A chat on the sidelines of Beerfest Asia with Archipelago Brewery reveals big plans on the horizon for the home-grown craft beer brewery.
It was a hot and blistering afternoon on the first day of Beerfest Asia, initially open to the F&B trade for a number of hours before opening its gates wide open to a public thirsty for beers and ciders both new and already available in Singapore.
Archipelago Brewery‘s head brewer Robert Beck (pictured, left) was getting ready for a presentation on food and beer pairing to members of the food service industry, while his boss, brewery head Malcolm Davies (pictured, right) – recently appointed to the role – was entertaining trade customers and members of the media at the sprawling tent where Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) has sited their massive booths with beers all ready to pour for the public.
We get a cup each – made of plastic, of course, because glass gets dangerous when people become slightly more rowdy and careless when sufficiently inebriated as can be expected at such events as the night goes on – of Archipelago’s latest limited edition brew, the Coco’s Cream Pie, a semi-sweet cream ale that tastes like a beer version of chocolate milk and Graham crackers. It goes down like a treat in the blustery hot weather.
More limited edition Archipelago beers to come
Also available was Archipelago’s HOPSALE, yet another small batch brew that was launched barely a month before Coco’s Cream Pie – which was unusual to say the least, because the brewery doesn’t normally put two different limited edition beers side by side with its core range. “We’ve come to realise that customers do really like try different beers, and our special limited edition beers are a way to offering them that variety,” shares Davies.
“Our trade customers have also given us feedback that they’d like to see less of a time gap between different limited edition beers. Moving forward consumers will see more of these beers running alongside one another, or in quick succession so there’s always an Archipelago limited edition beer available,” he adds. He concedes that the change has been in part prompted by the growth in the craft beer segment in Singapore, which has recently seen a large number of new craft beer brands enter to challenge for market share.
But Davies also asserts that one of the strengths of Archipelago is its openness to collaborate, especially with its limited edition beers; in recent times it has worked with the Gryphon Tea Company to make a tea-infused beer called Yuzucha, the Archipresso coffee-based schwarzbier together with cafe Forty Hands), and even a Hickory Smoked IPA in conjunction with American barbeque joint Smokey’s BBQ. It’s even made special exclusive brews for choice trade customers, such as a golden ale infused with gula melaka and calamansi for The Tuckshop.
The responsibility of making those beers though, falls to head brewer Robert Beck. Beck, who used to brew in Australia-based Little Creatures Brewery and Malt Shovel Brewery (which makes the James Squire range of beers), admits that it can be difficult to make such beers that incorporates more unusual ingredients. “There’s usually very little time to experiment, and trying to get the right ingredients to make the beers work can be challenging,” Beck shares. “You have no idea how much white chocolate we had to add into Coco Cream’s Pie to get the flavour out. And what made it worse was that the oils in the chocolate can kill the head retention in beer.” Thankfully, those experiments did work, which is why Coco’s Cream Pie made it to Beerfest Asia on time this year.
A view to expansion
Homegrown craft beer Archipelago Brewery, since its official inception in 2006, had never looked into overseas expansion (or if it had, they never made those intentions public). The furthest it had gone was DFS at Singapore’s Changi Airport, when its original core range – that featured the use of local ingredients such as gula melaka, tamarind and lemongrass – was actually bottled and packaged into a variety pack to make it easy for tourists to pick them up. Until now.
“One of the biggest reasons why we’ve never looked at overseas expansion before is because our beers are unpasteurised, which makes keeping them fresh while shipping across a distance difficult. But we recently came across new technology that may help us overcome that particular hurdle.” – Archipelago Brewery head Malcolm Davies.
Davies hints at a coming expansion of its brewery operations which could see the Heineken/APB-owned brand tap into its parent’s production and distribution network in the region. “One of the biggest reasons why we’ve never looked at overseas expansion before is because our beers are unpasteurised, which makes keeping them fresh while shipping across a distance difficult,” he says. “But we recently came across new technology that may help us overcome that particular hurdle. We can’t share more yet, but we’re very excited about the possibilities.”
While Davies tells us that they’re not ready to go back to bottling as yet – which may make it easier to ship – he says they’re not ready to do so. So if that Archipelago Brewery does adopt the use of that new technology, we may be seeing its beers – including those limited edition beers – on tap around the region in the near future.