There was a time, not long ago, when looking for the perfect craft beer (or, frankly, any craft beer if you found yourself outside Belgium’s borders) would cause one to ruminate on Captain Ahab’s state of mind during his restless pursuit of the elusive Moby Dick. Craft beers were the mythic preserve of the initiated few; scattered and hidden bottles of artistry in the flood of industrially brewed lagers and musty ales. Ask a bartender for a sour beer and he or she would think were a loony asking for a cider. No longer. In recent years the demand for craft beer has picked up steam, leading to a revolution in the number and variety of craft beers available. This trend initially took off in Europe and the United States but has since spread globally. It is now eminently possible to find an IPA beer (Indian Pale Ale, in case you were wondering) or indeed a sour beer – even a microbrewery or two! – in Singapore, China or even Cambodia.
However, despite this surge in popularity, craft beer breweries have only carved a bigger niche for themselves in the market rather than dominate it. Craft beer is easier to find, but we aren’t all exactly drowning in it either. Since it is a relatively new and unknown phenomenon we’ve put together the essentials about craft beer and why you should make these blessed beverages a bigger part of your life.
What is Craft Beer and Who Crafts It?
Answer: It is delicious and crafted by mad geniuses with a golden touch. Next question. The most common conception about craft beer is that it is brewed in a microbrewery – i.e. a small brewery rather than the industrial giants run by global brands. By and large, this is correct. Distinctions are (appropriately enough) a bit hazy, but a microbrewery is essentially a smaller version of a craft brewery. They are limited to brewing 15,000 and 6 million barrels of beer per year respectively. A craft brewery must also be independently owned and use traditional brewing techniques – the flavour of their beer must be derived from experimenting with brewing ingredients and fermentation rather than flavouring their beers in post-production. This potent trio of criteria has driven the high degree of innovation in the craft beer market, as well as guaranteed its higher quality compared to their mass-produced rivals. Craft breweries simply have to put out seriously top-notch beer and take risks to keep customers coming back – only one of them could have conceived – and sell (!) – a bacon-flavoured smoked porter.
The types of craft beer that you will most likely come across as a recent convert are Indian Pale Ale and sour beer. The latter acquires its sour taste by virtue of the wild yeast or bacteria that is allowed into the brew (this was inevitable in days of yore). This makes the brewing process unpredictable and therefore undesirable for big breweries, but their loss is our gain as there are now a myriad of varieties to sample: American wild ales, Berliner Weisse varieties, Flanders red ale, Lambic and Oud bruin – to name a few. IPA’s have a reputation for robust flavours and a high alcohol content that earned them a following amongst die-hard beer lovers. However, recent years have seen the introduction of lighter varieties to win over new crowds and allow everyone to savour the rich flavours without cutting their night short. IPA-Sour beer hybrids are becoming more common, as is the German-style gose (‘go-zuh’) beer, which has a sour and slightly salty taste. Simply put, craft brewers around the world are exploring the limits and potentials of brewing to produce a range of beers that is already beyond summation.
Why Not Serve Craft Beer Singapore?
Like most things that are produced in limited quantities, craft beers tend to cater to local markets and are relatively expensive, especially when they travel internationally. Therefore, while it is possible to buy bottled craft beer in shops – albeit typically in specialised shops as craft breweries tend not to have the financial clout to compete with big brands for shelf space in supermarkets – it is in the nature of craft beer that it will be easier to find in up-market bars and restaurants, where it is typically served as a draft beer (i.e. from a cask or keg) rather than in bottles.
The best way to get your hands on some craft beer is, of course, to go straight to the source. A craft- or microbrewery will usually have a dedicated area for on-site tasting sessions, where you can admire the bespoke equipment and gear – from the brewing kettle to the draft beer fonts – that were used to create the very beer clasped in your hand. Were you looking for an edgy place to host your next event? Look no further! A microbrewery is a perfect mix of tradition, artisanal quality and innovative flavour for chic and trendy get-togethers. This used to not be an option for most of us but with craft breweries opening their doors from Singapore to South Africa the distance from the traditional centres of craft beer in Europe and the United Sates is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Nevertheless, some of us prefer our lambics and double IPA beer at our own convenience rather than having to schlep to a brewery or bar. Here the small size of craft breweries can work to your advantage as their reliance on wealthier customers makes it easier to order small batches directly from them. While simply enjoying these at home is reason enough to order them it is worth letting yourself be inspired by the inherently social aspect of beer (remember, beers were first brewed by monks in Belgium to make water safe to drink for everyone).
Alternatively, a rare craft beer can be an ideal centrepiece for your next dinner party. Design deco and menu around the beer and create a truly unique feast for family and friends. If you want to raise the bar even more, then treat your guests to a glass (or two) of homebrew. The rise of craft beer has gone hand-in-hand with people taking a shot at brewing themselves. There has never been a better time to invite your friends round to sample some beers at your very own nanobrewery!
The Future: Locality, Community and Sustainability
Craft beer is here to stay. Given their limited size and general reliance on local markets, we can expect an explosion of innovation. This is particularly true further afield from craft brewing core in the US and Europe where new markets are ready to reward audacious, irreverent craft brewers inspired by new, local flavours. This experimental spirit will also likely dovetail with craft brewery’s natural inclination to community and sustainability to branch into environmentally friendly brewing techniques – so-called wastewater brewing is already being developed – and vegan beer.
Whatever the future holds for craft beer, it is certain to surprise and reward exploration by whoever dives in. So, whether a coffee-flavoured porter tickles your fancy or you prefer to have a go at making your own homebrew – go out there and drink craft beer Singapore!