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Fall Feature Series: Wee Tuck Tan

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As we move into fall, we’re launching a new series of interviews with business leaders in the food, beverage, supplement and biotech industries. This month we sat down with Wee Tuck Tan, owner of The Brewerkz Company, Singapore's longest-running craft brewery experience.

We talked to Wee Tuck about Brewerkz’s story, their sustainability mission, their recent release of a beer made from recycled water and his advice for fellow business leaders. The interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.


Foundery5: 

Hi! Thanks for being here. To start off, I have a fun question:

If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Wee Tuck (Brewerkz):

That’s a difficult question. Not quite sure how to answer that, but I think we all agree that we're in trouble as far as the planet is concerned. We're in so much trouble. So I think the superpower I’d want would be the ability to turn back time knowing what we know and for everyone to just do things a little bit differently. 

It’s kind of wishful thinking. We can only do corrections from here. It feels a little bit overwhelming, but better to do something than to not do anything at all.

Foundery5:

That's true. That's so true. So tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved at Brewerkz.

Wee Tuck:

So myself and my two partners, we own and operate a portfolio of businesses and within this portfolio is Brewerkz, which is a long running Singapore craft beer brand. We've been around for a long time, 25 years actually. 

We try hard to put a message behind what we do. So NewBREW, which is our latest collaboration beer, it's made using recycled water. That's the nice term. The more shocking description is that we take sewage water from your toilet.

Foundery5:

Oh, that's amazing. I'm so glad that you mentioned NewBREW, because I definitely want to get into that since mission driven products are taking the lead today.

Wee Tuck:

Yes, I think that's certainly a global trend. 

Foundery5: 

So getting into NewBREW, can you just give us a little bit of background about that? I read on your website that it was in collaboration with the Singapore National Water Agency.

Wee Tuck:

Yeah exactly. So Singapore's National Water Agency’s purpose is to sort the water resources in Singapore. Singapore doesn’t really have a reliable natural water supply. We're actually in trouble because of our geographic region. A lot of our water actually comes imported from neighboring countries, or we collect a little bit of rain water but it's hardly enough. So water has become a security issue and survival issue. One of the [options] that the [Singapore National Water Agency] pursued was to recycle water. And that includes water that comes from our toilet. They started this program 20 years ago. It's called NEWater. When it first came out, nobody wanted to drink this water, because mentally it was unacceptable. Just unacceptable. Right?

I don't know this for sure, but I think for this reason the water agency has never sold this direct to consumers. So it goes to industrial use. It gets added to a water reservoir and it's not available publicly.

Foundery5:

Ok, I see.

Wee Tuck:

Yeah and then in 2018 the agency came to us ahead of Singapore International Water Week, which is a big show in Singapore for all the water guys around the world, and they said "Hey, we want to make a product out of NEWater, how about craft beer?"

So we launched our craft beer collaboration with NEWater at the event. It was only made available to attendees of that event. There was a blind taste test and people couldn't tell that it was made out of recycled water. When they found out they were like, "Wow, this is really interesting." 

We had just made a small batch, so when we were out, we were out. We said that at the next Singapore International Water Week, we would bring it back again. So in 2022, this past April, we brought it back for the second time after a four year break due to COVID. And this time around we decided to make it available to the public as well.

We produced a larger batch, we put it into cans, put a nice design and messaging around it, and then we put it in stores. We lowered the price a little bit so that consumers could try it, and the reaction has been very positive overall. I think the reaction from the Singapore population has been "This is great and interesting. We now know NEWater is not a problem." It's nice to see NEWater being used in a different application.

Uma:

Amazing. It's so good that you got a positive response from people in Singapore. 

Wee Tuck:

Yeah. We actually sold out.

Uma:

I know. I saw that on your website! So do you plan to make any more of it?

Wee Tuck:

We would like to, but because NEWater is not available on the public water grid, we don't have access to it. For our last collaboration, there were specially commissioned water trucks to bring NEWater in tanks into our building. It's not available for us to draw from whenever we want to. Therefore, future releases are going to be limited, but there's a lot of interest to sample it so maybe another batch will be released in the future, but right now we won’t be able to do this as a permanent series. Maybe every International Water Week, we can bring it back.

Foundery5:

Do you think that there's any way that the Singapore government would let companies like Brewerkz use recycled water regularly in the future?

Wee Tuck:

I think there is a chance. I don’t know why it’s not made available directly to the public currently but I think if the consumer and market reaction is positive it may just change the mindset of the water agency. Hopefully that day will come.

Foundery5:

Well, I hope that all governments focus on investing money in recycling water. Do you think that Brewerkz will continue to explore other sustainable practices in the beverage industry?

Wee Tuck:

For sure. We’re already seeing the use of more sustainable ingredients in the beverage industry. Brands are exploring taking food waste and up-cycling that and putting it into beverages and we want to do that as well. We are looking into using old, discarded bread to replace the malt that we use to brew the beer. When we up-cycle food waste then we don't have to use so much fresh malt. 

Foundery5:

That’s really exciting. Is there anything else that you would like to share from your side about NEWBrew and Brewerkz?

Wee Tuck:

I think with NEWBrew, I think what we learned is that the technology needed to recycle and make clean waste water is only one half of the equation. If consumers are not ready to accept the product, they're not going to take it. So public education is incredibly important and you cannot be successful without it. With NEWater, public education has been growing for 20 years. For the first 10 years, it was the butt of all jokes. Seriously. So nobody wanted to touch it. We realized that it takes a long time to convince the public, but I think we have no choice but to embrace recycled water and to really kind of think about it more seriously. So we want to keep that conversation alive by bringing back our collaboration with NEWater whenever we have the chance.

Foundery5:

Awesome. Do you have any advice for any founders or business owners who are in the beverage industry?

Wee Tuck:

We've been thinking a lot about the purpose of our company. We feel that there has to be a higher purpose beyond just being commercially successful, beyond launching the next product or the service. Owners and founders need to fully embrace this question of “what's the mission?” I find that when owners and founders can articulate that mission clearly it makes the company more attractive, and it also helps the company to be clear about the kind of things they are going to do and not do.

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