So just two weeks ago, I broke the story about Little Island Brewing Co. on Time Out Singapore and on this blog. One question that lingered though, was about its owner, Francis Khoo, and his involvement and passion for craft beer.
Good Beer Company/Smith Street Taps’ Daniel Goh messaged me after the story went up to tell me that he was a regular at the Taps and that ‘he didn’t pop out of the blue’, and Eris V Andal from Thirsty in Holland Village left a comment on Craft Beer Lovers that Francis had been around to Thirsty. ‘He is very enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and friendly,’ she said.
I was intrigued, of course. And it was good timing, and with Daniel’s help, I managed to catch Francis on Beerfest’s trade Thursday to sit him down for a quick chat. Here’s what I managed to learn about him:
Francis considers himself a craft beer geek. Like most Singaporeans, he started drinking Tiger Beer but didn’t like it because it was too carbonated. He preferred to drink whisky, but changed his mind after meeting Steve Spinney in Bali.
‘I realised that whisky and beer are very similar, so it sits well with my body,’ he explained. As Singapore started to get more craft beer choices in Singapore over the last three years, he began to appreciate beer more. His favourite beer is Storm Brewing’s imperial stout. ‘The beer has a lot of chocolate, coffee, anise, a bit of vanilla, lacto – it’s very complex, very smooth and very nice.’
Little Island’s beers will be ‘quaffable’. I asked him for a commercial or craft benchmark that we can reference to get an idea of how their beers will taste and here’s what he said: ‘We’re not looking to brew something like Brewdog and Stone’s too harsh. Deschutes is good. We’re going towards the English styles that Kernel and Beavertown brew – a lot of the American stuff are too much hops in your face.’ Their beers hope to ride a good balance between extreme flavour and how easy it is to session the brew.
Little Island Brewing Co was initially supposed to be set up in Bali. Francis first met Steve while on a diving trip in Bali in 2013 and thought it was a good opportunity to set up a brewery on the island.
After realising the amount of red tape they would have to wade through, he decided to set up shop in Singapore instead. Still, it wasn’t easy. ‘Real estate is very expensive in the CBD, and places like The Capitol were asking for six months of rental deposit, which would have set us back more than $400,000,’ he said. ‘I almost gave up, then I went on Propertyguru and did a random search and found this Changi Village space.’
After taking his business partners to the warehouse-like unit, they decided that it might work. ‘We just did it because we need a space to do something. Obviously it’s not the most ideal place because I’d rather be in the CBD. But for us to be able to do what we do organically, we can’t have rental pressures [weighing over us],’ said Francis.
He said Little Island will brew with whole cone hops and malted barley they import themselves. ‘What we’re looking at is a slow movement. We’re not pressured by how much beer we’re going to sell,’ he said. ‘It’s all up to the consumer now. If they like it, we can start making things bigger.’
The local craft brewing scene seems to have been dominated over the years by deep pocketed, business-minded individuals – and we don’t blame them, craft beer is a very expensive business to get into in Singapore.
It is certainly encouraging from my conversation with Francis that the scene’s newest player seems to have a pulse on the potential pressures of running a microbrewery in Singapore, and hopes to push new boundaries for flavour here.
This isn’t just the only bit of good news I have about the local beer scene. Stay tuned for my next article on the promising developments that are being churned up at one of Singapore’s biggest microbreweries. :)