If anyone’s been around 88 Bamboo for a while, you’ve probably seen photos of us holding up a pint of beer with an iconic 黑狗 painted across a pint glass. Or maybe, holding up a sample of beer against the skillfully drawn boards above the taps for a beer review (like our recent Garage Project 12th Year Anniversary Belgium Quad review).
That picture. Orh Gao means “black dog 黑狗” in Chinese dialect, a throwback to how stouts were called back in the days.
Yet somehow, even after interviewing Charlie, the man behind the establishment himself, we haven’t done a proper escapade to showcase the place. The audacity! Here’s our long overdue article.
If you haven’t known, Orh Gao co-shares the space with Killiney, a chain of coffee shops that dot around Singapore. Being a stone’s throw away from Botanical Gardens station, it’s easily accessible (do note however, it is not entirely sheltered all the way. From anecdotal experience, bring a brolly in case of wet weather).
The MRT station entrance leads right to the Botanic Gardens gates. Turn left and it's a straight walk down across the zebra crossing. Source: Wikipedia
From morning till early evening (say about 4pm), you can still get your local breakfast staples of soft boiled eggs, kaya toast, and a good ol’ kopi or teh. However, if you rather chase your morning meal with beer… the staff at Orh Gao are more than happy to oblige. It's not uncommon either for passer-bys to stop right in front of Orh Gao with a puzzled look at the evening - what's a kopitiam franchise slinging out pints of beer with somewhat aggressive rock music as the choice of ambient noise?
I've been here when it was Killiney's operation hours to enjoy a cup of iced Teh C (tea with evapourated milk).
Either way, morning beers don’t sit too well with me, so I chose to head over at 5pm in the evening, when the establishment transforms from a nostalgic coffee shop to a cosy beer place. The blinds would be let down, and the other famous Orh Gao wall mural comes to life.
“There are no strong beers, only weak men.”
I’ve had a while before my friends were joining me, so I decided to go for a beer first. Orh Gao has 12 taps, with the beers rotating every week (or once the keg has finished). Here’s the break down of the 12 taps, for most days:
Tap 1: Freedom Lager from Brewlander - the only constant tap in Orh Gao.
Tap 2-3: Sour beers, such as goses or sour ales.
Tap 4-5: Usually hazy pale ales or hazy ales.
Tap 7-9: Hazy pale ales or IPAs, but the stronger stuff like DIPAs, DDHs, and so on. The beers here tend to be boozier too, sitting at an average of 7-8% ABV.
Tap 10-12: Stouts of varying strengths and styles.
Tap 6 is usually the wild card of the lot, without a set style in place. Sometimes it could be a pale ale, a Belgian quad, an oat pilsner… any goes!
Garage Project had a taproom takeover earlier in the week (we were there too when they came, keep a lookout for an upcoming article!) - if you’re sharp, you would've noticed that many of the beers are still their stuff. Starting out the night strong (partially inspired by the mural), I went for the Pernicious Weed DIPA .
The Pernicious Weed DIPA was fiery, strong, and extremely hoppy - even the staff at the beer taps told me this is more of a "second or third beer". And they were absolutely right - on an empty stomach, this was quite the fierce beer to contend with.
Let’s hope I don’t end up like the chap at the bottom of the glass.
Coincidentally, it was Ari’s birthday - a familiar face and resident board drawer at Orh Gao. An entire tap has been dedicated to him, and anyone could give Ari a drink with coupons. If that isn’t a testament to the no-frills, localised and intimate sense of humour the team at Orh Gao has, I don’t know what is. Happy birthday Ari!
Ari (left, in the green shirt) had a whole tap dedicated to him that day. Ace (right) can be seen sometimes running the taps on busier days - catch him if you want good banter.
I wonder if Ari survived the night.
As my friends arrived, I returned back to my seat after catching up with the folks behind the counter.
While Orh Gao is known for their selection of craft beers (as well as natural wines and sakes at the fridge), the food at Orh Gao has a bit of a cult following. The dishes on offer here remind me of zi char establishment, fused with local favourites at the hawker centre. Here’s some of the foods that I recommend:
Orh Gao Vinegar Fries. Not your ordinary fries doused with cheap vinegar - no, they used Chinese black sweet vinegar for seasoning instead. Coupled with a bit of curry spice powder and fried to crispy perfection, this dish is in my opinion a must have anytime you’re seated at Orh Gao. It’s sweet, sour, savoury, a bit spicy, and goes with pretty much any beer that’s available. I've tested it against extremely sour sour beers, the hoppiest DIPAs, and the roastiest stouts - this dish was a welcome respite when the beer chugging gets tough.
Har Cheong Gai. Har Cheong Gai is chicken wings marinated in a prawn paste, then deep fried. This is also the foodie favourite, and almost any table at Orh Gao will have a basket of these wings. They're are famous for a reason - thick, crunchy crust that stays crunchy for hours with a pronounced, deeply marinated prawn flavour in the wings. A second must-have sharing dish alongside the fries.
Beef Rendang. Beef rendang is slow cooked beef in a dense curry sauce. The melt in your mouth quality of the beef pairs excellent in rice, and can be a good sharing dish or the main entree if you’re eating alone. For extra indulgence, go with the coconut rice instead. As this dish can get heavy and rich, definitely pair this with a sour or a hazy pale ale. If you have company that can't take spicy food, this is a good recommendation too.
Curry Mussels (with Sourdough Bread from Yeastside). This is my personal favourite as dishes go. The broth is delectably sweet from the mussel juices, runny but not dilute, and pack a spicy punch that keeps you on your toes. When you guzzle a stronger pint with this, the burn is both painful yet addictive. A special shoutout goes to Yeastside and their sourdough bread (Yeastside is another establishment owned by Charlie) - thick, dense, and unashamedly sour that soaks up the broth like a sponge.
To keep the palate fresh, I opted for the Ambrosia Ice Cream Sour from Garage Project. The sour paired exceptionally well with the fried foods on the table, like the Har Cheong Gai and fries.
If your mates do not have a fancy for beers, they can pick-up cocktails, or opt for wines and sake by the bottle. A shout out to Lion City Meadery as well - you can pick up their Classic Mead as a great alternative to the beers while staying on theme. And just in case your friends are going dry - Orh Gao has got you sorted with non-alcoholic libations too.
That about wraps up the escapade for Orh Gao taproom! Friendly banter, cosy atmosphere, great music, awesome beers and food - a craft beer establishment that gets their stuff right, while still keeping it real and cordial. Definitely won’t be my last visit here.
Orh Gao Taproom
10 Jln Serene, #01-03 Serene Centre, Singapore 258748