“For one beer company it’s all about promoting a better drinking culture rather than just a raucous experience.”
MY first impression of beer drinking has always been of beer-bellied uncles with bloodshot eyes, sitting around in a dimly-lit smoke-filled bar, singing raucous songs.
Personally, I have beer to thank for looking at bad dates with strange fondness through blur beer goggles (it gets put on automatically after at least four mugs for me), bringing out my worst dance moves and getting me past my inhibitions to share my deepest secrets with random strangers in a bar. Not exactly a positive image for beers and beer drinking in general but now, Starker Beer is set to bust a couple of myths on beer drinking and the culture around it in this region.
Seated at the Starker Bistro in Zhongshan Park, Singapore, I’m pleasantly surprised at the ambience of the well-lit small restaurant overlooking the park. Unlike the typical set-up of bars and pubs, the bistro is simply what it’s supposed to be — a small airy restaurant serving great food and just so it happens, fresh beer.
“German beer drinking culture brings people together. It represents tradition and conviviality, and this is something we hope Starker will be known for in Singapore and in Malaysia,” says Jewel Teo, Starker Brewery’s marketing manager.
Outside, there are people milling around the park comprising all ages — from parents with toddlers to fresh-faced youths lounging on spread mats on the grass eagerly awaiting the start of the Starker Music Festival, which promises to showcase the best of Singapore’s homegrown talents. The area is filling up rapidly as with the bistro, bringing in groups of people keen on an evening of great music, sumptuous food, good company and of course, the ubiquitous Starker beer.
TESTING THE WATERS
Starker, a German word which means stronger, serves a range of fresh brews with unique flavours in the form of Lager, Aromatic, Dunkel, Lychee and Charcoal. Discerning beer lovers should be able to pick out their favourites ranging from the award-winning, more traditional fare of the Lager and Dunkel to the heady citrusy scent of the Aromatic, the sweet fruity tasting Lychee or the unique roasted flavour of the Charcoal.
“My favourite is the Lychee,” confides Teo as I’m served with a tray containing all five flavours of beer. I’m not sure where to begin and am wondering whether I’d be able to hang on to my sobriety for the rest of the evening.
“Start with the Lager and work your way towards the Charcoal,” she advises as I take a tentative sip. I soon find myself gravitating towards the oddly-named Charcoal flavoured beer.
With such interesting flavours served up, it comes as no surprise to know that well known master brewer Timothy O’Rourke is behind the innovative fresh brews that are served at Starker outlets. “O’Rourke has an illustrious background in the beer industry as a consultant, founder of breweries and beer journalist with over 30 years in the field of beer brewing,” says Teo.
The Aromatic beer, winner of two gold medals in Brew Asia, is a testament of his prowess in creating craft beers that have quickly become Starker’s signature and crowd favourite in Singapore.
GETTING FRESH WITH BEER
There’s no denying that the beer is good and full-bodied but I’m curious to know how Starker stands in a market already saturated with a melange of beer brands.
“We don’t see ourselves competing with the brands out there,” smiles the diminutive Teo. “Starker Beer is fresh, unfiltered and unpasteurised. Our stringent focus on freshness, which means having a seven-day shelf life on the market, reinforces the quality of the beer and its good natural taste.”
She points out that having two local breweries set up in Malaysia and Singapore, helps with the freshness of the beer. “The beers are maintained at cold temperatures between two and four degrees throughout the entire supply chain, which guarantees its freshness from brewing to serving it up ice cold to our patrons.”
This cold-chain delivery process ensures the taste of fresh beers isn’t compromised. “Beer is a delicate, perishable product and any change in temperature can affect the taste.” She adds that the signature Starker freshness is achieved with low temperatures and fast turnaround time from brewery to glass. “Our beer is all about freshness and taste, and that sets us apart from the rest.”
THE TREBLE WITH BEERS
Infusing German-style traditions with new-age vibrancy seems to be Starker’s game plan of keeping it real with the crowd. The music festival has begun at the park outside the bistro and the laidback mellow tunes of Singaporean singer-songwriter Lew Loh quickly creates an all-enveloping atmosphere made even more perfect with a glass of chilled beer in hand.
Undoubtedly music and beer go well in hand together, and the Starker Music Festival marries both with perfect ease. A 2014 research by award-winning beer writer Pete Brown and Charles Spence, a professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University discovered that listening to the right kind of music while drinking a beer can enhance its taste.
“Starker Music was created not just for the entertainment of our patrons but also as a platform where musicians and industry players can meet, mingle and even collaborate,” explains Teo. “More importantly, we want to create a place where people can get together, have a great experience and come back for more.”
CHEERS AND BEERS
It’s undeniable that craft beer is trending and doing quite well in an industry previously dominated by mass-produced brands. There are definite plans to expand Starker’s operations to Malaysia, discloses Teo. “We’ll be opening an outlet in Johor Baru soon. We have many Malaysian fans who count among our customers in Singapore.”
I’m told that popular Taiwanese star Della Ding Dang will be making her appearance later at night which explains the crowd that’s still pouring into the park. Pulsating music fills up the bistro, and the surroundings amidst the sound of glasses clinking along with the chatter and laughter of people milling around.
Still, my earlier perceptions about beer drinking and alcohol leaves me wondering aloud if the beer drinking culture is something Starker would want to perpetuate in this part of the world where alcohol consumption, especially in excess, is frowned upon.
She’s unfazed by my question, replying: “We’re definitely not promoting binge drinking. The Starker experience is all about promoting a better drinking culture as opposed to just beer drinking. A better drinking experience enables people to appreciate the craft behind the brews, the great food we pair with our beers and the company they spend those moments with.”
Pausing to take a sip from her beer, Teo concludes, smiling: “We want people to enjoy beer drinking for its taste and freshness. We want them to revel in the atmosphere with family and friends, and chalk up a great Starker experience.”
First published in the New Straits Times, 24th December 2016