This is a story of a long-forgotten London brewery resurrected on the other side of the planet almost 100 years after it passed out of existence, first due to acquisition and new ownership, and then once and for all by fire. Or so it seemed.
Built on the South Bank of the River Thames in the booming 1830s, a time when London reigned supreme as the world’s most populous city and most powerful trading port, Lion Brewery is today largely relegated to marginalia in the telling of UK brewing’s illustrious tale. It does not quite compare in historical prestige to, say, such London peers as Whitbread Brewery—at one time the largest of its kind in the universe—Barclay Perkins Brewery, or George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery, which (along with other breweries) played a key role in helping popularize an emerging beer style called the India Pale Ale.
Lion certainly did something right, however. At one point there were around 90 Lion Brewery Co pubs across London, and Lion brewed for nearly 90 years before founder James Goding sold the place in 1924 to Hoare and Co, one of the city’s oldest breweries. The brewery was ravaged by fire in 1931, fell into ruin, and demolished in 1949 to make way for Royal Festival Hall. (It’s too bad for the descendants of Mr. Goding that the man’s repeated attempts to convert the brewery’s prime chunk of land into freehold ownership were repeatedly denied.)
Before the brewery was reduced to rubble, King George VI asked that the largest of its three signature lion statues be saved. In the end two of the statues survived, both of which today command prominent perches in key areas of London. The lion spared by royal decree stands at the south side of Westminster Bridge; its smaller counterpart, now gilded in gold, looks out from atop the Rowland Hill Memorial Gates of massive Twickenham Stadium, the home of England rugby.
It is a combination of these lions—the gleaming golden coat of the latter applied to the stately shape of the former—that graces beer bottles from rebooted Lion Brewery, which a trio of homebrewer expats (two of them British) unveiled in Singapore in late 2018. “When you look at pictures of the London skyline from 150 years ago there’s this huge building, the brewery, with a lion looking over the city, and there were wharfs of the River Thames right in front of it used to load the beer barrels onto the ships,” says co-founder Harry Renshaw. “We came to Singapore, one of the most famous trading ports there is, and just thought it was a really cool connection. We liked the idea of relighting a story like that.”
Locals, of course, know the linguistic association between Singapore and this London brewing relic. But for those unaware, Singapore is often called the Lion City, a nickname drawn from the republic’s ancient Malay name Singapura; in Malay, “singa” means lion and “pura” is city.
These things include the beer itself.
Lion Brewery relaunched with the pale ale, a beer akin to the first album a band had its entire life to create. Renshaw and co-founder Benjamin Hendry-Prior spent years tinkering with it, trotting it out to parties as homebrewers do until settling on the current recipe. It only employs Citra hops, which impart a pleasant tropical fruit aroma and flavor that mingles well with a four-grain malt bill. It’s easy to overdo it with Citra—and depending on the beer it’s sometimes fine when that happens—but Straits Pale Ale benefits from restraint.
“We’d been trying to make what we thought would be the perfect beer for Singapore. We were brought up on ale in Britain—you know, warm and flat beer that doesn’t work so well out here because it’s so hot—so the idea was kind of an ‘ale-ish’ sort of beer that was a bit more floral, with dry hops to really give it a more tropical fruit-type thing,” Renshaw explains. “We’d be very happy if people described our pale ale as like a gateway drug that gets people on to craftier beers from more mainstream lagers.”