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Interviews

Drinking Wild Ales & Supporting Local Subcultures with Keola Ho – Founder of BunkerBunker & WetGoods

We are already brewing beers that are of international quality and standards, but we will only have the recognition when Singaporeans love these beers.

– Keola Ho, Founder of BunkerBunker on the future of Singaporean craft beers

 

(Most images courtesy of Keola Ho / BunkerBunker) 

 

They began as you and I might have, gathering and breaking bread, sharing flavour experiences that are only so much more memorable as they are being had with dear ones. Drinking amazing brews has brought Keola Ho, and his best friends together, and the journey took them from being enthusiasts to industry servers and finally, curators and purveyors of craft beers themselves.

We’ve been keen on covering Keola’s profile. Keola isn’t just a beer geek. With a rare knack for bringing people together, he is also elbows-deep in the trenches of artistic initiatives and collaborations that provide a rare outlet for local subculture and underground art.

 

 

Between 2018 and 2020, Keola founded and ran BunkerBunker at Prinsep Street. This was a hidden courtyard of sorts, one that offers refuge from the Singaporean urban rush. 

Furnitures were made from up-cycled materials and a kitchen was operated out of a converted shipping container. In no time, BunkerBunker organically became an enclave for expression and inclusivity where great food and craft beer brought all types of people together; and where street artists and designers could showcase their work to the mainstream public. It was adopted as an unofficial hub for expression by the local subculture and arts scene. This was, after all, a scene where grungy unofficial spaces feel much more authentic than sanitised official spaces.

 

In the glass and concrete jungle that is Singapore, BunkerBunker was a very unusual community space where subcultures thrived organically.

  

Along with Vincent Ho (Moonstone Bar) and Sam Low (Orh Gao Taproom), Keola also co-runs WetGoods Distribution, an excuse for them to import many of their favourite artisanal craft beers from around the world.

 

(Source: WetGoods)

 

Not only do they bring in familiar new world craft beers (the likes of Pasteur Street or Lervig), Keola is also deeply passionate about traditional beer styles. We’re talking deeply complex, artisanal beers, often those that were brewed by monks in a far-flung European monastery for hundreds of years. Think of them as the equivalent of Jackson Pollocks of the beer universe, perhaps.

 

Pollock's energetic "Mural" at the Stanley Museum of Art.

 

We sat down with Keola to learn more about how BunkerBunker came about and talked about his plans for reopening this exciting concept soon. We learnt more about how Keola’s passion for craft beers began and received some of the most thoughtful beer-pairing recommendations from this food and drink maestro.

Most meaningfully, we discussed the importance of providing an outlet for local art and subculture to thrive, and how this scene provided Keola a real sense of community.

Let’s get started!

 

Follow BunkerBunker: Instagram | Facebook | Official Website

Follow WetGoods: Instagram | Facebook | Official Website

Follow Moonstone: Instagram | Facebook | Official Website

If you’d like to stalk Keola: Instagram


 

I’ve grown up in these local subcultures and without them I would have been an aimless child. It provided me community, great friendships and the freedom to express.”

–Keola, on the importance of supporting local subculture and arts as an inspiration for BunkerBunker

  

88B: You founded the original BunkerBunker at Prinsep Street and ran it from 2018 to 2020. Many people we know – especially millennials born in 90s – still fondly remember it as an authentic space for having great food, craft beers and exposure to Singapore’s subculture and arts scene. You’ve created a very unusual community space in Singapore’s F&B landscape that allows genuine culture to thrive.

We really can’t wait for BunkerBunker to reopen!


(Source: Scope SG)

Tell us, what was the inspiration behind the original BunkerBunker? And how did you settle on that name?

Keola: I knew I wanted something that shouted loudly and yet also be a place that felt safe and inclusive, something like a speakeasy of the revolutionaries but since we are not really at war it did not have to be hidden anymore.

 

 

Referencing the band DANGERDANGER, I felt it was easy to not only make a simple word unique, it felt like the right energy I was trying to project.

And when I landed on the word “Bunker,” it just felt right, at the forefront of battle, but still the place to seek shelter.

 

88B: Rather than purely running a profit-driven business, it seems to us that you are personally invested in supporting the local subculture and art community, and making their work more accessible to the mainstream Singaporean consciousness. Besides the initiatives at BunkerBunker, you have also organised tattoo showcase events at various bars under the event name “AK Wonderland”.

Why do you think the cause is so important to you? Does it have something to do with your background as a professional designer?

Keola: AK Wonderland is something we’re really proud of, produced under the Wet Goods flag with my business partner Vinny. It’s a simple recipe to celebrate a sub-culture without the exclusivity. A showcase of tattooing and tattoo art outside of the tattoo studio atmosphere, which might seem intimidating to some.

 

 

Supporting local subculture is something I feel strongly about, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many amazing artists and creatives while working as a designer but personally I’ve grown up in these local subcultures and without them I would have been an aimless child. It provided me community, great friendships and the freedom to express. These of which we cannot take for granted, salient in our growth as a nation, as well as not letting them go when we grow older and pursue careers.

 

 

88B: Could you share with us some memorable collaborations and events that BunkerBunker has hosted in the past? Do you have a favourite collaboration to date?

Keola: The very first collab I planned was with GravyBaby who I’ve met just prior to opening the bar, we were doing a design project together and she spoke passionately about making and sharing her food. It was an intense few days but all the people that came and celebrated together, created amazing times and really gave me the confidence that we were doing something right.

It’s really hard to pick just a few, we’ve really had so many great collaborations and it doesn’t look like we’re stopping anytime soon, even without our own space!

 

GravyBaby is a pop-up restaurant concept started by Keola’s longtime collaborator, Carmen.

 

88B: What a couple of songs or albums that would best capture the unique personality and vibe of BunkerBunker? We promise to listen to them on Spotify!

Keola:

DANGERDANGER - LIVE AND NUDE (FULL ALBUM)

HOUSE OF CARDS - SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA

 

I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER - PRINCE

 BABY I’M YOURS - BREAKBOT

 

88B: How has your support for local subculture and arts influenced the direction of BunkerBunker as a venue? How would you run BunkerBunker differently from say, a typical craft beer bar?

Keola: Our main mission is to collaborate and celebrate the people we’re working with and their communities. Craft beer is just something I happen to really enjoy personally, I guess that’s the celebration of my own community in some way, haha.

 

 

AK Wonderland is something we’re really proud of… A showcase of tattooing and tattoo art outside of the tattoo studio atmosphere, which might seem intimidating to some.

 

88B: F&B is a notoriously challenging industry to be in. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face in your time running BunkerBunker and Wet Goods?

Keola: F&B is really tough, especially in Singapore but with most career options, you have to fall in love with the job, even the shitty parts to be better and get better. I think it’s kinda strange for me, I’m not a hardworking F&B person, I’m a hardworking designer in a F&B life.

 

88B: What were the rewarding parts of your journey that keep you going?
Keola:
It really is the moments created by the people we work with, the true magic is a feeling you know you cannot replicate or create on purpose. Also to be in awe of your peers is very inspiring and fuels many more, proudly Singaporean, endeavours.

 

88B: We hear you plan to reopen BunkerBunker at Ann Siang Hill!
How do you intend to recapture that energy and vibe first seen at BunkerBunker? What can we look forward to enjoy in terms of food, drinks, events, etc. at your new venue?

Keola: As always, great vibes, great drinks, the real main difference is that this time I’m not doing it alone, very very grateful for that.

 

88B: Let’s talk more booze now!

We’ve heard you wax lyrical about sour beers and the history of Swedish wild ale with so much knowledge and passion. Tell us, how did your love for craft beers begin?

Keola: I’ve always enjoyed alcohol, and I guess for the most part as Singaporeans we are exposed to the commercial beers. 10 years ago craft beer was like some hidden treasure you didn’t even know to go searching for. My parents introduced me to craft beer, I shit you not. Ironically, they hate sour beers.

WetGoods brings in a portfolio of craft beers that run the whole gamut - from easy drinking craft beers (Vietnam’s Pasture Street Brewery) to artisanal European beers that really get beer buffs going (La Sirène makes Belgian and French traditional ales).

 

88B: When you tried your first ever sour beer, what went through your mind? How did you eventually fall in love with this style?

Keola: My first was the TRAPPISTE ROCHEFORT 10, I went for it basically for the alcohol content but after the first sip, I fell in love and my curiosity grew fast and strong as to what other amazing flavours there were in beer.

The Rochefort 10 – with a 11.3% ABV - is amongst the most respected strong ales in the world. Since the 1500s, it has been made in a monastery by a brotherhood of Trappist monks. These monks only brew enough to support the monastery and charitable causes, resulting in a very limited supply (Source: Drink Belgian Beer)

 

88B: The world of craft beers is huge and the craft beer industry is constantly evolving, with thousands of operational craft breweries around the world.

What is your thought process in selecting the craft beers to import by Wet Goods (and/or be served at BunkerBunker)? How do you balance your desire to offer unique and unusual beers with the need to offer more approachable styles that would appeal to beginners?

Keola: I love easy drinking beers and love complex beers. You’re basically just drinking what I like if you come to Bunker. I’m confident you can trust my preferences.

And there’s a beer for every one of you, I can find it and I will like it just as much as you will too.

 

 

88B: Certain combos of craft beers and food make fantastic pairings. We know you’re also a big foodie, so we want some of your recommendations.

Could you help suggest the best dishes to pair with some of these beers in Wet Goods’ collection?

Keola:

Pasteurstreet’s BIA Pomelo IPA pairs best with fried snacks because this West Coast IPA is clean and cuts thru fat like a katana, finishing with long bitter fragrance and pomelo rind, ready for more crispy fried snacks.


Lervig’s Salted Rhubarb Vanilla Sour Cream Crumble pastry sour pairs best maybe with a Pad Thai because this beer is pretty dynamic in flavours but the flavours all makes sense, simple but varied, just like Thai food.

 

 

Brekeriet’s Mylla bourbon barrel-aged wild ale pairs best with a more traditional Gueuze from Belgium (another beer made in the same style) because these are really traditional ways to make beer with barrel ageing, but you get to try the legend and the modern side by side, proper geek out time.

 

 

Brekeriet, Ca’ Del Brado and Freigeist’s Euroblend wild ale pairs best with sushi because it kinda functions like the pickled ginger you have in-between a sushi or sashimi course, but with more flavour and intensity, truly match made in heaven.

 

 

“We’re really spoilt for choice in terms of what we get to put in our mouths to taste in Singapore, literally in any kind of food or drink. I guess we just want people to be a lil’ more intentional about what they are drinking and be a lil’ more curious to find out what excites their taste buds the most.”

 

88B: If, for the rest of your life, you could only have a specific food-and-beer pairing (it doesn’t have to be those above), what would that unbeatable combo be?

Keola: The truth is that crispy pork belly goes well with every beer, well, until the milkshake and smoothie styles came along that is, but that should be the answer for you! Because I choose vinegary bar chor mee and a barrel aged wild ale.

 

 

88B: What would Wet Goods (and BunkerBunker) continue to bring to the local craft beer scene? What events or initiatives do you have in mind to encourage more folks to get into the craft beers that you are so passionate about?

Keola: We’re really spoilt for choice in terms of what we get to put in our mouths to taste in Singapore, literally in any kind of food or drink. I guess we just want people to be a lil’ more intentional about what they are drinking and be a lil’ more curious to find out what excites their taste buds the most. Flavour is subjective, and your palette never stays the same, flavour town is a real place that you can get to by the vehicle of great food and drinks you choose to have.

 

88B: Compared to Europe and the US, Singapore has a very short history of brewing craft beer. But in recent years we are seeing more promising operations and passionate brewers producing some very tasty craft beers that appeal to the Asian palate.

Which Singaporean craft beers would you readily recommend to your friends?  

Keola: I recommend you try all of them, and decide which ones you like and which ones you may not. Go out and demand local craft in your favourite cafes and restaurants, good brews and breweries will prevail. 

 

 

88B: What are your thoughts on the future of Singaporean craft beer, and do you think our breweries could ever compete with European and US brands on the international markets?

Keola: The future is bright but it is going to take a while even though it is now a common sight, it will still be a long way till we see beer as a staple quality beverage in Singapore. We are already brewing beers that are international quality and standards, but we will only have the recognition when Singaporeans love these beers.

 

88B: In a place like Singapore, where most people go for a safe and conventional job, you’ve taken an offbeat path by pursuing your passion in craft beer, F&B and organising events to support the local subculture and arts scene. You have also become quite successful on your own terms (of course everyone has their own definition of “success”)!

What would you say are the most enjoyable, fulfilling or liberating aspects of this life of craft beers and bars that you have chosen for yourself?

Keola: Nothing comes easy, but most pursuits are simple, stick to your guns and focus on the goal. The hardest thing is to focus on the goal. As long as I’m not doubting my situation, I’m pretty alright with life, I don’t need much and yet have much to be grateful for.

 

(Source: In Bad Co)

 

88B: Finally, could you share a couple of your personal favourite spots in Singapore for food, drink and culture? There are few people more qualified than you to answer this question!

Keola: Maybe just some places that have really good all around vibes, I guess the truth is when the service is good and the people are good, the food and drinks come second. Please expect me to be very, very, very biased here:

RVLT, NOTHING FANCY, MOONSTONE, LOVE HANDLE, JUNIOR THE POCKET BAR, ROUGH GUYS COFFEE, JAGUARITA’S, ORHGAO TAPROOM, KUONG’S WONTON MEE GEYLANG LOR 21A, FREEBIRD, NO SLEEP CLUB, WINEMOUTH, DRUGGIST, NAGA HOUSE, YAKITORI YATAGARASU, YAKINIKU-OH.


88B: Thank you for such a candid and meaningful interview, Keola! Love everything you do!

Keola: THANKS GUYS, really appreciate what you guys are doing as well!!

 

We hope you enjoyed our chat with Keola.

Be sure to follow –

BunkerBunker: Instagram | Facebook | Official Website

WetGoods: Instagram | Facebook | Official Website

Moonstone: Instagram | Facebook | Official Website

And if you’d like to stalk Keola: Instagram

 

 

@CharsiuCharlie