With a drinking scene known more for cocktails (not just the Singapore Sling) and the ubiquitous Heineken-owned Tiger beer, Singapore might not be on the radar for many craft beer enthusiasts. However, rest assured, if you find yourself stranded on this island, you’ll have plenty of good beer.
Drinking venues come in a wide range of sizes and polish, from self-serve taps in open-air hawker center stalls to slick, state-of-the-art skyscraping brewpubs. Expertly curated bars and bottle shops offer imported craft brews, bottled and draught, from around the world. About a dozen microbreweries - run by both expats and locals - provide locally brewed options. No matter the type of drinking experience you’re seeking, you’ll find something to suit your tastes in Singapore’s craft beer scene.
Exploring Singapore’s Microbreweries
With only four days to explore, and a disappointing inability to marathon drink in Singapore’s high levels of heat and humidity (more practice!), I decided to focus my exploration on drinking locally produced beers at their sources.
This is by no means an exhaustive exploration of the island’s microbreweries. People who know Singaporean beer might wonder why I left out some of the better-known mainstays like RedDot or Brewerkz. Basically, my sampling methodology came down to “what’s the closest brewery” and “oh that sounds like an interesting place to drink.” I know; I’m such a pro.
In any case, the four breweries I visited are all worth a try for different reasons, as each has something unique to offer by way of beer and atmosphere.
Note: The order of breweries in this list reflects chronology of my visits and is not meant to imply quality-based ranking.
1. The 1925
In the up-and-coming Jalan Besar neighborhood, The 1925, family owned and open since 2014, brews and serves their beers in a familiar-feeling distressed-wood-and-concrete tap room.
From their five taps, they offer three of their own beers plus two rotating guest brews. When I visited in July 2016, they were pouring Yellow Van pale ale, Small Monster IPA, and Blk 622 dark ale, along with two beers from California’s Coronado Brewing. While I like the name and story behind Yellow Van best (not to mention the tiny yellow van sitting on the bar), my favorite of the beers was the nicely balanced IPA.
The “beer-inspired” menu features pub fare fusing western and local flavors. For my lunch, I opted for a rice bowl involving a giant grilled portabella, pork belly, and a mix of savory and sweetish flavors spicy enough to keep me drinking the beer.
2. LeVeL 33
At LeVeL 33, the “world’s highest urban craft-brewery” the view steals the show. On the terrace (if you can stand the heat and humidity), you can drink the afternoon away, enjoying a vista that encompasses Marina Bay with its otherworldly architecture and stretches out to the Straits of Singapore. Oh, and they make some decent beer, too.
The beers, of which 6 are offered on tap, are all safe choices and well executed, with a style to appeal to everyone’s tastes. I got the sampler paddle so I could try them all. My favorite was the seasonal blanche, a witbier with a light coriander flavor that went down easily in the heat. Interestingly, the “porter” is poured as a mixture of the IPA and stout. Thus my sampler paddle came with only 5 beers, and I had to reserve enough IPA and stout in order to mix my own porter.
If nothing else, the beers are presented well, and the sampler paddle just begs to be photographed with that awesome view behind it. In fact, one woman, who had been drinking inside with her friend, hurried out to the terrace when my beer was delivered. She asked if she could please take a picture of it; I obliged and we had a fun little beer photo session together.
Food-wise, their menu is supposed to be excellent, but after 3 hours of eating my way through the hawker centers earlier, I could manage only a “tapas” snack of olives, cheese, and salami sticks. Something’s gotta give.
3. Blue Bali
Tucked away inside the Botanic Gardens is Singapore’s only nano-brewery, Blue Bali Brewhaus. Every garden needs a brewery! This wasn’t exactly a planned stop on my brewery expedition, but after walking around all day, I needed a rest before my Night Safari adventure, so I figured, “Why not? It’s here.”
I plunked down in the open-air seating area as close to the fan as I could manage and ordered a sample of the three beers on tap that day: Bali Gold, Pink Mamba, and Doshi IPA. The flavors in the beers are subtle but a bit more experimental than the other two breweries I’d visited. Bali Gold is brewed with pumpkin, but the flavor is very mild, not the spiced-up, holiday variety we’re flooded with every fall in the States. Pink Mamba really is pink, brewed with dragon fruit, and undeniably pretty. They’ll even bottle it on demand so you can have a nice, rosy fresh one to take home.
Coincidentally, and fortuitously, Christian, the brewer, was also my server. He showed me around the brew house and chatted about the brewing process, how he learned to brew from the owner, and the challenges of making beer with something seedy like dragon fruit.
Blue Bali is also a full-service restaurant, so I decided to stay for dinner. As pumpkin seemed to be one of the day’s themes, at Christian’s suggestion, I had the pumpkin prawns. They were enormous and drenched in an amazing, lightly spicy curry sauce. Not a bad way to accidentally spend a few hours.
4. Little Island Brewing Co.
A newer addition to Singapore’s microbrewery lineup, Little Island Brewing Company is only about a 15-20 minute car ride away from Changi Airport. Thus, I thought it would be a good idea to make it my last stop before heading home to Chicago. Be careful if you decide to follow in my footsteps: breweries before airports can lead to travel challenges.
I am not gonna lie, Little Island was my favorite of the breweries I visited. I got a tour from Steve Spinney, the head brewer himself, who was quite generous with the samples. Beer always tastes best when you’re drinking with person who made it, trying the ones they select and hearing the stories behind them.
The brewery and its companion restaurant sit on a sprawling lot with a big yard and row upon row of picnic tables, enough outdoor seating for 250 people. The beers are dispensed via a self-serve, card-based system to encourage sampling and experimentation.
While I enjoyed all of the beers I tried (and I tried quite a few), my favorite was the SPA, a balanced but more aggressive IPA. Steve said he hopes to turn into a regular offering. Contrary to what others had told me, Steve rejected the idea that the Singaporeans weren’t yet ready for or interested in challenging beers. He said that Little Island has become a weekend destination for people who are serious about beer. They can bring their families, have a meal, relax, and try several different styles.
In addition to the best beers I’d had in Singapore, Little Island also serves up some killer smoked meats. Despite the fact that I’d already eaten a late-afternoon heap of satay skewers at Long Bar with my Singapore Sling, brisket suddenly sounded like a fantastic idea. Blame the beer, the heat or both, but halfway through my pile of brisket, I started to think I might not care if I missed my flight home.
I did make it to the airport, but getting a cab was more challenging than expected, so I got an Uber instead. That delay cut into my duty-free shopping considerably, but I made my flight. I connected through Tokyo, and on the way there I (finally) got to fly on a Dreamliner. I’ve heard those planes are designed to minimize the uncomfortable side-effects of flying, such as dehydration. With the amount of beer and meat I’d consumed, I was a prime candidate for a deadly hangover. However, I’m happy to say, I landed feeling pretty freaking fantastic, so I’ll give Boeing credit.
If you want more international craft beer reading, check out my post on Iceland’s craft beer scene.
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