The title of this post was going to be something different. I hadn’t quite settled on something, but likely it would have been referencing the beer tasting I did on Thursday. Or maybe the splendor of the Fullerton Hotel as Beverly and I brunched1is that a verb? there. Perhaps maybe the copious amounts of football we watched over the weekend or the various writing groups, or…
No, no. Today’s episode is all about cheese. Don’t worry. It’ll all make sense soon.
The aforementioned beer tasting was part of a group outing with the Singapore Overbooked Men’s Association, a group that I have been meeting with off and on throughout the months here. The group, which I’ve mentioned here before, is a group of men who have followed their wives’ careers to Singapore. In short, trailing husbands. There is a bit of the convention-defying humor present within the group, evident by the name, but in reality, there is some variety within the membership – in age, career status, nationality, ethnicity and length of stay thus far in Singapore. When I joined, I was of course the newbie, barely in town for a month. Now, I’m meeting men that are closer to my original position within the group, and in doing so, I’m finding that six months as an expat is more than enough to be considered ‘established’.
Some of us have jobs, some of us have extended their careers to the new location. Some of us don’t work2cough, cough and some seek out new lines of work. Such a soul is Brian Fahy, a former food & beverage professional who had the – I’m sure – distinct pleasure of helping run the behemoth that is MetLife Stadium in Rutherford, NJ. For those not familiar with MetLife, three professional sports teams call it home, the New York Giants and Jets from the NFL, and the New York Red Bulls FC from MLS. Hearing Brian call it3hey, it’s sports, I can use a sportscasting term here, his frustration with the industry and its always-an-emergency status of live events with 40,000 people all looking to eat, and of course, the NFL being the NFL, drink4a lot., I could easily sympathize with the man as he described his choice to look for greener pastures. He found some green pastures in the most unlikely of places – an industrial park on the edge of the island near Tuas, tucked next to the massive Tiger Brewery.
It was due to Brian’s new job, developing brewery tours and raising awareness that, yes, there is craft beer being made on the island, that led to twenty-four men riding a kindergarten bus to Archipelago Brewery, Singapore’s only craft beer brewery5LeVel 33 also makes their own beer but they produce, as far as I know, solely for their own sale and consumption within their restaurant. While I’m more than familiar with the brewery/pub combination, the lack of distribution separates it from places in Portland such as Breakside or Bridgeport..
A quick primer on the beer landscape in Singapore. It’s bleak. South-East Asia has breweries aplenty, Tiger, Singha, Angkor and Bintang being three of the more notable brands. Those three are all owned by either Heineken or Carlsberg, and along with those brands, you can find stuff like San Miguel. There are a handful of local craft brews in various countries, as well. In Singapore, however, this dubious wealth is offset by the “sin tax”, the syntax of which states that all alcohol sales be heavily taxed, making a modest pint of Tiger beer, brewed here in town, a whopping $10 at most bars and restaurants. This does not lend the island towards being a beer drinker’s haven by any stretch, and obviously, makes for a hard sell for your product, especially with “Big Brother” Tiger literally looming over one’s shoulder.
However, Archipelago thrives, making a quartet of fantastic craft beers that hold up even against a Portlander’s refined6HAH! palette. Their Summer IPA, something I’ve sampled at one of the pubs in Holland Village is as hoppy as it needs to be, but with a bit more of a citrus hit. Brian cleared up a bit of confusion as I’ve seen “Summer Ale” referenced a lot around the island. Their flagship ale used to be a more simple, lighter ale, but they’ve recently upped the hops used in the recipe, converting their Ale into a proper IPA. Their Belgian Wit also exhibits a lot of the citrus and spice flavors that you’d expect from a Belgian wheat beer, a faithful nod to a world-famous beer that had my Belgian friend Laurent7who introduced me to SOMA, thanks Laurent! nodding in approval8I should mention at this point, and within an aside, that this was all free of charge, so nobody, and I do mean nobody was going to complain that much about the beer. See above..
Archipelago offers two more regulars, an Irish Ale and a Bohemian Cezch-style lager, both incredibly true to their roots, but with additional notes of flavor that they claim is inspiration drawn from the SE Asian region. With flavors such as passion fruit buried under the hops and malt, I can’t disagree with their claims. Brian had also arranged for us to taste a few of the special brews that Archipelago had in rotation – an Irish Red made specially for Molly Malones’ Irish pub here in town, that had a deep, toasted flavor that added quite a bit to already loaded Irish Red. We also tasted “Coco’s Cream”, whose label inspired imagery of Stephen King9seriously, change that label, yo. but the beer invoked tastes of cream soda. Coco’s Cream is their take on a nitrogen-saturated cream ale, made with copious amounts of white cooking chocolate. The result was an incredibly smooth beer – not cider – that had those wonderful undertones of good old fashioned cream soda.
Brian was an amazing host, though, nervous in his new role with 24 “overbooked” men drinking his boss’ beer. The tasting and tour were done with nary a hitch – a few issues with the kegs was all – and Brian proved equal to the task of explaining the chaos that surrounds a small craft brewery with three tanks. The modest brewhouse was, as I’ve mentioned, literally in the shadow of the football-field sized Tiger brewery, who owns Archipelago, but does not operate or oversee beer production. The situation is actually advantageous for tiny Archipelago, which can use their big brother’s facilities for cold storage. I think Brian also mentioned that they pipe in their mash from machinery within Tiger as well.
A few hours later, us twenty-four boarded back on our tiny school bus and laughed our way back into town, some continuing on to Clake Quay for a few more. I however, had a going-away party to go to.
I’ve also written about the temporary lives expats lead. Our friends are often called back home, or move on to other opportunities. It’s not just expats, as Singaporeans often travel as well, most notably for schooling. Such was the case with Shankar, a friend from the writers’ group, whom I only got to briefly know before his move to Germany for medical school. Still, writers new and not alike got together at our usual bohemian artsy bar on Arab Street and send Shankar off properly, with (more) beer and wine, cake and a blank calendar that we took turns filling out as card, labeling months with made up names and filling in the calendar’s grid with made-up holidays.
I’ll spare you the details – it was a very… tired person who laid his head on my pillow that night.
My wedding anniversary was two weeks ago, but due to a race being run in town on our anniversary, we decided to put off brunch at the prestigious Fullerton Hotel a few weeks. This Sunday was the day we chose to spend unholy amounts of money on brunch, buffeted only by the knowledge that the champagne, well, the champagne was free-flowing, as were any cocktails we so chose.
Forget the food – they could have fed twigs and berries and I would have paid what we did for free-flow champagne.
We waited in queue (of course) as the Town Restaurant opened. Though we had reservations, “so does everyone else,” in the concierge’s words, though we needn’t have worried. Once opened, we filed in quickly, past… wait, is that the dessert bar?
Fountains of chocolate and caramel poured next to fresh fruit and cookies. Chocolate mouse, tiramisu, cupcakes, ice cream and a waffle bar stood proudly in the entrance, giving us only a hint at what we would see as we turned the corner into the main part of the restaurant to stand face to face with…
And cracked crab.
And oysters, scallops and fresh tuna.
And that was one station out of eight.
Have I died? Have I gone to heaven? Pasta was being cooked across from the sushi and miso soup station. Orange streaks of fatty salmon peeked out from perfectly layered cuts of ahi tuna. Down the stairs, the largest station stood like a colossus, with prime rib, glazed ham, leg of lamb and baked salmon anchored a table with nearly every imaginable roasted vegetable, fresh bao and dumplings and roasted duck. A smaller station had fresh eggs and bacon, though that seemed so pedestrian next to chicken tikka and biryani, fresh naan and curry. Our host led us towards our table, past one of the largest spreads of cheese I have ever seen in my life.
I had died. This was heaven. I was floating in a culinary dream, my angel in the form of Beverly by my side, waiting to be gorged on unending champagne, so that I might enter Valhalla with a full stomach and enough of a buzz so as not to question what act of redemption had landed me here instead of a few hundred miles south in a place a bit hotter than Singapore.
Muzak piped through as we clinked glasses and strategized – no other way was possible to sample as much as we wanted to – our path through the buffet in front of us. Seafood was first, without a doubt. We each grabbed a lobster, already cut up, as Miss Cape Cod commented on the ease of extracting her claw meat. “A perfect pull,” she’d exclaim, as she sucked down the poor critter’s left hand. Oysters went down with amazing ease, guided towards their penultimate destination10I’m gross, I know with bubbly wine. The muzak was replaced with two guitarists, complete with islander shirts, playing “Guantanamera” before switching up to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and later, “La Bamba.”
Prime rib followed sushi, chased down with naan and pork bao. It doesn’t make sense, but roll with it here. Roasted potatoes and roasted duck, with a drop of curry as well. Then I went for the cheese.
I have never been intimidated by coagulated milk before in my life. Before me, I saw the breadth and width of Europe’s bounty of cheese, and I wept as only a Californian can. Cheeses for which I had no name, no reference towards taste, towards pairing, towards any existential knowledge whatsoever, lay before me. I did what a man in my position can only do. I sampled indiscriminately, randomly, mixing flavors with abandon, that I’m sure a purist would observe and condemn me towards that fiery pit below. I didn’t care. The cheese spread was not my oyster, I already ate those motherfuckers, it was my playground.
Back at the table, Bev and I sipped our champagne as we nibbled on our food items. The guitarists had got the mood brightened after leading a group into singing Lauryn Hill’s “I Need You Baby”. They came to the table next to us before the lead winked over at me, and said, “We’ll come by next.”
Sure enough, they did, serenading Beverly and I with Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” We stared into each other’s eyes, we held hands. It was emotional, it was perfect, and everyone in the friggin’ place was staring at us. A bit embarrassed, and unsure if I should stop everything all together to pay attention to the band, or accept them as accompaniment for breakfast, I tried to nonchalantly nibble on a piece of cheese and sip my sparkly. The singing and playing continued.
“Have I told you… lately, that I love cheese.”
Wait, did he just seriously sing that?
It hung there, my eyes wide and Beverly laughing along with the guitarists. Oh my god, that happened. I’m not in heaven, am I? I’m in hell, where my every earthly desire leads to my downfall, my worst nightmare, being ridiculed.
The temperature rose. I began to sweat. I was right, after all.
But since I was not dead, since this was still happening on Earth, and the song, the show, as they say, must go on, I did what only comes naturally to me.
I took another bite and played it out, letting my shame show in my bright red face and teary laughter. I closed my eyes and laughed. The guitarists laughed. Beverly laughed. Confusion rippled through the restaurant as the moment passed, and the song ended. I thanked our serenaders, what else could I have done?
Beverly’s eyes sparkled as the champagne in our glasses. I’ll likely never hear the end of my love affair with cheese. But, in full vein of who I am, and owning every last emotion, that promise that I’ve made to myself here, I’m telling you this story, as it happened, with n… little embellishment.
Life, as does the song and the show, moves on. So did our gastronomic exploration. We of course had to sample the dessert bar which left no sweet craving unfulfilled.
Like the buffet, no expense of my shame is spared here, folks. I do love cheese. I love my wife much more, but for one more than slightly buzzed moment, drunk on champagne and excess, well. You get the point. Go download “Have I Told You Lately.” Rod Steward’s version is great as well. It’s a good song. Me? I might have a listen to La Bamba. Yo no soy marinero.