The elementary colours and regular lines of Piet Mondrian capture the purity and simplicity of Singaporean craft beer brewery Brewlander’s goal: to make great booze and do Asian craft beers proud. This is reflected in the brewery’s “squared B” trademark.
Born out of its founder John Wei’s passion for homebrewing in his own apartment, Brewlander is now one of the largest independent craft breweries in Singapore, with a brewing capacity of some 3,000 litres (not to be compared with giants like Tiger Beer or Heineken). Along its journey, Brewlander has breezily scooped up multiple awards and is also regarded amongst beer enthusiasts as a leading brewer in the Singaporean craft beer scene.
In an interesting interview, John admitted that marketing his products was not his strong suit; he was more focused on beer production. And as we learn about Brewlander’s story, we can see how this genuine focus on flavour over profit has yielded dividends for John and his team.
Remember, Singapore is the most expensive city in Asia to live in. Rent and construction costs are prohibitive. As a startup, Brewlander began its life as a “gypsy brewery,” which involved John renting facilities from a Cambodian mega brewery to produce his beers. But after winning the effusive praises of critics and judges, John took a leap of faith in 2020 – during the height of pandemic supply chain disruptions – to open a state-of-the-art brewery in the west of Singapore.
The brewery is fully automated and has the ability to brew much higher ABV beers (up to 10%) with relative ease. The equipment also allows John’s team to steep hops at any chosen temperature, allowing delicate hop aromas to be extracted without too much hop bitterness. Finally, typical beers are filtered to clarify them and remove a thick cloudy suspension. Brewlander does not filter its beers. Instead, a centrifuge is used to clarify the beer without stripping away too much flavour.
To a beer fanatic, all this fancy, expensive equipment make a meaningful difference to beer quality and flavour. They also allow Brewlander to develop a larger range of beer styles for its audience, such as a high ABV “triple IPA” a tricky style to brew due to the need to balance maltiness, hops, and alcohol character with drinkability.
Since establishing their own brewing facilites in Singapore, Brewlander has launched many more unusual styles of beer, including pastry stouts, fruited sours and British-style cask ales. Despite having achieved significant scale and recognition as a brewery, with John at the helm, it seems that Brewlander still retains the homebrewer’s spirit of experimentation and just having fun with malt and hops.
Singapore has a vibrant cocktail bar, wine, and whisky scene. Yet on the craft beer front, Brewlander understands that they still have their work cut out for them in the Southeast Asian markets. So, while John and his team are very much beer purists, they take pains to convince new drinkers to give craft beer a shot. Education and brewery tours are a way to start the craft beer movement.
It also helps to brew highly drinkable styles of beers such as the fruit-juice-like New England IPAs (a massively popular style), bright-coloured smoothie sours, and other styles that deviate from the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516 (which states that only water, malt, hops and yeast may be used to brew beer).
Another one of these highly drinkable beers from Brewlander is the Mango Fever Wheat Beer, which I have the chance to taste today.
This comes in at the standard 5% ABV and is specially brewed with the addition of malted wheat and – of course- mangoes, speaking to the strong Southeast Asian heritage of the brewery. Its product description seems to promise a sense of collective Singaporean nostalgia, what with the references to refreshing shaved ice and mango bits (“mango ice kachang”) and ice cream sandwiches from a traditional ice cream cart.
Let’s go in for a taste.
Brewlander Mango Fever Wheat Beer – Review
Retails in Singapore at US$5 a can.
Colour: Marigold yellow, slightly hazy.
On the nose: Fresh, clean, hoppy and floral. Mildly bitter hop-forward notes pour forth from the beer head (the frothy foam part), accompanied by notes of elderflowers. As the aromas open up, we get richer notes of sweet honey, lychees and citrusy calamansi. Not much mango at this point yet!
In the mouth: Lush, full-bodied and tropical. Ripe red mangoes are immediately apparent on first sip. Mildly sweet and tangy, much like mango-coconut jelly toppings for boba teas. The thickness and viscosity is also reminiscent of Nestle’s Mango-Peach flavoured Sjora. There’s a bit more complexity to this and the sweetness does not overstay its welcome (slightly less sweet than a Kronenbourg Blanc). The sweet palate is balanced out by light tangy notes of lime and a slightly bready note you get in certain wheat beers. Floral hop notes felt on the back palate also meld seamlessly into the ripe mangoes and citrus notes, punctuating the melody with some mild dryness at the back. The finish is fairly short. The departure of bright sweet tropical notes leave a lightly floral note of jasmine tea and hops that continue to emanate from the back of the throat.
A drink for adults who are young at heart. Those with a sweet tooth would enjoy the melange of sweet and citrusy yellow fruits. For a drink like that, the balanced sweetness and hoppiness is also much appreciated, it’s fruity enough to give you a genuine taste of mangoes, but not so sweet as to lose its identity as a beer.
Some craft beer drinkers may prefer a stronger drink, or bolder notes of bitter hops. But I imagine they wouldn’t have serious complaint about the Mango Fever. The point of this drink is really to introduce the craft beer category to a wider pool of new beer drinkers, and get the craft beer movement really going in this part of the world. And for that, the Mango Fever is a fine endeavour by Brewlander.
Lead image courtesy of Brewlander.