A cheng tng-inspired pale ale and a refreshingly high-ABV spiced saison

Singapore's breweries are evolving and becoming more exceptional in their craft. Many started out making classic beer styles, sometimes throwing in locally-inspired flavours like gula melaka and pandan, or making their own offshoots of trending styles in the Western world. Those were great, but they have since taken things to another level, creating the nascent beginnings of a distinctly Singapore beer style (we hope).

The latest addition to our craft beer brewing scene, Niang Brewery Co, is case in point. Elegant in its approach, brewer and founder Mark Chen has achieved layered, nuanced taste profiles in his beers using personal recipes that he first painstakingly formulated through many homebrewing experiments.

Now set to launch two flagship beers commercially, one of his inaugural beers, a cheng tng-inspired pale ale named Confection Cure (the other a saison called Warming Spirit), has truly impressed. It is in fact making us highly hopeful of further things to come from Niang.

Drank cold from the fridge or tap, the Confection Cure offers a subtle yet obvious hint of mango on the nose. Then a barrage of fleshy fruits—think lychee, dates and melons—comes at you in waves. As the beer warms up, its cheng tng character becomes more pronounced. The red date notes register stronger, longans pop up, there's an aroma (not sweetness) of brown sugar, and you'll feel like you're drinking a different beer than the one you started with. Chen advises pairing this beer with meats like sio bak and char siew.

His desire to associate his beers with local flavours and culture is apparent. Though you likely can't see that from the whimsical, colourful beer labels (that are beautifully eye-catching), Niang Brewery beers are actually born out of a desire to evoke nostalgia and to tell a Singapore-rooted story.

We like that the labels allude to a complex character. Being local-forward doesn't mean you need to be slapping everything symbolically Singaporean onto the bottle. Instead, the label designs, to us, tells of the mental and emotional journeys you encounter when sipping on and appreciating Niang's brews.

With so much going on, we caught up with Chen, an architect by profession, to find out more. Below, he shares about his first foray into the world of beer brewing, what he thinks makes Niang stand out from the rest, and why he has chosen to make his debut with his two chosen styles.

Hi Mark, congrats on the upcoming launch of Niang Brewery Co. How did the name for your beer label come about?

Thank you for taking time to meet with us. “Niang” (酿) means fermentation in mandarin, which is the essence of the beer brewing process. We chose this word for our brewery as we wanted to incorporate the essence of both local flavours and stories in our beer.

What were you doing before this and how did that lead you to creating your own beer brand?

I was in the architectural industry for almost 10 years. Three years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to home brewing. He had these huge equipments which he couldn’t store at his new flat. He asked if I was interested in taking them and that he would teach me about home brewing. A hobby became an obsession and here we are today.

What's it like going from being an architect to becoming a brewer?

As an architect, we have been trained to analyze spaces and designs from all aspects—whether it's from an engineering point of view, or balancing the client’s requirement while complying with regulations. Architecture has taught me how to view things from multiple perspectives. The process of starting a brewery is no different. It is also an act of designing the brew, carefully executing the right techniques with the right ingredients over time, as well as managing your branding and customer’s expectations. With that said, I am just barely scratching the surface of this brewery journey, and I must say that it has been challenging but rewarding at the same time.

What unique offering do you think Niang brings to the market?

For us at Niang Brewery Co, the starting point is to be able to tell a local story in our beers, both in tangible and intangible ways. Stories evoke memories, much like how certain flavours bring you back to a particular place and time. Inspired by that memory, we go through a rigorous process of designing the beer, similar to the process of cooking. With that in mind, we hope that the stories and flavours we create are able to come through in the beers.

What beer styles are you intending to launch with and why?

We will be launching Warming Spirit, a farmhouse style saison ale, and Confection Cure, which is our pale ale. During the process of chasing the flavours and stories that inspire us, these two styles were established eventually, which we feel best showcases what we wanted to tell to our customers.

I've tried your cheng tng-inspired pale ale, and I must say, I'm really loving the wave of flavours. For me, the mango was very prominent, then it lingers with softer lychee notes. How did you achieve that with this beer?

Cheng tng is one of our essential local desserts, and it has been around to cool our palate in our humid climate, using a good balance of molasses, red dates and longan. In our pale ale, we wanted to achieve that balance using a variety of barley malts together with our citra and mosaic hops, arriving at a bittersweet malty profile with hints of melon, mango and lychee aromas.

The saison isn't a very common style among local brewers. Why did you choose to launch with this style of beer?

The choice of saison came about after many rounds of experimentation. In our native landscape, the abundance of fresh spices have given rise to an array of wonderful dishes. In the same light, we wanted to showcase these spices in our beers, and the saison has been a wonderful canvas, which has allowed us to deliver that complex finish of banana and pear, coupled with the spicy aromatics of bitter orange, black pepper, coriander seeds and ginger.

As a newcomer to the local craft beer scene, what was the biggest challenge for you starting out?

The craft beer market in Singapore is still in its infancy and the general public is only beginning to develop their palate for better tasting beers. While there have been many new local breweries, we believe that in order for the craft beer community to thrive, we need to conscientiously educate and encourage more people to enjoy good quality beer. I truly believe that with collective effort, our vibrant local beer community will benefit.

What will you say to someone who intends to follow in your footsteps?

Do what you love and never look back. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Where can I buy your beers?

You can find our beers at our website or visit us on Instagram and Facebook. You can also head over to Orh Gao Taproom, Good Luck Beerhouse and Temple Cellars.

Niang Brewery Co launches at Orh Gao Taproom on Nov 7 and at Good Luck Beerhouse on Nov 8. More info here.