Craft work: Singapore’s craft beer scene is brewing steadily

Reprinted from Today Online. Links added by TSA Wines.

Author: Serene Lim

Email: SereneLim@mediacorp.com.sg

SINGAPORE — When Colin Tay started importing craft beers such as Wychwood Hobgoblin in 2009, things were pretty tough.

“Very few people knew what craft beers were, retailers weren’t keen, and I had to go door-to-door, begging people to try them out,” the co-founder of alcohol trading company TSA Wines recalled with a laugh.

How the scene has changed in seven years. Tay now has owners of bistros and bars calling on him to supply them with craft beers. And TSA has more than 100 labels of craft beer in its arsenal, compared to the early days when it only carried five brands.

It’s a similar story for Isaiah Tan of Alchemy Bistro located at Central Mall. He had to spend some time convincing customers to take that first sip when Alchemy opened in 2010. “It took a lot of convincing, and we held tasting sessions every three months for customers to experience what craft beers are about,” said Tan. He added that back then, customers preferred to fall back on familiar brands such as Asahi, Tiger and Kronenbourg 1664. These days, Alchemy has craft beer fans who are not only well-informed, but also more than open to trying out new labels he regularly brings in — and share their tasting notes on social drinking apps like Tappd.

No doubt the change has much to do with consumers demanding better food and drinks when dining out. The F&B scene and customers have grown increasingly sophisticated.

“There is a growing appreciation of craft in general — people care what goes into the making of food, the ingredients used and there is the whole third wave coffee movement, too,” explained Daniel Goh, the owner of Good Beer Company and Smith Street Taps located in Chinatown’s Smith Street Market.

Goh, who was incidentally recently featured in a New York Times article on craft beers found in unusual spots in Singapore, added: “Channels-wise, a lot of bars and restaurants see the value in seeking alternative offerings for customers.”

And there’s more room to grow for craft beer. Charles Guerrier, organiser of Craft Singapore, a craft beer festival happening this weekend at Marina Bay, predicted the market can grow “200 to 300 per cent in the next three years”.

It may sound like it is a stretch to achieve, but Guerrier, who also organised Craft Beer Week in 2015 and 2012, feels it’s entirely possible as people convert to craft beers and ciders, and there’s a new generation of drinkers looking for artisanal products and a more flavourful beer experience. He expects the inaugural Craft Singapore to draw about 8,000 people this weekend.

Events such as Craft Singapore and the long-running Beer Fest (which started eight years ago and draws a crowd of around 30,000 annually in its last couple of editions) have certainly helped increase the popularity and awareness of craft beers.

Does this mean we’re having craft beers at our favourite clubs during happy hours soon? Not quite. “While I won’t say craft beers are still niche, it’s definitely not mainstream,” posited Goh. “They are more common now, but you can’t find craft beers in every pub or coffeeshop you enter. Although I hope we can get to that point where any kopitiam will also have a few bottles of craft beers in the fridge!”

Tay agreed, pointing out that the big bars and clubs still don’t stock them, and many younger drinkers remain unaware of craft beers. And there’s the intrinsic cost factor, too. A bottle of craft beer usually costs about 30 to 50 per cent more than its commercial equivalent. For instance, at Red Mart, a 330ml of Asahi is priced at $3.80 compared to a Hitachino Nest Pale Ale going for S$7.50. And we’re not even talking about happy hour promotions, where you can get one-for-one for your Heineken pint at a bar like Mr Punch Public House. Over at Sque Rotisserie & Alehouse, co-owner Roel Quimba revealed while 70 per cent of his 200 kinds of beers (and counting) are of the craft kind, only two out of 10 customers request for these. And these are the customers who are unmoved by happy hours or draught beer deals.

Ultimately, “every beer has its place,” said Guerrier. And it appears that the craft beer boom will continue. New spots such as Tap Craft Beer Bar at Capitol Piazza as well as Draft and Craft at Circular Street opened last year, and Goh is in the midst of launching another joint in the Central Business District in the second quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, Tay feels that “more is always better” for consumers, adding that the craft beer community here is actually a close-knit and collaborative one. “We want consumers to drink well and drink responsibly,” he added.

Nevertheless, Singapore’s small market size remains a limiting factor to how much more the scene can continue at this pace. “There is a big chance of over-saturation. It is just not good enough to bring in a beer because you tried it overseas and like it,” Guerrier said. “New entrants into the market need to be very careful to identify a specific market opportunity and bring in products that fit that gap.”

Craft Singapore will be held at Bayfront Avenue Event Space today and tomorrow, noon to 5pm, 6pm to 11pm. Tickets start from S$95 (and includes a S$50 F&B voucher) and are available at SISTIC. For more info, visit http://www.craftsingapore.com.

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