New brewery label Civilization Brewing Co. harks back to the dawn of beer

You don’t often find beers that make you think. Especially with craft beers, the focus almost always shifts to talk about the flavours, or to the geeky stuff like hop type, yeast strains and brewing methods.

But newcomer Civilization Brewing Co., which just officially launched in Singapore this month in August, wants us to think deeper about the importance of beer—albeit still in a lighthearted way.

According to the budding local brewery label’s founders, Tyrell Foster and Zachary Smith, their brand story is all about beer and its significance in human civilization.

In a nutshell, agriculture first led to the beginning of civilizations. With farming of grains and other crops possible, humankind could settle and build up without having to constantly roam the lands for sustenance. The ability to mass-produce grains like barley and wheat, coupled with usage of yeast, led to the discovery of food items like bread.

But grain and yeast are also the building blocks of—you guessed it—beer. And according to historical records, beer could have been as important as bread for early civilizations, if not more so. Those days, beer was treasured for its nutrition, for being a key part of social gatherings (this part is perhaps still true), as well as for its use in ancient rituals. Today, beer’s significance has been greatly diluted, to say the least.

This situation is what led to the founding of Civilization Brewing. “Due to many modern-day dilutions, beer has a very different reputation than what it once was. Challenging these problems was what made us see a need for Civilization and our beer,” said Tyrell, who is also the label’s brewer.

“Whether due to the absence of beer in the American Prohibition or the excess of beer seen in today’s mass-produced low-quality beers, many people around the world do not understand that beer is actually a culinary art form on par with any other product,” he added. And we tend to agree.

To find out more about what he means, we caught up with the former US military officer and asked him more about his beers (they’ve got two beers at launch, a Milk Stout and an American Pale Ale), how he went from military to brewing, and why he brewed what he brewed.

The interview below has been edited for clarity.

What got you into brewing and how long have you been doing that for?

As a former military officer, I know a thing or two about putting my heart and soul into things. While I learned many important things at West Point Military Academy, I also happened to learn that I love making beer. I became head brewer of the Academy’s brewery, named The Kicking Mule Brewery, which was run by the Chemical Engineering Department. Now it’s been more than a 10-year love affair with beer.

What brought you to Singapore to brew beer?

The other love of my life brought me to Singapore 4 years ago, where we got married. In addition to my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, I also received my full brewing diploma from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. While in Singapore, I have brewed professionally at several other establishments, but now it’s my time to brew what I want to share with people, which is inspired by the classics of beer tradition. I hope to help everyone find their favorite beer, especially those who say they don’t like beer. To me, that just means they haven’t found the right one yet!

, New brewery label Civilization Brewing Co. harks back to the dawn of beer
Civilization Brewing Co. founders Zachary Smith (L) and Tyrell Foster (R)

You’re launching the brand starting with two beers. Tell me more about both of them.

The most important ingredient in anything you make must be love. So I started with two styles of beer that I love to drink, the Milk Stout and American Pale Ale. These are not common styles to find in Singapore, which helped convince me that these were the right choices to share with people here.

Why do you think these two particular styles of beer will work here?

Stouts in Singapore often follow the more dry style like Guinness. The Civilization Milk Stout is full-bodied but still sweet, and many people who often do not drink stouts have really enjoyed it. One of the reasons I love it is because it brings up that nostalgic taste of chocolate milk from childhood. I also love the Milk Stout because it challenges the preconceptions that people have about beer, associating it only with light, fizzy lagers. For people who say they don’t really like beer, I strongly recommend they give this one a try.

The American Pale Ale (APA) has a special place in my heart. The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was my first real introduction to quality hops. This is a historically significant style too. The APA is the grandfather of today’s craft beer icon, the highly hoppy IPA. While it features the clean, malty flavor and hoppy character of the IPA, the profile of our Civilization APA is not overpowering, with lower bitterness, and yet still full of aroma and zest. Our APA is a pre-Prohibition ancestral style that any modern IPA-lover, or anyone who enjoys an easy-drinking beer, would appreciate.

What will you be brewing next after this?

Our next two beers will be a German Wheat Beer and a Vienna Lager. The German-style Wheat is just as rich in history as it is in flavor, and no discussion about beer heritage and history would be complete without acknowledging the contributions of the Germans. It remains one of the most difficult styles to brew correctly, so few breweries produce authentic German-style Wheat brews.

The Vienna Lager is a style that is almost impossible to find in Singapore. While it takes the longest to brew of our styles, I hope it can change the minds of many standard lager drinkers who may not be converts to craft beer yet. It retains the clean finish of lagers, but has a unique malty bread flavor with caramel notes. Personally, I love it with a steak! As we grow, expect more seasonal styles and even more geeking out over beer history.

I understand you were brewing at an incubation brewery to launch Civilization Brewing. Tell me a little about that journey.

The dream to have my own brewery has been in my head for a long time. I wanted to pursue my own vision of what I know beer can be. I wanted to build it from the ground up, not simply buy over an established brewery.

I ran into The General Brewing Company (TGBC) after the old brewery I worked for closed down. They had already helped establish a couple of other beer brands and walked them through the whole process. When they asked me if I wanted to join the team and start up my own brand, I knew my prayers had been answered and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by.

How is an incubation brewery different from a regular brewery?

TGBC is an incubator for breweries, so its goal is to help teach future brewers and brand owners not only how to design recipes, but how to operate brewery equipment, market and sell. I have been very fortunate to benefit from their network and industry connections. It’s a great starting place that will someday soon send me on my way as an established brewer with an established brand to further enrich the craft beer scene. In the story of Civilization, TGBC has been a godsend!

To get your hands on some Civilization Brewing beers, head on over to Good Luck Beerhouse, Sixteen Ounces Craft Beer Bistro, Singabrew, Temple Cellars or Alchemy Bistro. Keep up with Civilization Brewing and their stockists here.