When we last met John Wei, he was busy whispering to yeast in Cambodia. These days, the 36-year-old brewer behind Brewlander has some “local” strains to keep him busy.
Unknown to many, the homegrown craft beer favorite recently started brewing out of a microbrewery in the heart of Jurong Food Hub. But you won’t find Brewlander’s bestsellers Love and Respect here. For the last three months, Wei and his lean team (just one other hand) have been producing an all-new line of beers—and calling it The Fringe Project.
Here, the focus is on crazy, unconventional beers that go beyond even Brewlander’s current reputation for bold flavors. The idea came when Wei felt that keeping up with the demand for Brewlander’s bestsellers was eating into the creativity that sparked the brand in the first place.
“We got just too busy trying to meet the demand of those few beers that it didn’t really allow us an outlet to brew new beers as often as I want,” he said. “A lot of it is also because I’m a brewer, I don’t like to stay stagnant; I like to create something new—I mean, that’s the whole idea of homebrewing, even before (Brewlander).”
The Fringe Project was hence created with the local craft aficionados in mind. Just three months old, it’s become Wei’s pet project for the simple fact that he gets to do literally whatever he wants.
“The mainstream guys, for a lot of them it’s probably still their first time experiencing Brewlander’s beers; they’re probably still trying out Love for the first time, Hope for the first time. But the more craft beer-centric people are a different crowd altogether—it’s very much fueled by what’s new, what’s creative, what’s exciting.”
“The idea is to keep innovating and creating beers; to do beers that are a little more cutting-edge, a little more living on the edge—hence ‘The Fringe’ right?” he teased.
A home in Jurong
Inside the dingy warehouse in Jurong Food Hub, malt is milled, drained, and spun into liquid gold. The General Brewing Co. is the company that owns the space; Brewlander is just the main customer tending to the shiny vessels. There is a milling room, mash tun, boiler, heat exchanger, fermenter tanks, and two bright tanks. It’s a steely, dull-looking set-up, boring to most and out-of-place even in its industrial setting; but to Wei it’s a “playground” for endless innovation.
Because there are only four fermenter tanks (each one used for a different flavor of beer), the batches are small—producing enough to fill only 11 to 15 kegs at a time. But that’s the point, says Wei, adding that the supporting bars have been quick to snap up at least two to three each time he launches a new beer. This way, he gets to experiment and play without the repercussion of being left with excess unsold stock. “The idea is to do it small-scale, where we get to make sure that (the beers are) drank fresh,” he added.
To date, The Fringe Project has released five beers, launching at various outlets that Wei said have supported Brewlander in one way or another.
The very first was the Hibiscus Grisette—a light, refreshing beer infused with hibiscus flowers that was launched at Smith Street Taps. It was 100 percent fermented with Brett (short for Brettanomyces), a wild yeast most brewers typically stay away from. “It’s actually an infection; it makes the beer funky and at times sour, and not the good kind of sour,” said Wei. “But for our brewhouse, from the first beer I said let’s be different and use Brett.”
Then there was #2 and #3—a double dry hop IPA Wei describes as “really over-the-top hoppy”, and a Soursop & Peach Berliner Weisse, a wild sour beer historically from Berlin that he added fruits to.
While the first three beers are pretty much all tapped out, you can still find #4 and #5 rotating on taps at certain bars—like […]