Taking its name from the Chinese word for brewing and fermenting, Niang Brewery Co (酿) is the newest local craft beer brewery to be born, launching with two signature brews that capture its spirit and seeks to tell the Singapore story through its beer.
Founded by architect Mark Chen, Niang’s two available beers are their ‘Warming Spirit’ Saison ale and the ‘Confection Cure’ pale ale. In crafting these beers, Niang hopes to use both their appearance and flavours to evoke memories, while celebrating local ingredients, tastes and our diverse, multiracial culture.
“The story of Niang is that a friend was moving his beer equipment one day, and asked to tumpang at my place,” says Mark, jovial and confident. “That’s how he introduced me to the local brewing community, and it wasn’t long before it went from hobby to obsession. I thought, do already also shiok, so I might as well try to pursue it as far as I can, and see where my brews can go from here.”
“I think that while the local craft beer market is growing, there’s still a need for more people to get involved, so that they can appreciate it more,” says Mark. “For us, that accessibility comes from having a strong Singaporean identity for the beers, and them being able to tell a good story with the local flavours coming through.”
Inspired by our country’s abundance of herbs and spices, the ‘Warming Spirit’ Saison ale packs a bit more kick than your usual brew, at 6.3% alcohol content. Dry and crisp, with a complex finish of banana and pear, it’s named the ‘Warming Spirit’ for a reason, with a mix of black pepper, ginger, coriander seeds and bitter orange peel literally warming you up after the first few gulps.
Meanwhile, the ‘Confection Cure’ promises a more unique taste not usually seen in any beer – the Chinese cheng tng dessert. Known as a cooling dessert to end off a meal, this pale ale takes on an amber hue in its appearance, and has subtle fruity aromas of melon, mango and lychee, as inspired by cheng tng’s ingredients such as molasses, red dates and longan.
“The Saison ale came about because I think it reminds us how we can always taste the spices in our food, regardless of Peranakan or Indian cuisine, but hasn’t quite happened in beer yet,” says Mark. “And it’s interesting how there’s a different taste when you drink it cool or warm. As for the ‘Confection Cure’, that was more no fuss and straightforward, and we think it works as a brew you can always depend on to perk you up after a sian day.”
What is also striking about the bottles is the label artwork, featuring surreal characters in soft pastel colours. “I have a friend and ex-colleague now working in the UK, and she was the one who came up with the artwork,” says Mark. “Her only brief was to come up with something whimsical and imaginary, because so many beers are so straightforward, and show the hops on the label if it’s meant to be a hoppy beer. So she came up with these abstract characters that bring you into a different world, perhaps like our alter egos coming out when we’re drinking these beers, with their heads replaced with bowls of noodles or birds emerging from their minds in a garden.”
Even if you’re new to craft beer in general, Niang’s labels also come with a useful list of potential food to pair each beer with, such as stir-fried lala clams or burnt cheese cake for the Saison ale, or roasted pork (sio bak) or braised duck for the pale ale. “I’d say that out of 10 people, maybe 3 of them drink craft beer. There’s still a need to educate people, and develop their taste profiles to become more discerning on what is good,” says Mark. “If we can suggest food that people are familiar with to pair with their beer, it helps them chart a direction and become more comfortable with the idea of drinking beer with their meals.”
As for where Niang is going from here, Mark doesn’t quite know yet, but intends to see it through as far as he can. “There really is no finish line so to speak, and we’re keeping it open at this point,” he says. “Right now, we just hope that the beauty of the beers and the local identity in our end products come through, and resonate with our customers.”