Boat Quay is stretch of bars along the Singapore River. It is conveniently located next to the CBD of Singapore and absolutely heaves on a Friday night. The proximity to water gives hope of cool breezes, but there is little respite from Singapore’s ever present humidity. As one of my colleagues said, you never really get used to it.
With it being so hot, there’s only one option – drink and drink lots. Boat Quay provides an endless range of pub options. When I was in Singapore 6 years ago I was struck by the homogeneity of the tap lists. It was pretty much Kronenberg, Carlsberg, Heinken and of course Tiger. That’s still the case in plenty of places, but now there are brewhouses and craft beer. Illiards tipped me off to Archipelago beer, which I chased down the previous evening. I also paid a visit to the world’s “Highest Urban Microbrewery”, which is up to its 16th seasonal. Occasional correspondent – KiwibackinNZ – had previously written about it here.
For my last night in Singapore, I opted for the RedDot Brewhouse, which is in the heart of Boat Quay. Again it uses a pricing mechanism based on the time. Best to drink early in Singapore. Amazingly I bumped into another Back of the Ferry inductee on the night who took care of the bill. So whilst there was little fiscal pain this time, there’s never really a cheap drink in Singapore. If you look at the price list in the photo and do the math, the cheapest option is the 1500ml jug, which still works out at $10 a pint. There were a few blokes giving the 3500ml tower a shot. A number of Asian blokes go red when they drink and one of the fellas tackling the tower of Green Monster was shining like a traffic light. Still, he and his mates made short work of their tower.
The RedDot range is broad and interesting. Along with the usual Kolsch, Pilsener, Weizen etc – there are a couple of oddities. The Lime Wheat and the Monster Green Lager are unique twists for this drinker. The Monster Green is a lager that is coloured green by the addition of spirulina (blue green algae apparently). It really looks like GI Lime cordial, but is an inoffensive, smashable lager perfect for Singapore drinking. The Vienna Seasonal, brewed for Oktoberfest was a real corker with a deep, rich malty backbone. Probably beer of the trip. The back story to RedDot is one worth reading. Next time I might find my way to the actual brewhouse, but I certainly look up RedDot again.
Your correspondent is on a flying visit to Singapore, a place I’ve only visited once before, well before Back of the Ferry began. I remember it as hot and expensive then and upon first impressions nothing has changed.
Due to the supreme efficiency of Changi airport and possibly awesome tailwinds I pulled into my hotel about the time I was supposed to land. More good fortune awaited, and I was delighted to discover that an outlet of Brewerkz was less than a block from my hotel.
It was late, so it wasn’t a big sesh and thank goodness because it would have sent me broke. I’m not sure what the opposite of happy hour is but according to the beer and price list I was in its grip. A Singapore dollar is about one Aussie after you’ve been bent over by the exchange rate sharks. $12 for a 375ml of heady Golden Ale. Faaarrk me. Not a bad beer, but for that sort of dough, you’d want an angel crying on your tongue at the very least. Fiscal constraint turned me to the sampler rack.
Brewerkz’s range is solid. Nothing’s a standout, but the X IPA wa a quality example of the style and held the high ABV well. The Black Raspberry Ale was jam mixed with beer. The fridges offer takeaway, which is good. Air conditioning worked in the hotel.
The clarion call had not gone out, but no call needed to be made. The founding firm of Back of the Ferry all ambled onto the stern of the MV Freshwater and assumed the position to enjoy the first ferry trip of the Daylight Savings season.
The weekend’s glorious weather had morphed into the working week and the 6.30 ferry trip provided a sunny start and a pink hued finish. There’s never a bad time to get the ferry, but the first day of Daylight Savings is special.
The event was marked with the creation of Back of the Ferry’s Instagram account. @backoftheferry will feature photos of or from the Backs of Ferries. We figure that our other channels are chock full of beer, plus our wives follow Instagram. No doubt the Manly Ferry will feature prominently, but there’ll be other boats making an appearance, I’m sure.
More great work from our mates over at Cool Material.
We drink beer to celebrate, but sometimes we just need to celebrate beer. A while back, we ran a series of hand-illustrated beer quotes created by Cool Material’s in-house artist Vincent Avila. After numerous requests to make them available to purchase, we decided to do so. This Beer Quotes Print features 12 of our favorites on a 12×16 sheet of 110# matte cover paper. Put one up on your wall, and crack one open in celebration of sweet, sweet beer. Buy one here.
When you look up on line what to do and see in San Francisco, there’s that bridge of course, as well as trams, various piers, and a vibrant outdoor street culture (cafes, bars, etc) in various different quarters of town. I’m struggling though because I dropped into one of the main tourist districts, Fisherman’s Wharf and its surrounding area, where, quite frankly, they seem devoid of decent pubs. This obviously causes great consternation, but I am not put off. The quest for beer is too strong an urge just to give up on. Luckily just up the road I come across Red Jack Saloon where for my first refreshment of the day I dive into a pint of the local amber Prohibition Beer. It’s 5% strength and has a distinct orange tang to it, so I know I’m definitely in California.
The problem with Red Jack Saloon is that there’s a baseball game going on, which is making for an extremely noisy atmosphere – the local Irish residents are clearly supporting their Boston kinsmen, which the rest of the locals seem to be taking objection to, something to do with the Irish team playing a local Bay team. I was hungry and they didn’t do food either, although they did have WiFi, which I looked up 8 bars in another part of town that all came highly recommended for their craft beer.. . NB I won’t be visiting anymore than one tonight. i set off up (and I mean “UP”) through the streets to pay a visit to San Fran’s famous Chinatown for a flounder in black-bean sauce, which settled the stomach after a long flight. I hopped into a taxi who took me down to the Pi Bar. First of a few drinks I sampled in here was the Golden Road Berlinerweiss from LA – I tend to make an attempt to try the local beers, but given the last bar with the Boston game going on, I will also have to give the Boston Chocolate Chilli Bock a tasting too. The Golden Road is a great sour beer, and a good introduction to the evening, which like the beer is turning a little fresh and crisp. However, before I move onto the East Coast, I sample a very local ale: Anchor Liberty Ale, which despite all the online commentary, is actually more of a style I’m used to back home in the UK – a lovely summer ale, with honey on the palate – not a bit hoppy or IPA in character (always be careful to trust your own nose, not what beer blogs says).
It’s a long bar that is playing pleasant folk rock in the background, low enough that you can (a) hear yourself think, and (b) overhear conversations at the next table as well as neighbours at the bar. Jennifer, one of two barmaids serving tonight, is very jovial and can’t be more attentive, especially given it’s quite busy. Sadly, they don’t to tasting paddles, but because she knows I’ll be trying to sample most of what’s on offer, she kindly suggests that I am served this evening using only half pint glasses. Very wise. The menu is almost exclusively pizzas – unsurprising given they have 2 pizza ovens out back – and I’m tempted to indulge. But, clearly I need another beer to gain enough sense to know what to order. This is the 5th anniversary of the Pi Bar, so they have just celebrated this week – in recognition of the event, obviously they brewed an 8.3% beer for the occasion, their “Fort Point (Pi to the power of 5 – my keyboard won’t let me type that mathematically). It’s a superb Belgian beer that they really should keep on tap at all times – a little banana bread to the olfactory senses, chewy, yet smooth and nutty. Any monk would be proud to produce something like this in the countryside around Gent!
The list, as you can see, is long enough not to go through entirely. Of the 12 taps on offer, I’m now going to finish with my promised Boston ale. And as for the pizza? Well, one of the joys of being on the Atkins diet is that you lose a lot of weight. What is odd is that beer is full of carbohydrates, and despite my consumption of Canadian ales over the past week, I have managed somehow to still shed a kilo or two. My travelling companion in Toronto, Jason, suggested that perhaps we coin the term “Hop-kins Diet”. Certainly, it may have legs – I’m not sure I do, now that I’ve participated in my 4th beer. The Bock is toasty straight away on the nose, very deep dark, oaty, with a mildly roasted coffee sweetness. You absolutely get chocolate (and you’d be disappointed if you didn’t), but I’m not noticing much chilli. However, it’s a splendid pinnacle for the evening, and my Hopkins diet doesn’t seem to need any pizza now. Phew!
I think I’m going to enjoy the Bay area this week – in between some business, I’m sure I’ll be able to mix a little beer pleasure.
Tonight is one of the biggest nights in Toronto – Nuit Blanche. The whole of Downtown is lit up with arts, the bars don’t close till 4am and the subway runs all night. I’ll probably sleep well on my flight to San Francisco tomorrow, not least because my first stop this evening is ‘Little San Francisco’ as it’s known to the locals of ‘the Junction’. I’m taking the subway there, which is particularly easy to navigate – they only have 2 lines and there are a plethora of buses supporting the public transport system. You pay your $3 token once at the beginning of any journey, which takes you to your final destination by underground and bus. What is quite bizarre though is that if you ask for a weekly ‘pass’, it only starts on a Monday – in every other city in the world, it’s a simple 7-day pass that starts from the day you purchase it. Looking at the weekly pass ticket, in fairness, it does look like it’s a simple solution… this is ‘week 40’ of the calendar year, so the ticket has a ’40’ sticker on it, which makes it easy for the bus driver to know you’ve paid for the correct week to be travelling. The journey itself is uneventful, albeit one amusing advert on the underground train: the local University introducing ‘app development’ as a course this year…. it took this long to introduce this?!? Welcome to Ontario. Anyway, I’ve made my way to the first lights of the night, those of the Indie Ale House.
This place is heaving – a testament to the popularity of great beer in Toronto, but the lack of great places to find it. A large bar, this place has loads of seats and lots of beer. I find myself a pew at the bar, and Lori serves me the food menu and a ‘tasting flight’… I can choose from any of the wide selection on offer (there’s 12 on the list, which apart from the Guest Ales are all brewed on the premises), but I ask her to take the decision for me. As I’m waiting for the beer to arrive, I peruse the menu – similar to the Sharp’s theme (see Cornish Connoisseur posting), what hit’s you straight out is the “Beer and Food Pairings” theme… I think I’m gonna like this place. The beer selection arrives.
Again, from left to right, we start with “Instigator IPA’. This is a West Coast style IPA and a typical 6%… every brewer in north America is doing one of these: you just have to have one on tap to avoid disappointing anyone. It’s very hoppy, unsurprisingly, just like marmalade. Moving swiftly on, therefore, to “Barnyard Belgian IPA” – this is an IPA but made with a Belgian yeast – quite unique in its finish, and not at all overly hoppy… I’m not sure the Belgians would lend their identity to this. However, we now move onto “New World Brux’ – this is the Guest tap, which is brewed locally in Ontario (a territory larger than Wales) by Nickel Brook – phenomenal. A distinctly sharp beaujolais on the nose, this baby is a real Belgian sour, due to the wild yeast from the wood of the barrel that it matured in. The only problem is that it’s like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. But that’s what makes beer so special.
Our landlord, Jason, appears. Behind me he says is the main man from the Amsterdam brewery, another local brewer – they circulate between each other on a Saturday night. This a small beer community in Ontario, fighting the BIG BOYS – whereas he’ says, “nothing happens in Ontario,” which is why they are so far behind the curve, despite the fact that Coors and Labatts are both headquartered dust 5 miles north of here, Ontario still boasts an amazing 5% craft beer of the total beer market; not bad for an industry dominated by lobbying, marketing spend, and politically-driven laws written in the favour of the most powerful. I say, “let the people decide,” but my naivety is brushed off… sure, the boutique beer industry will double in the next 5 years here, but half of the brewers will go out of business because the fight will kill them off. Really? Yep. For a local brewer like the Indie Ale House, they have no choice whatsoever other than to get all their inventory from the big boys – their competitors – at an outrageous sum per annum (in the 10s of 1,000’s of Canadian $). Worse than a duopoly, it’s actually a monopoly, as both the big boys make each other’s beers!
Small means you have to beat them on quality – there’s no point in competing on marketing. Accountants are driving the big boys business – just because Sharps brews all its own beers, the very fact that Coors owns them equals a potential compromise on quality: buy cheaper yeast; save more on this; add less of that… you get the picture. Anyway, the next beer is a Scottish favourite of mine – full of oats, punchy, smooth, a true mocha – the chocolate misgivings of their “Breakfast Porter” is only balanced by my sense of home-coming, like my grandmother’s chicken soup. Talking of which, my ribs arrive – fresh, zany, spicy, caramelised: this is ribs a la gado-gado. I savour the lot for a bit longer than you might expect.
Last but now least, “It’s Wabbit Season” (their autumnal one-off) must bring Bugs Bunny to this joint every day till winter is through. It’s not only the carrot and walnut cake strength, but the subtle vanilla beans that makes up the feast… there are raisins on top of nutmeg; dare I say it, but it’s perfect for Halloween. Jason tells me that he hopes to double in size, which he’ll probably do from his takeaway growlers alone, not least due to another well-drawn picture on the blackboard. As I prepare for the rest of Nuit Blanche, I wish him and Lori the very best of success.
I get out the subway at Queen – the mob is unfathomable, and whilst I look at the approaching swarm as I start to cross the road, it feels like I’m going into a game of British Bulldogs as both sides surge towards each other. I don’t yet know my Canadian opponent – if watching (ice) hockey on the TV is anything to go by, these guys are fearsome, move very fast, and hit you hard. As it turns out, the family atmosphere turns a potential civil war into a Sunday stroll as everyone creates previously non-existent channels through each others crowd, two combs aligning. I ask a passing policeman what’s it all about? “A bunch of weird art if you ask me – just follow the crowd into the square over there.” I did, but he was wrong. This festival started in Paris a decade ago and the Torontorians have borrowed its format – City Hall and the surrounding area has several major projects to go and see, hear, and feel; a veritable outdoor and undercover art gallery. You get the real sense of people learning from the whole experience, as well as soaking up the atmosphere, similar to ‘VIVID’ in Sydney.
Nuit Blanche – from the darkness… light
It’s not often that you find a real ale pub on your travels abroad, so it’s always good to stumble across a side street that has a homely bar that serves fine cask beer. On a cold, windy autumnal day, I just happened across such an establishment: the Oxley Public House on Yorkville street in the heart of Downtown Toronto. It has a cosy snug upstairs, and provides an outdoor, seated patio for the smokers amongst us (if you can brave the chill). As you are about to saunter past the building, you are immediately struck by the vivid puce exterior, which stands out from the rest of the brick buildings along the road, not to mention the glass and concrete high-rises in the immediate vicinity. It looks exactly like the sort of place I need to get some shelter in – there are folks sitting outside, clearly enjoying themselves, and I spot a pint or two of darker beer on the table. I’m hooked.
I step inside, and am greeted warmly by the server behind the bar. You can see that it’s definitely an old building with Victorian wooden panels, painted a warm green, and the walls are splattered with an eclectic mix of sepia prints and a gold-framed oil painting above the mantle piece. But unlike the Village Idiot pub or its neighbour, Sin & Redemption bar, down on McCaul Street, this place has embraced the modern world – yes, they have WiFi. That obviously means the Apple Mac gets taken out for a quick blog. The password for you Brits will amuse you: ‘Jrhartley’…. remember the advert for Yellow Pages where the guy is looking for a book on fly-fishing in a second-hand bookstore written by J R Hartley? I smile when she hands me the piece of paper with the password written down on it, and she asks me if I’m from the UK… unsurprisingly, no-one else ‘gets’ it. I admit to her that I am. “So, what’s on tap?” I enquire. Well, I’m startled to find that they not only have one real ale beer from the old-fashioned pulling handles, but today they have two. I’m not fussy which one I try first – I surely know that I’ll be diving into both. Therefore, I naturally work my way from left-to-right and plump for the “Junction Pumuckl”. But then, the cherry on top of the cake… it’s served up in a proper handle!
I can’t tell you how happy this makes me – back in the UK, I’ve been known to refuse taking a beer served in a ‘straight’ (talking about ‘cutting your nose off despite your face’)! Firstly, I tend to prefer a darker ale, but to get it served up in a tankard warrants a few words of approval, if for no other reason than to encourage publicans to get them to adopt the practice. Steve, the owner, comes over for a chat – probably intrigued about the announcement that there’s a beer blogger sitting up at his bar – he’s got a strong English accent (so that explains the ‘Jrhartley’) and he’s passionate about beer…. shock, horror. I ask him about my first choice in beer. The Junction Brewery – “Conductor’s Ale” is their main one, plus “Station Master Stout” [ed. all with obvious railway links] – brews this amber ale for ‘fall’.” I sip it. It’s a wholesome number with a hoppy overture that leaves the palate with smoky, toasted, yet mild coffee bean aftertaste. Steve goes on to explain that the Oxley has been around for a couple of years, whereas its sister pub on Elm Street, the Queen and Beaver, has been around for 5 or 6 years. The main point about the Oxley is its focus on beer, cocktail and friendliness – for Steve, it’s all about ‘local and craft’
Strangely enough, it’s taken a long time for the beer scene to come to prominence in Canada in general – for example, history has seen some draconian attitudes to drinking (the temperance movement ended decades ago, by the way!) – so it’s really encouraging to see the changes happening. The vibe is almost palpable. ‘Yorkshire’ Steve is a real enthusiast, having moved here from London some four years ago with his Canadian wife. In addition to the 3 Brewers (see previous post), the Oxley, Queen & Beaver, there are still only a handful of choice establishments – the Indie House (his local), the Granite which has actually been open for 25 years, and Belwoods Brewery “have all managed to break the mould,” he explains.
I ask for the second beer available on tap. This is from the ‘local’ Durham brewery – “Fresh Hop” – brewed by ‘Bruce’, who is a one man band. “He has been brewing for 20 years – you order on a Tuesday and he drives the van that delivers the beer on a Wednesday.” The reason he can do this is that he administers the hops in the morning and it’s coming out of the tanks by the afternoon. It’s probably fair to say that Bruce “doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” This is a remarkable fresh offering – a summer beer that hides the hops really well, with a hint of hedgerow about it… mellow, honey. ‘Local’ here means within a two-hour drive, and given the guest tap has been going for 18 months and they’ve never repeated an ale twice, it just shows how many real ales there are now available in the area. It turns out that the reason Steve serves beer up in tankards is because he deliberately wants to make this the most English pub in town – which he seems to be achieving. Interestingly, the cost of setting up a brewery is just as prohibitive here as it is in the rest of the world, but in Ontario there’s a lot of contract brewing going on where you do the brewing but at someone else’s facility… the snag is you can’t sell this at events, just pubs. However, it’s a great model. Whereas in the UK, we’ve been seeing a lot of pubs closing down (it was an average of 39 pubs a week in 2011, sorting the wheat from the chaff, which fortunately has now slowed down), here in Canada it’s a growing business, with establishments popping up all over the place.
“The thing about beer is that it’s really easy to like – people ‘get’ it,” says Steve. I definitely ‘get’ that, Steve!