Festivals are the ultimate proof of life for a city’s craft beer industry. They provide a temperature check for craft beer’s broader social and brand relevance.
Is there healthy competition and cooperation amongst brewers, big and small? How does each brewery’s core range stack up in terms of quality and consistency? Can you taste the sophistication and innovation behind more experimental and seasonal brews?
Across all these tests and metrics, Singapore’s recent Urban Beer Festival proved the island state’s craft industry is sprinting into recovery.
Over two rainy days in March, Singapore’s brewers, beer geeks, thirsty office workers, friendly dogs and curious onlookers gathered in downtown Tanjong Pagar.
The motley Festgoers enjoyed a range of primarily locally-made beverages spanning craft beer to cider as DJs provided a background track.
Picking things up post-pandemic
“We just felt that it’s about time we bring everyone together to celebrate as an industry after a long winter – the first proper festival to happen post-COVID,” shares organiser Kevin Ngan.
“We were honestly not expecting such a good turnout. The show of support from all stakeholders was amazing”.
Defying the stereotype of doing anything to avoid the rain, over 2,000 Singaporeans came out over the two days. Queues remained until late into the evening on Day 2.
One brewery owner reckoned the crowd was “70% new faces”, a remarkable achievement in any craft beer scene.
Fortunately for fest-goers, not only was the whole event underneath a boulevard between two office buildings, but the inclement weather kept the temperature pleasant to remain outdoors – and enjoy a beer with a bit less sweat than usual.
“It was great and totally exceeded our expectations. We initially weren’t sure about the turnout given it’s the first event since Covid, but it was encouraging to see the industry come together, “ shares Brewlander Founder & CEO John Wei.
“We had to head back to our brewery three times to replenish beers because everyone was having such a good time.”
The interest wasn’t restricted to beer, either. Local meadery Lion City had a successful weekend.
“It’s been long overdue since we were able to have an event the likes of the Urban Beer Festival,” shared Lion City Meadery Co-Founder Justin Herson.
“I’m just really glad for the opportunity to hang out and catch up with everyone from the industry as well as old and new friends from the community.”
Cautious optimism across the island nation
The festival’s success underlines a cautious optimism in the brewing industry after the incredibly strict lockdowns Singapore imposed for a more extended period than many other countries in the region.
Some of the more notorious challenges included F&B venues following complex rules on group sizes, table spacing and closing hours – strictly enforced by a special task force of red-shirted ‘Safe Distancing Ambassadors’. Challenges also emerged around license types for craft beer-focused bars and restaurants.
“I’m very optimistic over the mid-term because now most restrictions are lifted, tourism is coming back. The initial revenge travel of folks domiciled in Singapore should be reducing, and more companies are requiring employees to return to the office,” shares Mr Wei.
There are still obstacles to growth, though:“Inflation has eroded the disposable income of most consumers, and it will be a challenge “fighting” for a share of their wallet”, he continues.
‘There are some major headwinds like raw material prices and energy costs that will persist, and in some cases may even end businesses that aren’t fundamentally sound.”
Singapore’s domestic beer production grew from 1.75 million hl in 2020 to 1.9 million hl in 2021, according to a recent global beer market report from hop supplier BarthHaas.
While craft beer was estimated to be only around 3% of domestic consumption in 2020, this market share will likely increase with more local craft beer production and increasing demand by Singaporeans for premium craft beer at restaurants and bars.
From an asset management firm taking over the previous Starker brewery to the aforementioned Brewlander building a bespoke brewery, Singapore’s domestic craft beer production has seen solid, consistent growth in recent years.
While on-trade remains dominated by larger commercial breweries due to larger sales teams, incentives and better pricing, visitors to Singapore can increasingly find craft beer served alongside traditional local fare in hawker centres and even into the early morning hours in mainstream nightlife districts like Boat Quay.
But back to the festival. As the final day wound down, Singapore’s brewery owners and staff gathered for a celebratory photo – exhausted but happy after their successful turnout.
“A rising tide lifts all boats: we hope to see more people enjoying good beers, which will only spur the us on as a community” shares Mr Ngan.
“We hope that Urban Beer Fest can also act as the catalyst to drive innovation within the industry, which will help Singapore to continue to set the bar for quality beers in the region.”