The untold truths behind Binjai Brew – A Craft Beer story

Image by Gin Tay via The Straits Times

Hello there! You may have heard of us, but do you really know how Binjai Brew came about? Let us take you through our unconventional beginnings and journey into craft beer, with stories of hardships and entertainment that will surely bring to you the true spirit of a craft beer start-up.


Home-School brewing

It all started as a home-brewing adventure by three friends in their fourth year at university. Rahul, who had just returned from an overseas internship at a craft brewery in California, was excited about giving home-brewing a shot and was happily surprised that his friends, Heetesh and Abilash, were interested too. Together, the three of them decided to pool some money to get a basic home-brewing set up going. All they needed was a place to brew. However, none of them could brew in their houses as home-brewing was a messy hobby and their parents would obviously not be pleased if they messed up the house. Since they were all staying in the university hostel at the time, they decided to brew it in the pantry of their university hostel (oh what a great idea it was then).

With just $200 worth of equipment, basically a pot and a large plastic bucket, and a further $80 of malt, hops and yeast, they dived into their first brew. Despite the high hopes they had, they made a mistake with the amount of water needed because it was an American recipe (imperial units oops) and the first beer ended up being way more alcoholic than it was supposed to be. Not necessarily a bad thing though, if you are thinking what I’m thinking! A second shot at the same recipe got them a beer that was at least drinkable thankfully. From there, they started exploring other styles of beer based on what Rahul learnt at his internship.

After a few batches, Heetesh chanced upon a home-brewing contest organised by a local home-brew shop. Given that the closing date was fast approaching and there was only one style left to pick, they had to beg to join the contest. They were allowed to join the contest, but quickly realized that the beer would need to be submitted in a keg, which they didn’t have at the time. Being the real go-getters that they were, they went ahead with brewing the beer first and started looking for a keg while the beer was still fermenting. A friend was kind enough to lend them one in the nick of time and their problem was finally solved, allowing them to submit the beer for the contest. To their surprise, the beer managed to steal the hearts of those present on the contest day and won the title of most popular beer. The prize for winning was a voucher to use at the home-brew shop, and you would hardly be surprised when we tell you that the first thing they bought was a keg (which they still have till this day).

Getting caught

The nature of home-brewing meant that they had to brew around 20L of beer at a time, and of course they couldn’t possibly drink all that on their own. It wouldn’t be fun to keep all of it for themselves anyway. And so, they started giving away bottles to their friends and classmates to try, all while experimenting with different types of beer based on feedback of what people enjoyed and found interesting. The three of them had an Instagram account where they posted stuff related to their brewing, and as words spread they had unknowingly built up a larger following than they thought they had. 

About 8 months later and right around their 10th batch of beer, the professor in charge of their hostel found out that they were brewing beer in the pantry (it was only a matter of time haha). He was clearly not too pleased about it and asked them to stop. Not wanting to get in trouble for a fun hobby and understanding that it was difficult for the university to be accountable, they decided that they would stop their home-brewing activities. Little did they know what was to follow.

Getting famous (kinda)

The student-run university newspaper, The Nanyang Chronicle, got hold of the news that Binjai Brew had to stop and came along asking if they could do an interview. Given that they were no longer brewing, and it was “only” the university newspaper (which they had never once read in their 4 years there), they agreed. When the article was released on The Nanyang Chronicle facebook page, it quickly became one of the most shared articles they had ever posted. The next day, Lianhe Zaobao published a direct translation of their article, and the Straits Times called them for comments on the story they were going to run. The day after, there was an article about them in the print version of the Straits Times. And before they knew it, the Straits Times was in their university doing an in-person interview with them. 

The responses they got from the public were favourable and sympathetic, with many expressing support for their passion in brewing despite the circumstances. This was a pleasant surprise because, quite frankly, they were scared as hell of the repercussions of brewing in school! With all the attention they got, and with re-ignited passion, they began to realise that they could pursue this full time. 

Finally (almost) launching

It was no small feat. In a short span of 8 months, the three friends had to put many things in place before they could officially launch; what beers were they going to have, what would their brand look like, how would they package it. Nothing prepared them for what they faced, the long hours of discussion over issues from the descriptions that would be written on the cans to the organization of the company. A funny story though, Rahul was in charge of writing the descriptions on the cans but was interning overseas at that time. He kept putting off his work until Abilash and Heetesh had to call him to say they really needed the story now, like right now. He answered the call on a train station platform in Oslo, and he finished the work from his Airbnb in two nights. They could never be sure that they would get everything right, but then again nobody can. 

With bright-eyed confidence, they launched at a local craft beer bar American Taproom. The turnout was much better than expected (thanks to word-of-mouth) and they were truly heartened at the number of people who cared about Binjai Brew. One hilarious moment that they will always remember is this random guy who showed up after hearing about Binjai Brew online and asked for them to put a stamp with Binjai Brew’s logo on his chest immediately after trying their beer. That is some brand loyalty right there! Indeed, it was a memorable day to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, and the three friends were once again reminded of why they started it all. 


If you’ve read this far, thank you for staying with us. The journey since then has been filled with amazing highs and crushing lows, but at every point, it has always been your support for us and our beers that has kept us going. We hope you will continue to stay with us through this Binjai Brew journey.

See you on the other side of ordinary,

The Binjai Brew Co-founders

 

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