Though the humble beer dates back to the early Neolithic (9500BC), it’s only been in the last decade or so that it’s taken its place alongside wine, coffee and tea as a drink to be deconstructed. With origins in the UK in the 1970s, microbrews now rival traditional commercial breweries as the choice for affluent, trendy consumers.
Hong Kong is not associated with a great beer tradition, but craft brewing here has taken off. With the discovery by Stanford University archaeologists of a 5,000-year-old beer recipe around China’s Wei River, this part of world can scientifically demand attention. Legend has it the SAR’s first microbrew, Typhoon Brewery, started in 2010 by a pilot on Lantau. That was a traditional British ale, “Which was not too suitable for the Hong Kong market — at least at that time. So the business didn’t really take off and eventually closed down before the craft beer market took off,” explains Thomas Lau, chairman of the Craft Beer Association of Hong Kong.
What a difference a few years makes. Currently roughly a dozen local breweries are cooking up suds from heavy ales to German-style wheat beers to India Pale Ales. The brewers still need help though. Finding good brewing locations in a pricey real estate market is one challenge. Finding beer drinkers is another. “The pie currently is not getting any bigger, or I should [say] not getting bigger fast enough to accommodate so many new players in the market,” theorises Lau. “A lot of people think it is an easy career and it attracts a lot of new players into the game,” many of who lack a strong brewing foundation. Lau fears that could hurt the market in the long run.
Anyone looking to support the impressive brews already available can do so at a handful of bars and pubs that keep the local, natural, sometimes unpasteurised suds on tap. Some of the best? Perhaps the most creative is Young Master which boasts a rotating menu of what’s available: seasonal brews one-offs among them. Young Master has something for everyone, but a standout is its spicy, whisky-inspired The Rye on Wood. Also clever in their flavour profiles is Moonzen Brewery and its potent, citrusy Jade Emperor IPA: refreshing, complex and great with pungent food like Korean cuisine.
Of Black Kite’s six core brews its Porter should meet the demands of those looking for a heavier, stout-ish beer, though one that complements the sticky, humidity of Hong Kong’s peak beer drinking season. The cheekily named Gweilo Beer makes a Pale Ale (and an IPA) that is nearly ideal for Cantonese food and lazy days on a junk in the sun.
Finally the truly boutique Mak’s Brewery makes Yim Tin, a zingy Belgian-style wheat beer. It’s hard to locate, but the enthusiasm with which the young brewers engage with their product and consumers is worth the effort of a trip to the brewery in Tsuen Wan.
So what does the future hold for Hong Kong’s brewers? More coming on stream in the near future will force the middling product to vanish. Beer lovers, however, “Will learn what a good beer is and why you need to drink craft beer. People will realise that craft beer is actually not a trend, but a movement,” says Lau, likening it to once loving Häagen Dazs until learning what real ice cream should be. “The same can be said for coffee. So beer will just go the same way.”
TAP Ale Project | www.thealeproject.com
The Globe | www.theglobe.com.hk
The Roundhouse | www.roundhouse.com.hk
Craft Brew & Co | www.craftbrew.com.hk
Young Master | www.youngmaster.com.hk
Black Kite’s | www.blackkite.hk
Gweilo Beer | www.gweilobeer.com
Moonzen Brewery | www.moonzon.hk
Mak’s Brewery | www.maksbeer.com