any beer and this is where the appeal lies,” says Rena Phua, Marketing Communications Executive at the Emmanuel Stroobant Group. “The flavors are simple, robust and exceptionally tasty and that isn’t necessarily confined to the meats.”
When it comes to fancy food, the beer doesn’t necessarily have to be in a glass beside your plate. Much like red wine sauce over a juicy steak or baby back ribs seasoned in Bourbon, beer works well as an ingredient itself. At SQUE, there’s the SQUE salad with beer vinegar dressing ($16/22), black cod with dill, white beer, cream and tomatoes ($31) and the chocolate beer pie ($14). We also enjoyed a Friendtastic 5-Course Beer Dinner ($88) at Friends at Jelita last month which featured Carlsberg beer infused food. We were understandably apprehensive about “smoked balsamic Royal Stout syrup”, but chef Thomas Chiam produced a delightful menu with highlights like Carlsberg Gold chicken liver pate and turkey pastrami, Carlsberg Special Brew pork belly confit and warm poached pear in Kronenbourg Blanc. Find out about the next one at Friends’ Facebook page.
, The Beer Renaissance2. Gourmet Brews
One particular brew fresh off the boat in 2011 garnered unprecedented media attention. Engineered by Ferran “You Can’t Be Serious” Adria, his team at elBulli and the brewmasters at Catalan brewery Estrella Damm, Inedit (left) is symbolic of beer’s rise in status. Midway between a lager and a wheat beer, Inedit was designed to be consumed with “challenging foods” (bitter, oily and citrus), should be drunk out of a white wine glass and simply looks regal. You can find it for around $34 at Spanish venues like Bilbao Restaurant & Gastrobar, Sabio Tapas Bar & Restaurant and La Cicala. The latter tell us it’s especially popular with the tapas crowd.
3. For The Ladies
While it was once a man’s world, plenty of beers are now targeted specifically at the ladies. Belgian lambic fruit beers were early favorites and Carlsberg recently launched Eve, a slinky, low-calorie beer that comes in passionfruit and lychee flavors. One particularly popular brewery is North Taiwan, who make a honeydew melon beer and a lychee beer. The two are available at Malted Milk, where ladies get special deals on the brews on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
, The Beer Renaissance4. Extreme Beers
We’ve already been introduced to pale ales, India pale ales, wheat beers, steam beers, summer lagers, oatmeal stouts, fruit beers and more, but while they’ve helped shift us away from mass-produced lagers, there’s still more to come. For a hint at what’s possible, just take a look at the American craft brewery Dogfish Head, whose conventional brews include the 12% abv Palo Santo Marron (a brown ale aged in Paraguayan wood) and whose off-the-wall productions include Sah’tea, a spicy drop based on a 9th century Finnish proto-beer. Then there’s Scotland’s BrewDog who recently engaged in a beer strength war with German brewery Schorschbrau which led to the production of the 32% abv Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the 41% abv Sink the Bismarck! and the 55% abv The End of History (the bottles came in taxidermied squirrels and stoats).
We’ll have to wait to see anything of that sort available here, but in the meantime, Brauhaus Restaurant & Pub is the place to go to get your strong beer fix. They’ve got the 14% abv Samichlaus Bier (right, $20) from Austria, which is only brewed once a year at Christmastime and the 11.2% Stone Brewing Co. Double Bastard Ale ($55 for a 650ml bottle).
5. More Than Ever
Over four days, 28,000 people drank 350 different beers at the 2011 edition of BeerFest Asia. But while the festival has come and gone, some of the beers have stuck around.
You can find some of the debutants from this year’s festival at SQUE as well, including Zubr Premium from the Czech Republic ($10.50), Williams Ceilidh from Scotland ($12.50) and Moa St Joseph’s Tripel from New Zealand ($27.50). Beyond that, BeerFest has provided a platform for smaller distributors to showcase their products. American craft beer providers BeerStyle and Japanese specialists JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar were among those with booths at the festival this year, and both brought in new beers for the occasion.
Importantly, BeerFest Asia has also helped develop a culture of experimentation in beer drinkers here, where new beers and experiences are meant to be savored and not feared. “Probably the best satisfaction comes from festivalgoers who came specifically looking for certain beers to try but were pleasantly satisfied by the discovery of other beers they would never have encountered if not for the festival,” says Festival Director Edward Chia.
6. Local Stars
Part of the joy of microbreweries is that they are constantly playing around with recipes to create something new. “Today’s modern beer drinkers are savvy, well travelled and read, and digitally connected consumers who have a continuous curiosity to explore uncharted waters,” says Hoshang Mehta, head of Archipelago Brewery. “We are seeing some mainstream consumers experimenting with premium specialty beers and some evolved craft beer drinkers who are looking for adventurous, unconventional beer styles.”
Archipelago Brewery returned to their adventurous roots this year when they began introducing limited edition brews. Intended for release every three months, the first limited edition was an inventive hickory-smoked IPA and the second, which hasn’t yet been announced, will begin flowing at their outlets (including the Archipelago Craft Beer Hub) early next month.
Not to be outdone, Brewerkz, the ones who dared to dream at a time when most Singaporeans thought hops had something to do with rabbits, are tweaking and fine tuning their big stable of beers. This year, their productions included Long Zhou (dragonfruit and honey beer) and Scholar Red (based on an ancient Chinese recipe made with red sticky rice), the latter of which is currently available on tap ($5-11 for a 30cl glass).
, The Beer Renaissance7. Apps
Learning about beer has never been easier. Need quickfire recommendations when you’re faced with a beer menu the thickness of a novel? Try Pintley Beer Recommendations (left, Android and iPhone, free). You not only get a massive database of tasting notes, but you can keep a record of the beers you’ve had, rate them, check-in, post beer info up on Facebook and Twitter, and add beers to the library that were previously absent. The app also learns about the kind of beers you personally prefer, and adapts its recommendations accordingly.
Find yourself in unfamiliar territory but need a good beer quick? Beer Map (Android, $1.25) will help you find your way there. The app has a record of breweries, brewpubs, beer bars and bottleshops around the world and will help you navigate there from whichever dry zone you’re in. It’s currently got maps for Australia, Europe and the US, but users can add content for their local areas. Come on, people!
For something a little more whimsical, you might want to try the Free Beer Battery Widget (Android, free) or Beer Battery (iPhone, free), which turns your battery bar into a slowly emptying beer glass) or turn your entire phone background into a pint with the Bubbly Beer Live Wallpaper (Android, free).
, The Beer Renaissance8. Limited Editions
You wouldn’t normally associate beer with art, but supermarkets around town are now selling Christian Lacroix-designed cans of Kronenbourg 1664. The design features quirky, stylized motifs of Paris and the “1664” logo. 36,000 cans will be available in Singapore, so whether or not it holds value as a collectable product is subject to debate. Regardless, the alliance of art and alcohol is an interesting move towards beer as a more prestige product. If you want something you can actually use, you can get a Limited edition Christian Lacroix Kronenbourg 1664 glass when you buy a six-pack (available at Cold Storage, Giant and selected NTUC FairPrice outlets, till Oct 15).

Not Just For Drinking
Next time your significant other starts griping about the lack of space in the fridge due to your stash of 37 beers, here are some alternate uses for the brew.
Brewery Beauty
Avoid being someone who only looks pretty through “beer goggles” by adhering to a strict beauty routine. A Beer Shampoo will liven up lackluster locks, and make your mane shiny and strong. Boil a cup of beer over medium heat, reducing until only a ¼ cup remains. Mix with your favorite shampoo; lather, rinse, and repeat. Follow up by soaking your feet in some ice-cold brew; just be sure to use the carbonated cheap stuff.
The Secret Ingredient
The French cook with wine, the Germans cook with beer. Many recipes, from barbeque sauce to beer-battered shrimp, list a pint or two on the ingredient list. Beer Can Chicken is an easy recipe, which will horrify your foodie friends until they taste it. Wash and dry a whole chicken, and season as you wish. Open a can of beer and pour out (drink!) a quarter of it, and toss a sprig of rosemary (or thyme or lemongrass) inside. Keeping the can upright, place the chicken over the can, so the can is inside the cavity of the chicken. Without spilling the beer, place the beer can chicken in the center of a grill, cover and cook for an hour, rotating as necessary. Serves 2-4.
Bubble Beer Bath
Submerging in a bathtub of bubbly ale isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Beer Spas are popular in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, as there are cleansing and smoothing qualities in the vitamins and yeast found in the beer. A brewery in Austria even filled up an entire swimming pool with Pilsner (finally, a pool no one would pee in). To duplicate your Bavarian bubble bath in the comforts of your own home, pick up three pints of dark beer (Erdinger from your local supermarket will do) and pour into a warm bath. Soak for 20 minutes, and dry off without rinsing. Expect to smell like a loaf of bread. Mmm.
If you’re caught with a beer in your hand during your Saturday morning chores, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an alkie. Use an old flat beer and a soft cloth as a wood furniture cleaner. Wipe a second time with a dry cloth for a shiny finish. Same method applies for polishing gold jewelry. (“I’m not drinkin’ baby, just polishing my necklace with Tiger!”) Spill some coffee on grandma’s Persian rug? Beer is a stain-remover as well—just dab the stain with some light beer, rub lightly and voilà!