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An Ode To Smith Street Taps In Three Beers: A Decade Long Masterclass On Fighting For A Country’s Right To Craft Beers For All

"Good Beer Is The Right Of The People"

should pretty much be the de facto mantra of Singapore's OG, Smith Street Taps. 

In 2023, Singapore's craft beer scene is alive and thriving. The small island state counts numerous craft beer distributors running their wares around the city, and at least twice as many taprooms that serve as check in points for folks to get their fill of quality small batch brews. Of course, the Tiger still reigns - but consider that despite its (financial) might, a growing fanbase of ardent craft beer fans hounding after the latest drops is certainly no small feat. 

Heck, even hawker centers (or neighbourhood food centers), that the likes of Anthony Bourdain calls the most democratic and equal place on earth, where everyone can accessibly enjoy amazing tasting food for incredible value for money prices (we're talking under $5 SGD, that is $4 USD), can be increasingly found to sport craft brews on draft. Hit up most major supermarkets and you'll find at least a couple of craft beers even - talk about accessibility!

 

Not quite where you might envisage a craft beer hotspot to be, but then again, with one of the best food scenes in the world housed here - maybe there's no better.
 

And if you're to go down the variety route, fret not. At any point of time, at least over a hundred craft beer brands from all over the world are represented (including many of the finest from US, UK, Europe, Japan, Australia, and even locally from Singapore!), with over half a thousand expressions available on the island at any point - now, you might have to scurry around the highways to various hopshops and taprooms, but it's there. And wherever you go, you best believe there'll be some folks there chatting over some craft beers.

Now, this little miracle - or revolution if you may - did not come overnight. What might simply be a matter of some cans of beers was most certainly hard fought. That right for every person to have great craft beers on tap was not always guaranteed.

 

On their 10th Anniversary, a pilgrimage this fine Saturday was in order. 

 

About slightly more than a decade ago, the craft beer scene in Singapore was much, much smaller. You could probably count with 3 pairs of hands and feets how many folks in Singapore were intimately close to the craft beer scene - and these were already the much more heavily initiated. The average folk wouldn't even have craft beers cross their minds as they hustle and bustle along their day.

More often than not, it was folks who had spent some time abroad who imported back with them a taste for quality craft beers. Some of whom would try their hands, admirably at that, with pop-ups or small scale informal gatherings. There was no tap takeovers - what tap? You mean the one afforded by Tiger, the Asian brewing giant?

 

Not just a cold one, a craft cold one. Who woulda thought that'll do the trick?

 

So how did we end up where we're at today? Well, as with all movements, grand and small, you couldn't point to one defining moment - perhaps if anything it's a matter of a country's zeitgeist coming of age and acquiring a taste for the stuff - but there's at least one constellation in the vast night sky that we could point to: Smith Street Taps.

Just as well, Smith Street Taps (or SST) is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and that's worthwhile as any a time to talk about what the craft beer joint housed in a heritage food center did to build a community, lead the groundswell and guarantee that every (of age) person can have a damn good pint on draft. They pretty much taught a country that it could drink better. 

In celebration, the team had spent the past year collaborating with their friends from around the world to create 10 commemorative collab brews - I've come down this past weekend to pay homage to Smith Street Taps, and have got some reviews for you folks just in time for New Years (technically this was authored Christmas Eve night).

 

Daniel Goh and Meng Chao, the folks behind Smith Street Taps. (Image Source: Straits Times)

 

Smith Street Taps is the collaborative brainchild of one Daniel Goh and Kuok Meng Chao, both were craft beer retailers with the same desire for seeing the local community grow, with the former making the first inroad to bringing craft beers to the most communal place in Singapore - the humble but intensely coloured hawker center. Daniel had operated The Good Beer Company at the same Chinatown Complex, whilst Meng Chao had set up Brewers' Craft in the Clementi neighbourhood - one has to wonder if they knew what they were on to or had set ablaze when starting Smith Street Taps, which by the way is named after the road flanking the food center complex it calls home.

While both Daniel and Meng Chao had predominantly focused on retailing bottled or canned craft beers, I think where things really took off came as a result of their choice to have craft beers on draft at Smith Street Taps - as mentioned, no such thing had been done in a hawker center before! And yet the choice carries till this day so much poetic symbolism - certainly not lost on the two pioneers who have themselves been involved in writing on the topic at length in their respective editorials Spirited Singapore and Thirst Mag.

 

A blackboard that stands testament to the friendships made, here and beyond. 

 

When the communal tap-hawker-center went live, there was most definitely a buzz and craft beer enthusiasts, whilst much fewer at the time, began coming out of the woodwork, as did curious casual beer drinkers. Craft beers on tap? That was certainly unheard of. Bottles, sure. But to keep such significantly more pricey quality brews available on draft meant stocking kegs of the stuff - not only was that unusual, but certainly took guts to bet that the fresher, less shelf-stable brews would clear. Well, something certainly worked at Smith Street Taps continues to do brilliantly 10 years on - not something that anyone should take for granted.

And yet perhaps what makes Smith Street Taps so beloved - of course it helps when you're pouring folks out great beers on draft - is how it managed to grasp an otherwise elusive and ephemeral concept of community building. You could read all the books on building communities - heck, our tech overlords spend the tunes of billions to try their hand at it - and you'd walk away with just wasted time and money. You couldn't teach someone the first thing about how to do so - and yet Daniel and Meng Chao did.

 

T-shirts for the champions who made it through the collab brews. Time to face up with mini-Godzilla. As they say, a million duck-sized Godzilla's, or a Godzilla-sized duck?

 

Maybe it was their deep commitment and passion to craft beers. Or could it have been their forward-sightedness to bring craft beers where such brews have never been sipped upon before. The anniversary highlight reel of the incredible breweries from all over the world making their Singapore debut via tap takeovers might be indicative of what it was - Denmark's Mikkeller, America's Modern Times, UK's Siren Craft Brew, Japan's Baird, Singapore's very own Alive for that matter. Smith Street Taps, in the most down to earth manner, gave these breweries and the awesome people behind them a stage to make their showcase, their first interaction with would-be fans, and vice versa, for soon-to-be supporters their first sip of what might become the start of a whole journey.

Perhaps the secret formula is simply 10 years of commitment to the craft; 10 years of day-in-day-out passion; 10 years of keeping the dream alive in the place anyone would least expect a groundswell to start; 10 years of friendships made and hospitality shown, not just to the big blue chips but just as well to the local saplings - Smith Street Taps has been a good friend in times good or bad, an equaliser of everyone's access to quality beers, an eye-opener to what is possible in a bottle (or a can), to raucous laughters and a good plate of Char Kway Teow shared, a home to those visiting our shores, and perhaps more pertinent than anything, a bedrock to the dreamy-eyed brewers-to-be coming from our very own neighbourhood just starting out in need of a shot.

Passion, commitment, friendship.

 

Somehow in retrospect it all makes sense, doesn't it?

Smith Street Taps today runs two stalls just flanking one another, with the original outlet on one corner, and a Smith Street Taps & Friends on the other - that itself should say enough about how beloved the stall is.

 

Here to play like Ash and catch 'em all.

 

On this 10th Anniversary, I'd like to raise a toast (or three) to Smith Street Taps and the incredible journey it's been on, remembering what it's brought to our tiny island, and wishing the team many more years to come!

Let's get it!

Honey My Bock, Alive Brewing - Review

The first of our forays into Smith Street Taps' 10th anniversary brews - this one's from Singapore's very own Alive Brewing, an pair of up and coming brewers who're still pretty underrated albeit fast gaining popularity since they've kept up a constantly rotating roster of brews at pretty much every craft beer taproom in Singapore (you can read more about them here). The pair even previously ran a pop-up at Smith Street Taps earlier this year (our visit to them here!).

For this Maibock-styled brew (Maibock being a more hoppy and malty "pale bock" that is named for the German month of May, hence May's Bock), Alive spammed a ton of wild Aussie banksia honey from Western Australia Swan Valley's House of Honey, and kept the brew at 7% ABV.

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Gold

Aroma: It's initially crisp when cracking cold, but definitely a clear rich malty, buttery, honeyed profile, it's bright but buttery. Over time as it warms up, the real sense of the thick raw honey becomes much more apparent, like opening a jar of fresh honey.

Taste: Refreshing crispness, it’s lightly honeyed, with some bits of rice krispies, and also a slight bitterness and savoury meatiness reminiscent of breakfast ham. There's also a touch of umaminess like a single drop of oyster sauce was put in. 

Finish: Melts into a chewy starchiness akin to that of a rice lager. Lots of sticky rice, along with a light honeyed sweetness, before more of that barley sugars.

My Take

Really lovely stuff! It evolves as it warms up, which gave it an added profile to enjoy. It comes off as a more savoury but also more honeyed rice lager, with the honey notes coming forth more as the beer warms up. I really enjoyed the aspect of it feeling like this was a melding of various beer styles, which made it come across like you got a little bit of multiple profiles - like some sort of super lager. 

Its also well balanced with good complexity, with a superb finish that will knock it out of the park for rice lager fans. As mentioned, don't go too fast here, because as it warms up, you do get a sense of the thick amount of honey that is rather mindboggling. But overall, it's crisp and easy to drink with enough friendliness for a casual drinker, but also just as much complexity to please seasoned beer geeks.

Goa Street Millet West Coast Pilsner, Brewerkz - Review

On to our second of the afternoon, we've got the Brewerkz Pilsner. Brewerkz is a beer garden that's been a local staple for quite some time, a place that has provided folks with food and beers at good prices to hang at.

For this anniversary brew, we've got a West Coast Pilsner that is brewed also in collaboration with Susegado, a craft beer brand from Goa, India. I'm presuming that millet, a sort of grain that's most closely related to sorghum, and looks alittle like barley, was added to the brew mashbill.

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Gold

Aroma: Bright tangerines, kaffir lime leaves - it’s somewhat leafy and piney, and only gets more dank over time, until it turns completely towards cut grass.

Taste: Not particularly sweet but not all that bitter either. Instead it has a strong pine, grassy and weedy vegetal taste, that is somehow green but not that bitter.  It's medium bodied, slightly sweet and alittle more bitter.

Finish: Turns more grassy here, but not overly bitter, still keeping a very weedy vegetal greeness.

My Take

This is by all accounts a dank tank, but surprisingly not very bitter! This makes for a very interesting flavour combo, given that vegetal notes usually come hand in hand with bitterness. It's almost like a sort of gourd or cabbage that's very grassy and vegetal but not particularly bitter - I'm sure you've had something of that sort before, come on now! So while this is dank and green, it's still very friendly as a result. 

Rumble In The Jungle Stout, Brewlander - Review

We come to the biggie of Singapore's craft beer scene - Brewlander. Brewlander is probably one of, if not the biggest success story of this island's craft beer brewing scene, having gone from public housing (aka HDB) brewer to full fledged fully kitted out brewery with their own facility (you can read about their story here).

For Smith Street Taps' anniversary, they've got a stout ready, named Rumble In The Jungle, that's brewed alongside Jungle Beer, a microbrewery that was also part of the Singapore craft beer scene. Interestingly chicory, a root vegetable with bitter leaves, is added here to the stout.

  

Tasting Notes

Color: Deep Ink Black

Aroma: Very herbal, with scents of unsweetened tortoiseshell jelly (or guilingao), grass jelly (chin chow), and also some light brown sugar notes. But really, alot of grass jelly here.

Taste: Slightly sweeter and more milky here. There's flavours of espresso but only lightly bitter, with again more of that grass jelly note. A light bit of burnt ends with that oily, savoury char. It persists with the herbal notes, atop a medium bodied, lightly carbonated brew.

Finish: Light bitterness, more savoury oily char of burnt ends.

My Take

This sported a very interesting aroma - it's incredibly herbal and quite austere. Is that the chicory? That said, it still keeps at being quite friendly on the palate, holding back on that bitterness. That is, until you hit the finish, where it turns more bitter again. Overall, this was heavily reminiscent of herbal and traditional chinese medicinal qualities - you'll really like this if you like herbal, earthy, root-y things.

What an interesting take on a stout!

  

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot