From greenhorn to commercial brewer: How newbie Pink Blossoms Brewing started from scratch

Unlike many of his beer peers, Teo Hong Han didn’t start off as a homebrewer. The 34-year-old founder of newly opened Pink Blossoms Brewing is in every sense of the phrase the new kid on the block. An accountant by training, he spent the past decade crunching numbers and enjoying beer simply as a beer lover. It was only when he lived in the US for the last two to three years that his interest in making beer soared.

Every other weekend, Teo and his wife travelled to different states to sample beers at different breweries. He grew to love the bolder flavours exhibited abroad, and the spirit of craft embodied by American brewers.

“At some point we realised we don’t have many craft breweries in Singapore; when we move back, we’re not going to be able to get some of these flavours we really like,” said Teo. “So the best way to ensure that we still get to drink the stuff we love was to make our own, and at the same time share it with people back home.”

Armed with a new appreciation for the craft, Teo spent the next eight months pursuing a brewing diploma in Vermont. The night-time course was targeted at practitioners, with a teaching focus evenly divided between business and brewing. He learnt from scratch how yeast behaved, where to turn the right knobs, and the nitty-gritties to starting a brewery.

“The course gives you the basic learning blocks, I think, as with any other curriculum or course; but a lot of stuff you learn on the job,” shared Teo. Early this year, Teo and his wife moved back to Singapore and built up Pink Blossoms Brewing from scratch.

, From greenhorn to commercial brewer: How newbie Pink Blossoms Brewing started from scratch
Pink Blossoms Brewing

Just a few months old in the game, Teo is still adjusting to the new lifestyle. From his cosy microbrewery in Ubi, the brewer who left his full-time job joked that he lost 12kg since moving back home.

Cleaning, moving kegs, and carrying bottles and equipment is back-breaking work that falls squarely on the shoulders of Teo and his two helpers—his brother and cousin, who aid in everything from brewing to social media. And while the actual brewing takes about six hours on the production floor, Teo averaged 12 to 18 hours of cleaning before and after to thoroughly sanitise the microbrewery—a necessary chore to prevent contamination from wild yeast strains that could alter the flavours.

“Having to make your own beer is really very different from enjoying other people’s beers; it’s sheer hard work,” he said.

But it gives him more control and creative freedom, as opposed to employing gypsy brewing or contract brewing. Without the external pressure of following another brewery’s production schedule, Teo and his team are free to push out experimental beers at their own pace.

On the menu

, From greenhorn to commercial brewer: How newbie Pink Blossoms Brewing started from scratch
Hundred Years and Lean on Me

Presently, Pink Blossoms has two flagship beers: “Lean on Me”, a generously dry-hopped and overwhelmingly citrusy New England Pale Ale; and “Hundred Years”, a light, smooth milk stout with distinct chocolate aromas. Both were named to celebrate the beautiful things in life, said Teo, as is the brewery itself. These he retails to bars and restaurants in Singapore—last month, they were tapped at the likes of Good Luck Beerhouse, Smith Street Taps, Freehouse and Druggists.

Outside guest tap takeovers, you can find the beers at SG Taps and Little Part One Cafe, where Pink Blossoms is tapped regularly. That, or taste them fresh from the brewery at the Pink Blossoms tasting room in Ubi—a first for a brewery in Singapore. Here, Teo taps his flagship products along with newer, unnamed recipes he’s still playing around with.

“From the very start we knew we wanted a tasting room; that’s how all the breweries in the US do it,” he said. “And we knew, because we wanted to push all these pilot recipes, no one in the industry is going to support us for trial batches; we need to push our own.”

It took more than a year to get the relevant licensing and health regulation approvals, but Teo now has the benefit of using the tasting room as a showroom of sorts, to trial recipes and gather feedback before selling them to restaurants.

, From greenhorn to commercial brewer: How newbie Pink Blossoms Brewing started from scratch
Hundred Years milk stout

Currently, you can also get coffee stout shots and a double dry-hopped New England IPA that’s easy on the palate. Prices range from $12.50 to $14.50 a pint. Of the 10 taps on display, only five are ever used at one time. Teo said that due to the inconsistent traffic in the area, tapping any more would be detrimental to the quality of the beer served. Just as well, as Pink Blossoms maintains a strict five-day expiration period for its freshly brewed kegs.

Also available at the tasting room is his newest product: a deceptively easy-drinking saison that actually boasts a 7.2% ABV. Focusing on fermentation, the finished product hides a crisp clove pepper aftertaste—and a hidden message as a drink for the masses.

“If you look back historically, saisons were brewed in the French quarter for the farmers to enjoy after work; it’s a thirst-quenching drink,” said Teo. In our modern world, it’s not about thirst-quenching anymore; sometimes it’s about getting that nice feeling after one or two pints—and 7.2% is something for people to enjoy after a hard day of work.”

It’s a philosophy that seems to be working, particularly with the neighbouring industrial crowd. Teo noticed that most of his weekday clientele within the area—people who are not regular craft beer drinkers—come down after work for his coveted saison. “We have now seen a whole new segment of customers who are like ‘Eh beer can be so different’; so we’ve achieved our objective in introducing nicer, richer flavours to the community here,” he added.

Big, bold dreams

, From greenhorn to commercial brewer: How newbie Pink Blossoms Brewing started from scratch
Teo and his taps

Despite the good feedback, it’s still early days, and Teo isn’t afraid to admit that Pink Blossoms isn’t near its goal of producing truly bold, different flavours just yet. While they’re still trying to gain a foothold in the local craft beer scene, making beers he really loves—heavy stuff like double IPAs, triple IPAs, and imperial stouts—has to wait.

“We need to do that because for us to survive as a business—and I’m not talking about us making profits—for us to even survive and eventually do the things we really love, we have to first cover and survive.” Aside from reaching out to restaurants to tap their beers, the label is also looking at bottling their products in the first quarter of 2019.

For now though, Teo’s main focus is on creating expectation-defying brews that are still easy to drink in our hot weather—like his prized Hundred Years milk stout that is actually a full-bodied drink. “(Its) flavours that the mass market might like but have not really experienced here; we have to make things bearing in mind that we’re living in a very different climate,” he said. “Thereafter can we actually chase the real dream.”

Pink Blossoms Brewing and Tasting Room is located at #01-12, 50 Ubi Ave 3, and is open from 5pm-11pm daily. More information here