In Asia, there are two kinds of brewers – locals and imports. In China the locals were trained at a school that was a German joint venture. There, as in Thailand, Russia and Central Asia, the majority of brewpubs are in the German tradition, making German beers. German brewers often work overseas – one such brewer has retired to the brewpub life in Vancouver and another has run brewing operations at Big Rock since that company’s inception. But what about other brewers? Non-German expat brewers are much less common. I wondered what their experience was like, living overseas in strange lands attempting to introduce the local population to North American-style beer.
One such brewer is Scott Robertson, a Canadian brewer who works at Singapore’s Brewerkz. This brewpub has a reputation of being one of Asia’s better ones, and his work at Regina, SK’s Bushwakker made him at the time one of the most admired brewers in Canada.
JO: Could you please provide a little bit of background about yourself and your start at Bushwakker?
SR: My family lived in Germany in the mid 70’s. When we came back to Canada my father was quite disappointed with the beer available so he started making his own. This led to him starting a brewpub which I helped with, learning the brewing side. My background had been doing a Master’s degree in Physics and then traveling with little money to South America for a year. Six years later I was offered this job in Singapore to run the brewery for Brewerkz Singapore, a 400 seat brewpub.
JO: Tell me a bit about Brewerkz and how you got involved there
SR: I was doing a little bit of consulting in Japan helping Newlands, the brewery manufacturer in British Columbia, set up breweries. Some of the people I got to know in Japan were involved with some guys in Singapore setting up a new brewpub here. This was in 1997. They asked me if I would be interested. I said yes.
JO: Were there any microbreweries in Singapore before Brewerkz?
SR: Yes. In 1992 a place opened but because of various factors and I have heard many, they only lasted about 6 months. In ’96 a German franchise pub, the Paulaner, opened and then we opened in early ’97. Paulaner opened a second location later in ’97 but both shut down the following year after the Asian economic crisis. We were then the only game in town. Since then, one of the Paulaners has reopened under new management.
JO: Singapore had some macro lagers and a couple of pretty good stouts - what has been the response of the population to all the new styles you’ve brewed for them?
SR: Long answer to this one. We have a very complex market here. People from all over the world live or visit here. Our most popular beer for the first 4 to 5 years was our IPA with a lot of flavour followed by our lightest bodied Golden Ale. Now the Golden is our best seller with the IPA 2nd (out of 8). We are now brewing 2 to 3 times more beer than at the beginning. So people are certainly responding well.
JO: Is the clientele mainly ex-pats or locals?
SR: About 50/50
JO: What do the locals think of hoppy beers?
SR: Our IPA certainly sells well and it is quite hoppy, near 45 IBU. I like hops a lot so usually we have 3 or 4 hoppy beers on tap, including a lower gravity dry hopped cask ale.
JO: You don’t have seasons over there - how do you approach the concept of seasonal beers?
SR: We do them anyway. We do the usual suspects like Irish Red for St. PAts, Steam beer for US Independence day, Bock for march/april, Oktoberfest etc.
JO: What is the lifestyle like in Singapore - culture, weather, etc - and how does that differ from North America?
SR: Lifestyle here is quite western. Most people speak reasonable English and have been exposed to many western ideas. There is a lot of money here, technology. The food is mostly Chinese/Malay/Indian but there are many western food concepts here like McDonalds, Burger King, Hooters, Hard Rock, Tony Roma’s. The weather is hot and humid year round. It is Jan. 1 today, raining and about 30 deg. C. The coolest temperature I have ever seen here in 8 years is about 23 deg C.
JO: For all the brewpubs that have sprung up in Asia over the years I’ve only ever seen one bottling micro outside of Japan. Does Brewerkz bottle? If not, what sort of impediments are there?
SR: Yes we bottle but only on a small scale. We sell only from our restaurant for people to take our beer home. We also make some bottle conditioned beers for mostly in-house sales.
JO: What has been the reaction of the macros to microbrewing in Singapore?
SR: They have largely ignored us but we do know some of the people from the brewing side of APB, the guys who make Tiger. They come down for visits regularly to show other people our brewery and they invite us up to their brewery.
JO: Thank you for taking the time to do this. Sounds like things are going well over there.