Alan kindly invited me to join the league of good-beer bloggers. I quickly accepted. Regrettably, Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia are not the best places to find good local brews. Most regional beers are uninspiring international lagers or worse - such as the syrupy-sweet and metallic Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, its many lower-quality imitators, and the octane-enhanced but taste-deprived 'super' lagers.
Still, there is hope for this country. And that has been largely due to the efforts of Saskatchewan brewmaster Scott Robertson and the fine beers of Brewerkz. The brewpub and eatery usually carries a selection of eight draught beers, some - such as the popular India Pale Ale and pilsner lager - are constant menu items and most of the others are cycled throughout the year. It also makes several tasty bottled brews.
My favorite is the hand pumped cask-conditioned Hopback Ale – which aficionados may note is probably the only real ale brewed in Southeast Asia. It starts with hoppy and floral notes a has the smooth low-carbonation mouthfeel typical of a cask-conditioned brew. The color is a light orange, which is not typical of the darker tones of most hopbacks - however, this lends to a lightness that is ideally suited for the island's tropical climate. The alcohol content is a mild 4.5%.
The brew costs slightly more than the rest of the draught offerings, at S$5/pint during weekday lunch compared to the S$3/pint for its on-tap counterparts, but it is well worth the extra cash.
Almost all of Brewerkz's' beers are of top quality, and I will be looking at a few more during my remaining weeks in Singapore. Still, the restaurant does not deserve unrestrained praise. Their thin Strawberry beer, which tastes like a club soda mixed with a touch of strawberry essence, should be avoided at all cost. Especially as it is one of the pricier brews on the menu. More on that later.
So long as Alan hasn't found a recruit from Australasia or Japan, the two best regional sources for finer beers, I may endeavor to review some of the better imports. In the interim before I leave, I commit to spending several of my unemployed afternoons at Brewerkz testing the remainder of the menu. (No dear, I'm not slacking off... it's research).
Beer aficionados who plan to visit Beijing should not expect to find a great variety of local products. All restaurants will invariably provide you with bottled or draft pale lagers such as locally brewed Yanjing Beer (燕京啤酒) and much familiar Tsingtao Beer (青岛啤酒) and their countless variations. A few Beijing-based Korean restaurants will also offer Harbin Brewery Group (哈尔滨啤酒集团) Pale Lager (哈尔滨啤酒). As for micro-breweries (小型酿酒厂) as we know them in Canada, my Beijing sources all tell me they have not surfaced yet in the PRC, while my Shanghai sources believe there might be a few pubs who brew their own beer in Shanghai. Apart from the aforementioned lagers and a variety of chrysanthemum, lemon and pineapple beers, Beijing supermarkets sometimes distribute a few dark beers. Here are a couple noteworthy ones:
- Harbin Brewery (Changchun Yinpu) Co. Yinpu Black Rice Dark Beer: located in Changchun City (长春) in Northeastern China Jilin Provin (吉林省), Harbin Brewery (Changchun Yinpu) Co. brews what it claims to be a Schwarzbier (深色啤酒). Available both canned and bottled, it is much harder to find in Beijing than Beijing Yanjing Brewery's Dark Beer. It has a deep brown color and very little head formation.
- Beijing Yanjing Brewery Co. Dark Beer: Yanjing Beer Brewery's (燕京啤酒) first brewery was established in 1980 in Shunyi County (顺义县), north-east of Beijing. In 1981, the name was changed from Shunyi Beer (顺义啤酒) to Yanjing Beer. It started to diversify its production in 1999, and finally introduced in June 2004 a canned Dark Beer (燕京听装黑啤酒) that is also claims to be a Schwarzbier.
Let's hope the introduction of dark beers on the PRC market will lead to greater diversification in a near future. Even though some beer industry experts do complain about the lack of variety, Chinese beer fans would rather like to see more big Chinese Beer companies instead of micro-breweries.
Continuing in the style of Four Belgian Blondes and Four Wittes, I am going to try to work through the Belgians I have squirrelled away over the last few months style by style. I also want to avoid one problem that arises doing a side-by-side, especially when you are looking at triples and strong ales. Four of those at 8 to 11%, especially when one or two only come in a quart, can frankly blow the top off yer heed. So, to ensure some benefit of the colour and head comparison, while at the same time avoiding a public display of the ever famous liquid lobotomy, I have decided upon a handy-dandy chart format for these posts. As I open each brew within the set, I will add it to the table with a photo of its label and one of the pour along with some notes. Click on the photos for a bigger view.
The trouble with this first set, however, is that they are not a style all. They are just a grab bag of styles all of which fall under the word "brown" more or less. The Petrus is a tangy Oud Bruin, while the Leffe Brown is something more familiar, a rich brown. The Kasteel is more of a barleywine while Rodenbach Grand Cru is a sour beer gone mad - the best malt vinegar you will ever find. All, however, are forms of browns from Belgium.
|Belgian Browns||Bottle and Pour||Notes|
|Petrus Oud Bruin|
|Lambic-like, sour cherry aroma, refreshing but also, at its core woodsy. Tart orange and spicy but in a good Christmas cake way. The body is not heavy. Slight carbonation - very light for a Belgian. 5.5% in a 250 ml bottle. BAs speak.|
Quadruple or Barleywine
|This is a dandy big beer - brown sugar plumy or red grape malty goodness at 11%. Without a trace of orange peel or spice so no hint of a dubble. No sour at all so nothing oud about it. This is surprisingly fresh for its bulk...like me. Rummy. Very subdued hops, only enough to keep the sweetness from being cloying. Here is the brewery's take on it. A juicy swallow ending in a hot port finish. 330 ml bottle. Advocates comment.|
cherry wood patina
|I said that this was the best malt vinegar you will ever taste and I am not kidding. This is pure soured, oak aged Belgian brew. Michael Jackson is kinder speaking of a vanilla-like oakiness, passion-fruit flavours, a clean sharp acidity like sour cream. That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vineous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this. That acid lingers the palate with the yeast with some deference to richness. It is nice. Try it but prepare to wish for a nice light double IPA as a cleansing light chaser. 6% in a 330 ml bottle.Beertonians blown away.|
Belgian Dark Ale
|Hard label this one. It has some rich round brown like the Kesteel and also some tang like the Flemish Browns. Another calls it an almost double and another a dark ale. But labels have a limit. A lively head which leaves a rich foam ring. Medium to strong body. Cream and chocolate with a strong hop edge cutting the sweet. 6.5% in a 330 ml. Great on tap. Beersters consider.|
Collecting these little bottles - as often as singles as I can find them - has created a bit of a daunting list of tasks to be done by way of style and beer comparison reports. These five pending articles are just the Belgian style ones:
- Dubbles - Borneu, Chimay Red, Maudit.
- Triples - Borneu, Petrus, Chimay Blue, Fin Du Monde, Augustine.
- Assorted Browns - Petrus Oud Bruin, Leffe Brown, Kasteel, Rodenbach Grand Cru.
- Dark Strong Ale/Dark Triple - Gulden Draak, Trois Pistole, Ommegang, Dogfish Head Raisen D'Etre.
- Golden Strong Ale - Delirium Tremens, Duval, Piraat.
It is, as they say, a tough job but someone has to do it - but over time, grasshoppers, and, with luck, company.
A quick note on a tiny beer. Many but not all Christmas barley wines come in small bottles - this one being 7 oz, a lovely little thing. The bottle promises big, however: "Old Foghorn is dry hopped in the classic ale tradition and aged in our cellers until it attains the perfect balanace of malty sweetness, estery fruitiness and exquisit hop character..." Pretty happening adjectives and I have not even opened the bottle yet.
Now that I have opened the bottle, I notice that it was filled to the rim of where the crown cap's edge would sit. Very little air to place at risk its conents during the long moths of maturation. It pours into less than half a pint of my big Polish beer snifter - yes, such things do exist. The nose is all malt and the flavour of malt is massive - concentrate of beer. I need to go think about what is happening to my mouth...back later.
Leathersweet Mennonite apple butter laced with boozy heat and a thread of cigar tobacco. Divine. Glad bought two. 8.8% and $2.69 USD each at the Galeville Grocery. Add about 15 % for exchange and maybe about 27% tax and duty at the border. Four other Anchors reviewed here.
He was born in 1993 and he drinks beer. No, he's not too young... He turned 40 on the year 2000, on march 22nd, more precisely. His name is Gabriel Lecouvreur, he lives in Paris, in the 11th "arrondissement" (district). His favorite bar is on Ledru-Rollin avenue, "Le Pied de Porc à la Sainte-Scolasse", named after a famous meal whose major ingredient is pork-foot. The rest of the receipe is kept secret, of course. The boss' name is Gérard, his wife is Maria. They have a Romanian chief, Vlad. Gabriel's girlfriend his "Cheryl". Well, it's not her real name, but who cares? She has her own (salon de coiffure) Popincourt St. Gabriel's nickname is (le Poulpe), "The Squid", because he has two too long arms...and he only drinks beer.
In fact, Gabriel Lecouvreur aka "Le Poulpe" is a hero of a set of novels started by Jean-Bernard Pouy, one of the most famous French police novel writer. In fact, the concept of "Le Poulpe" is quite special. If you follow the guidelines created by Jean-Bernard Pouy, you may write one (and only one) "Le Poulpe" novel. And anybody may send his manuscript. I mean anybody. Of course, the first writers were reckoned authors, friends of J-B Pouy, but Baleine Editions published loads of unknown writers from 1994 to 2002. About 200 novels with the recurrent characters described in the guidelines were published. And one of the most important guidelines as a feature of Gabriel Lecouvreur is "he only drinks beer".
Why beer only? Curiously, it's actually political. You may not know SAS, a French-spy-story novel series. The author and editor of SAS is of right-wing, nearby extreme-right-wing political side, and in his novels he expresses racists, sexists opinions. And the "prince Malko", SAS hero, usually drinks expensive french wines in his castle, listening to classical music surrounded by beautiful enslaved top-model-like women. Jean-Bernard Pouy is radically against this kind of literature, so he decided to create a "pop" hero, libertarian, free-thinker, drinking beer only, to get closer to the middle-class or lower-class society. Usually, "The Squid" solves mysteries he reads in the newspapers, some stories he thought were "dirty" or "unclean". He fights racists, fascists, sectarian religious movements or any other person he considers "immoral" according to his opinion. This crazy adventure ended in 2002 but only because Baleine Editions ceased activity, due to bankruptcy.
In the novels, Gabriel traveled a lot, from Central Europe to Africa, he even went to Québec. And of course, during his trips, he discovered beers from the whole world, beers the authors knew and/or enjoyed. But sometimes you don't need to travel that far and discover an unknown Belgian beer, do you?
A few further facts:
Two expressions of an English winter's ale, to the left Winter Welcome from Samuel Smith's, one of the most ancient of brewers, and to the left Winter Ale from St. Peter's the great modern traditionalists. Winter beer is not a style so much as a harkening. Each is actually a recollection of a Victorian style a burton and a porter respectfully.
Burton is one of the rarer ales left to us from the 18th century, predating the product of that town, the India Pale Ale by perhaps a century. The best reference to that latter strong ale, as I have noted before, is in Wind in the Willows when Rat and Mole in the chapter "Dulce Domum" discover it in Mole's old pantry as they prepare a winter night's feed:
The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of the beer-bottles. "I perceive this to be Old Burton,' he remarked approvingly. "Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks."Winter Warmer is a remarkable ale for its 6%. It is malty and secondarily hoppy and rich. I think it is likely the most balanced ale I have ever had as it is actually like a very strong mild if such a thing were possible - exceedingly moreish yet deeply satisfying. A meal of an ale. Surprisingly, 8% of advocatonians say nay, which I think is a bit off the mark.
The Winter Ale, by St. Peters is, is called a strong ale but I think it is really a porter. It is dark and rich with strong flavours of coffee and licorice. Smoke and burnt raisin and a lot of other flavours I would want to have wind up in a figgy pud. The advocatonians are as one and all shout hurrah! OK......point taken...but I have been reading Master and Commander the last few days and I am a wee bit pip, pip and all but really if you are going to write about these ales you have to get into the mood of it all. Instead of say porter, take a long draught of this one and shout "PORTAH!". You will get the point.
I got a few interesting emails today and one was from one of my favorite beer writers Lew Bryson announcing an update to his website setting out what he has been up to lately. He has down the right side of this is 13th news letter digest of sort a great feature "What I've Been Drinking" which is basically Pennsylvanian micro-brews. Tröegs Mad Elf looks like a particularly good brew. Go read Lew's news. He is a hero of mine. His picture of Tapwerks in Oklahoma City alone is worth a visit...so I will copy it. Please note. Those are all taps of different drafts. Herself suggests that this image aligns somewhat with my notion of heaven. Sadly Lew indicates that without a big client-base this heaven's brews were too often off, sour.