Archipelago Ale and Hainanese Food At The Tavern


This blog does not like beer or ale. I prefer my alcoholic beverage made from fruits, not cereals. So it is with some dubiousness that I accepted an invitation from my dear friend Henry to the Confrerie De La Chaine Des Rotisseurs of Singapore dinner at The Tavern. They were doing a Hainanese Food and Ale pairing.

What’s more, they were testing out their newly created Archipelago Samui Ale with us before it was to be launched in July of this year.

Henry’s supremely refined palate is reknown; this is a man who is invited to judge at international cooking competitions. One does not lightly turn down his invitations to dinner. Besides, who can resist Hainanese food? 😉

Dinner was actually a casual affair at The Tavern. For those who are unfamiliar, The Tavern is a charming old-school Swiss Restaurant on River Valley Road that serves excellent food.


However, for this dinner, Mr. Poh the owner, invited his brother from Kuala Lumpur to cook traditional Hainanese food to pair with the Archipelago Ales.

One of the highlights for me, besides the pork belly, Hainanese pork chop and mutton soup – the list is endless! – was the traditional Hainanese desserts. The sad tale behind the desserts was that the master died refusing to part with his recipes and techniques. As such, the ones we had were an approximation to the actual recipes.

This was most unfortunate because they were excellent and so dense, rich and filling that 3 of us had to share and we still could not finish them.


Moving on, Archipelago Ale has a very interesting story. It is actually a microbrewery inside Asia Pacific Breweries. It all began in 1931 when the Germans started the Achipelago Brewery Company (ABC) and quickly became the leading brewery in Singapore. Alas, a German company in a British Colony during War World II is not good timing. It was quickly annexed and sold to Malayan Breweries for the princely sum of 1 Pound Sterling. Malayan Breweries (MB) was a joint-venture between F&N and Heineken. MB was finally renamed Asia Pacific Breweries probably because they were tired of all the regional country name changes and wanted to get back to making the brewskis.

Fast forward ahead, a microbrewery was set up within APB to, according to the official literature, revive “the spirit, passion and brewing techniques of the original brewery” and to “combine the best of brewing traditions from the west with the flavours and spices of the east”. To accomplish that, they hired Fal Allen, a Hawaiian.

You don’t need to be a producer of a comedy series to appreciate the irony.

Fal Allen, Archipelago Brewmaster

Actually Fal Allen is an award-winning Brewmaster who gave us an educational overview of the various ales he created. What’s more, an attempt was made to pair the 4 different ales with the food.


Archipelago Traveller’s Wheat. A light orange ale made with Tamarind (Assam) and ginger, a hint of lemon grass and Chinese orange peel. It is recommended with food containing Assam, Orange, Ginger, Coriander and Lemongrass. It was paired with the Pork Belly and Hainanese Chicken Curry.


I tried out the different pairing suggested. I found the Traveller’s Wheat to be really strange. This is a thin, light beer with a heady mix of Nonya flavours that had enough structure to stand up to spicy curries. The Tamarind and Ginger stood out in the aromas. Unfortunately, the spices were strong enough to interfere with the Hainanese Chicken Curry and the Pork Belly. Mmmmm… Pork Belly…


It tasted especially strange with the pork belly and the sweet Hainanese curry was further sweetened. In short, it muddied the food flavours instead of contrasting or matching it. Personally, I think something less complex like fried Chicken Wings with Soya Sauce would go good with this complex beer.

Archipelago Straits Pale. Not much is said about the contents of this ale other than it is modelled after the Californian Pale Ale. It has a floral citrusy flavour and is recommended with curried dishes like Thai Green Curry, Indian curries, Tandooris and Rendangs. For this dinner, it was paired with the Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls, Hainanese Mutton Soup and Lotus Duck.


The Straits Pale is another light beer that was very refreshing. The florals stood out in the aromas. And I felt that it had enough structure to hold it’s own against strongly flavoured food like curries as well as compliment light dishes like fish without the interference of additive spices. It’s a great all-round beer for food.

Archipelago Traders Brown Ale. This dark brown, tea-colored ale contains specially selected malts, hops, herbs and a touch of Gula Melaka to create a beer that is supposed to be creamy, smooth. Recommended with roasted meats or food cooked in sweet brown sauce, such as Suckling Pig, Roasted Squid, Peking Duck, Satay and Rice Dumplings (Bak Zhang). Likewise, it was paired with the Hainanese Pork Chop, Braised Streaky Pork and Pig Trotters.


The Trader’s Brown Ale was even stranger; it tasted almost but not quite like a Stout. The Gula Melaka stood out strongly in the aromas. While it added a sort of mystique or exotic connotation, the Gula Melaka added to the beer left slightly sourish aftertaste. This is typical of Gula Melaka which is why most Gula Melaka dishes add a milk to take the sour edge off. I must say that aftertaste ruined the food for me as I do not like sourish beers.

Archipelago Samui. This is one of their latest (at that time in July 2007). Made with Calamansi Lime and a hint of Pandan, it was uncertain at that time what goes well with it. However, for Hainanese food, it was paired with the Chilli-baked Cod and the special Hainanese dessert.


The Archipelago Samui was so new that it had not been bottled yet, so we had it from tap. It was excellent. Any drink that refreshes, from Colas to Mineralized water, always have a spark of acidity. Likewise, I found the addition of Calamansi Lime with a slight hint of Pandan to be just the drink after a long day at work. The Pandan was almost but not quite over-powering and helped to elevate the flavours of the Cod.


It was interesting to listen to feedback from the experienced Londoners at my table. Their verdict, like all European beer and ale drinkers, was that it was all piss like American beer. They like their beer to taste like beer and have no idea why the Archipelago offerings, like American beer, has to be so sweet.

Personally, while I appreciate the refreshing bitterness of European beers (there is nothing quite like the “freshly cut grass” aroma of Heineken), I think the typical Asian palate has a sweet tooth and we should look past the sweetness and schizophrenia (is it a beer trying to be a wine?) to see what the combinations of the herbs and spices can do.

As a standalone drink, the beers provide an easy introduction for the newly initiated and serves as an interesting conversation topic for the casual drinker. The spices in the beer are balanced, well-integrated and make for a delicious pre-dinner drink. It whets the appetite and sharpens the palate.

Unfortunately, when it is to accompany food, the spices in the beer becomes intrusive, clamouring for attention from the palate, distracting from the food; so much so that it throws everything off balance.

In the end, I feel that trying to position beer like wine is a risky business especially when the beer has spices that conflict with the food. I always feel that a beverage should complement or contrast food, not fight it. It feels gimmicky which does not do the beers justice as the conflicting tastes distract and diminish what really is a refreshing drink.


Posted on 10th Sep 2007 in Chaine de Rotisseurs, Drink, Food and Drink, Hainanese, Old School


There Is Only 1 Comment So Far


imp commented on September 12, 2007 at 11:36 pm

i still prefer belgium beers. 😀

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