Last night I was at a dinner in a local kopi-tiam style restaurant serving duck rice. While some of us had lime juice (which I believed started off with the famed Singapore signature dish, Fish Head Curry, and has been with this Duck Rice for quite a decade or two), home-made barley, two opted for beer. This lady, speaking only Teochew with a spatter of Mandarin brought a bottle of ice-cold Tiger Beer and two mugs with ice inside. My friend looked in horror. "Where got drink beer with ice?"
And so I started my story that before she was born, we (I mean the older folks) used to drink beer with ice. Why? Well, for one, there weren't much refrigerator in the local coffeeshops, home too. It was a luxury. And so, pouring beer onto a mug of ice seemed a logical solution. I think the habit went on right into the 70s and possibly till 90s. For some, habits die hard.
In the old days, the old men might gather at the local coffee shops to have a beer or two, or more if they have a gathering of neighbours or friends. But although beer was cheap them, it was still a luxury item. For some who like to start with beer and probably get into something heavier, like the popular "sa tiam chi" (Three Stars Brandy), they would go into a bar which had shelves of all kinds of hard liquor.
I remembered helping my maternal grandma in her kopitiam. Selling beer or stout was regular. I found out then that there was this stout that they called "Ohr Kao" (Black Dog), which was popular with the tough looking guys. Interestingly, if I took the bottle caps and put in a bowl of warm water, the Alsatian on the cap came off. It was a sticker. Beneath it, if my memory holds, was the Guiness Harp (?) drawing. There were also similar bottles with the bulldog. For some reasons, the men preferred this warm. No ice!
Drinking beer or stout in the local coffeeshops seemed to be isolated in the old days. Many of the older folks would take them with a plate of duck necks, wings and legs, and even the "bishop's nose" (as they called). Nothing like chewing on these bony parts of the duck and downing with beer or stout.
In the past couple of years (or more?), with the aggressive promotion of the beer and stout companies, with the promotion girls (from young ones to aunties), going to the neighbourhood coffeeshops, the number of people drinking beer and stout in the coffeeshops seem to be more visible, and in certain places, very visible!
Walking into the hawker centre in Chinatown in the afternoon and evening is like walking into a hive of many bees. Given the built of the place that was designed more for "eat and go", the low hum of the place with the old folks drinking and chatting, with their mugs filled almost as instantly by the beer girls serving the different coffee stalls turned bar, it was a vibration not for everyone. But for the drinkers, they did not seem to notice it. Almost every table in the general eating area would have a pail or two of ice to keep the beer cool. No more ice for beer? Apparently not. Beer of many kinds could be seen. Some relatively unknown. I could not help that if more people were drinking, could we overtake the Germans in per-capita consumption of beer. Unlikely, but this was a big evolution in Singapore, given what I am exposed to.
First there were men drinking. Now I see the occasional tables with women joining in. Even those selling and serving (are there free lance servers?) have to be good drinkers as they would be offered a mug or two. Reminded me of the time when I was in China where in the private dining rooms, the girl serving the meals would also have to be good drinkers. The host would get them to do the toast to encourage the guests to down their drinks. Not beer but more of the fiery Bai Jiu category.
I missed the corner coffeeshop at Sago Lane from which I could get a bottle of Weiss Bier and walk over to the Wurstelstand (Sausage Stand) to enjoy a Bratwurst or two. Beer drinking has also changed over time, from the typical Lager to more exciting imports from Japan (I remember I liked the Asahi Super Dry) to the German Weiss Bier. Oktoberfest has also arrived in Singapore.
Would it be retro and hip to offer a mug of Beer on the Rocks? Anyone?