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The Thirsty Games: How I Barely Survived BeerFest Asia

By Dave Fox
Singapore

One of the things I like about being a humor writer is that beer festival organizers will give me complimentary tickets to their events. I don’t mean to gloat, but I am guessing neither J.K. Rowling nor Suzanne Collins can wave their little novels around and score such perks.

“I wrote this futuristic trilogy about children killing children for sport. Can I please have free tickets to your beer festival?”

No.

So last Thursday afternoon, with a coveted green badge dangling from my neck, I headed to Singapore’s Marina Promenade for what turned out to be a grueling two-day assignment.

The first two hours of BeerFest Asia were only open to people with professional beer industry connections, such as brewers and humor writers. This afforded us the opportunity to schmooze with each other and drink like the professionals we are before they opened the doors to the general public.

My goal was to sample only beers I had never tasted before. With more than 300 varieties to choose from, this left me with a few options.

I kicked things off with a visit to the Myanmar Beer booth where three different types were on offer. Two were light lagers. The third was a stronger, yet still lager’esque brew. They were all decent.  I walked away thinking if Myanmar can start brewing democracy like they brew beer, they will do okay.

My next stop was the sprawling Carlsberg exhibit. As a former Scandinavia tour guide, I’ve slurped plenty of Carlsberg before, but Carlsberg Singapore imports a broad spectrum of other beers from around Europe and Asia. I was hoping for small tastes of a couple of specific ones.

Seriously, all I wanted was little tastes. I needed to pace myself. But before I knew what was happening, two different public relations people had foisted a bottle of Skol Super from Denmark (nine percent alcohol) and a full glass of Grimbergen from Belgium (seven percent alcohol) into my hands. I had tried both of these beers before, but turning them down seemed rude.

So as I double-fisted my European elixirs, I chatted with Carlyn Law, a food and beverage marketing specialist. We talked about Beer Lao, the national beer of Laos, which Time magazine has called “Asia’s best beer” and “Asia’s hippest beer.”

Carlyn asked if I wanted to try some. But I had tasted Beer Lao before, and I was on my way to Laos in a week. So I politely declined. Then I asked if I could try something else.

I was going for obscurity. Gorkha Beer from Nepal? That sounded pretty far flung.

Much to my relief, Carlyn did not bring me a full bottle of Gorkha. She brought me a small taste – and a small taste of another beer too. Gorkha was okay. If I were stranded atop Mount Everest with no other options, I would drink it.

The other beer was more flavorful. But never mind how it tasted; its name was the most exhilarating part. The beer, from Yunnan, China, was called “Wind, Flower, Snow, and Moon.” I liked the way it tasted. I really did. But I can’t see myself shuffling into a rough-and-tumble dive bar and saying, “Yeah, can I get a pint of Wind, Flower, Snow, and Moon?”

Next, I was off to the Taiwan Beer display where they were giving out samples of their lychee beer.

Lychee beer? I was skeptical. I’m not opposed to fruit beers, but I have to be in the right mood. And yes, by this point, my mood was pretty good. But I am also not a big fan of lychees. They are a dreadfully sweet fruit and I didn’t think they’d work in beer.

Man, was I wrong. The beer was was refreshing, easy to drink, and it contained nine percent fruit juice – which (seriously, check the labels) is more fruit than you get in a lot of non-alcoholic “juice drinks” these days.

By the time they let in the general public at 6 p.m., it dawned on me I should probably not drink any more for a while. So for the next several hours, I hung out at a beer festival without having a single beer. I ate some satay. I watched some stand-up comics. I rocked out to the all-female AC/DC cover band, Hell’s Belles. I declined challenges to play beer pong.

I eventually wrapped up my evening with a couple of Singaporean microbrews (about which I will write when time allows). There was plenty more to sample, but it was only Thursday, and BeerFest was lasting all weekend. I caught the subway home, oblivious to the mayhem that would greet me the following night.

On Friday night, I was back for round two. I would have been home by midnight, but the music was really good so I stuck around. Then I was going to leave at 12:50, but a crazy-ass tropical downpour stranded me in the beer tent.

Then the nice people from the Hitachino Brewery started explaining to me how craft brewing is becoming trendy in Japan.

Then a Swedish guy who is really passionate about cell phone cases started telling me about cell phone cases.

Then I couldn’t get a taxi because it was now 3 a.m. and BeerFest was kicking everyone out, so everyone was trying to get a taxi … and then some guy from England who was in front of me in the taxi queue decided he wanted to tell me every detail about his sexy fashion model evil ex-girlfriend who was about to go to Spain with, as he put it, “this bloke who’s six-foot-nine and — I’m not gay or anything but — very good looking” … and then I finally got a taxi at 3:45 and could have gone straight home but by then I was hungry, so I went to my neighborhood 24-hour noodle house, which is why I did not get home until 5 o’clock Saturday morning.

Needless to say, I did not go back to BeerFest Saturday or Sunday. Working that hard would not have been healthy.

I could elaborate on all of this, but I am scrambling to take off for Thailand and Laos in a matter of hours, so it is time to wrap up this frightfully rambling account of my weekend.

But to the organizers of BeerFest Asia 2012: Thank you for a rollicking time.

To the brewers of BeerFest Asia 2012: Thank you for the tasty beverages. I’ll be following up with you for other articles shortly.

To the guy whose ex-girlfriend is going to Spain with the six-foot-nine bloke: Let her go. You deserve better.

And to “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins: Too bad you don’t get to enjoy the same writer perks that I do. But I will make it up to you. If you are ever in Singapore, I hereby challenge you to a game of beer pong.

Published on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

5 Responses to “The Thirsty Games: How I Barely Survived BeerFest Asia”

  1. June 13, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    Curious if it’s more party than beer appreciation… Seems to offer punters a good variety of product to demonstrate that there’s much more to beer than industrial adjunct lager. On the downside, beer pong, funnels, and beer girls add a frat party element that makes it more low-brow (not saying it has to be high-brow, though). But if more males and females are appreciating craft beer, what the hell!

  2. Don Miller
    June 13, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    Hi from Seattle Dave, I just read through your story on the Beer tasting festival. The AC/DC coverband, They aren’t the Hells Belles from Seattle, are they? That is pretty big time if so.

    Don

  3. June 13, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Rick–

    I would say it’s both a party and beer appreciation. As a serious beer lover myself, I must say my one complaint about the festival is most brewers only offered the option to buy full beers of at least 33 cl / 12 ounces. I’ve been to many other beer festivals where you can purchase small tastes for a couple of bucks, or where the price of admission includes tickets for a certain number of tastes. For hardcore beer enthusiasts, that would have been preferable to having to pay regular bar prices for full pints and not getting to sample as many brews.

    I actually told one brewer I really loved his beer, had tried two different pints the previous night at 10 Singapore dollars each (around 8 US), and was interested in writing an article prominently featuring his beers. I asked if I could have a small taste of the stout to see if I liked it before committing to a pint of it as well. His response — even to someone with a media badge, trying to offer him free publicity — was “Sorry, we’re not doing tasters.”

    A frat party element? Yes, particularly on Friday as opposed to Thursday. For the record, there were no beer funnels (I assure you, I would have taken pictures) — and I have to admit that while I didn’t partake myself, I thought beer pong (sponsored by a local phone company, believe it or not) was actually a goofy and creative, nice touch.

    Bottom line: I sampled an impressive array of craft beers, discovered fantastic microbreweries I had never heard of before, met some very cool people, and had a blast. And yeah… overall, hopefully people were exposed to beers beyond the basic lagers that tend to be popular in Southeast Asia.

    My advice for next year if the tasting option still doesn’t exist: Go with a bunch of friends, make sure they’re all healthy, buy an assortment of pints together, and pass them around.

  4. June 13, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Don–

    Thanks for the greetings from Seattle. Yes, it was the same Hell’s Belles, and it was not their first time playing at this event.

    I was a big AC/DC fan when I was about 14. Lived in Seattle for the last 16 years before moving to Singapore last summer, and always wanted to see them in the States — but they always seemed to be playing when I was out of town. With a looming flight to Bangkok in — whoa, need to wrap this up — my hastily written article did not have room for my full review of their show, but, man, they rocked. Kitschy as it might seem to be an all-girl’s AC/DC cover band, AC/DC are not an easy band to cover. I’ve moved on from my adolescent love for hard rock, but Hell’s Belles are commanding musicians. I was blown away by their talent.

  5. June 13, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    Thanks for the added detail, Dave. So, Beerfest Asia sounds like a hybrid between Munich Oktoberfest and your typical North American craft beer festival.

    Shame that they don’t do tasters. Going with a group of friends and having everyone venture out to buy one bottle/can each to share around would definitely be a solution.

    I Googled “Beerfest Asia” to get a better sense of what it was like via photos. In one, I saw a beer girl holding a funnel.

    It will be interesting to see how Shanghai Beer Week and Hong Kong’s Beertopia! evolve.

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