What drink goes well with mini octopus and Thai vermicelli salad? How about an ice-cold Traveller's Wheat beer, spiced with tamarind, ginger and a pinch of lemongrass and Chinese orange peel?
The surprisingly refreshing brew is the star of a trio of craft beers recently introduced by Archipelago Brewing and brewed specifically to complement the unique flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine.
“It's not just that the beer goes well with the food, which it does, but there's an integral link in the ingredient to the food,” said Archipelago managing director Andrea Teo. “These are beers to match Asian lifestyle and Asian food.”
Teo came up with the idea for Asian-spiced beers while heading the innovations department at Asia Pacific Breweries, Singapore's largest industrial brewery. In May, 2005, she recruited American brewmaster Fal Allen, who honed his skills in Seattle and Northern California.
She outlined the concept, introduced him to the spices and tasted the test batches, giving advice that helped Allen adjust the recipes until they were ready to sell their products: Traveller's Wheat, Trader's Brown Ale and Straits Pale.
Archipelago, a business of Asia Pacific Breweries, opened its first pub in July in a popular bar district near the Singapore River. Its rough decor evokes 19th century adventure, with parchment map menus, coconut husk lamps, dark wood furnishings and cement floor with embedded wooden planks. Floor-to-ceiling windows open on an outdoor seating area.
Allen's 300-liter microbrewery takes prominent place behind the bar, and he plans to occasionally do onsite brewing.
On a recent warm afternoon, the bar was half full of young professionals, the majority of them drinking one of the three house draft specialties, though other local and imported beers are available.
Teo said Archipelago's target market is beer aficionados who want a new experience, business executives who drink socially and opinion leaders among university students.
“Singaporeans used to have just four words for beer: cold, fresh, local, imported,” Teo said. “But we could see the market demand coming up, the increasing sophistication of the Singapore market.”
Allen has spent hours shopping, tasting, chopping and sweating over the new brews. He does most of the work himself, including chopping the spices by hand until recently investing in a food processor.
He talks enthusiastically about the project, recalling his hunt for spices and his excitement at using tamarind in a beer. Already familiar with beer-food pairing, Allen was eager to try the fusion of Asian cooking and European brewing.
“Singaporeans are crazy about food. They are makan mad,” he said, using the Malay word for “eating.”
The Archipelago menu makes its objective clear. Food items are accompanied by logos advising which beer would taste best with that selection.
Trader's Brown Ale, a strong brew with coconut palm sugar and ginger, is paired with chicken masala or pear and citrus cream spring rolls, for example. Texas wings are best enjoyed with the smoother Straits Pale.
Finding the right pairs is an expanding process. Allen said the team periodically sits down with several plates of foods and several glasses of beer and tries to match the flavors.
“We thought beef rendang” — a spicy Malaysian dish — “would go perfectly with Traveller's Wheat,” he said, then shook his head.