Hong Kong is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an ex­plo­sion in its craft beer scene, writes He­len Dalley

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS - beer­topi­; cathay­pa­;; lit­tle­crea­; thealepro­

Asians are fast de­vel­op­ing a taste for craft beer

Just a few years ago, craft beer was de­cid­edly niche in Hong Kong. To­day, more than 20 lo­cal brew­eries jos­tle for shelf space be­hind the bar, and the mar­ket shows no signs of slow­ing. Lo­cal brew­ers con­tin­u­ously ex­tend their reper­toire, and for­eign brew­ers are also set­ting up in the city – the lat­est be­ing hip Ja­panese beer Hi­tachino Nest, which opened its only over­seas pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in Fo Tan last year.

It seems craft beer has gone main­stream: it’s stocked in many of the city’s ho­tels and res­tau­rants and vis­i­ble on su­per­mar­ket shelves. Even Cathay Pa­cific (CX) is get­ting in on the act with its newly launched craft beer Betsy. Named af­ter CX’s first air­craft, a 1940s Dou­glas DC-3, it is the first ale de­vel­oped to be drunk at alti­tude and is crafted from dragon eye fruit, Hong Kong honey and UK-sourced Fug­gle hops. The re­sult is an earthy, full-bod­ied brew with flo­ral notes and a fruity aroma.

De­vel­oped fol­low­ing feed­back from a tast­ing panel of judges in­clud­ing the founder and chair­man of the Hong Kong Craft Beer As­so­ci­a­tion, as well as Marco Polo Club mem­bers and CX staff, Betsy has ini­tially been made avail­able to first and busi­ness class pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling be­tween Hong Kong and Gatwick, Heathrow and Manch­ester un­til April 30. The craft beer can also be sam­pled at the air­line’s lounges in Hong Kong and Heathrow and at sev­eral Swire-owned res­tau­rants in Hong Kong such as Mr & Mrs Fox and Plat du Jour.

Why did CX de­cide to de­velop a craft beer? “In re­cent years we’ve up­graded our fleet, seat de­sign, lounge ex­pe­ri­ence and in-flight menu part­ner­ship. So we thought, ‘what more can we do?’ We had reg­u­lar brain­storm­ing ses­sions in­ter­nally and came up with [the idea to de­velop our own] beer, the third most drunk bev­er­age af­ter wa­ter and tea on earth,” says Priscilla Chok, CX mar­ket­ing man­ager so­cial and con­tent.“We went for hand-crafted ale be­cause of the qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents, pro­duc­tion process with a lot of at­ten­tion from the brew mas­ter due to its smaller quan­tity of pro­duc­tion, and the bot­tle pro­vid­ing a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment for the chem­i­cal re­ac­tion with­out wor­ry­ing the metal from a can would dis­tort the flavours.”


When Jonathan So set up craft ale fes­ti­val Beer­topia in 2012, it had less than 100 beers and around 1,500 guests. In its fifth in­car­na­tion last Novem­ber, it at­tracted more than 14,000 peo­ple at its new lo­ca­tion on the Cen­tral Har­bourfront, where at­ten­dees could sam­ple 14 dif­fer­ent lo­cal beers. The fes­ti­val even hosted the Hong Kong Beer Cham­pi­onship, with more than 20 lo­cal brew­eries tak­ing part.

Orig­i­nally from Toronto, So also lived in New York and be­lieves Hong Kong’s craft beer scene can learn plenty from the US.“In New York, they have lo­cal beer in the con­ve­nience store and peo­ple are pretty se­ri­ous about it… there are niche craft beer fes­ti­vals that host just Bel­gian beers, or only sour ales. This could hap­pen in Hong Kong, but the craft beer scene is un­der three years old, so there’s a long way to go.”

Ar­guably the big­gest craft beer suc­cess story in Hong Kong is Gweilo – the name is slang for for­eigner in Can­tonese – which is avail­able in lo­cal su­per­mar­kets in ad­di­tion to the city’s ho­tels, res­tau­rants and bars in­clud­ing craft beer pub The Globe, Le Meri­dien Cy­ber­port and eatery The Fly­ing Pig. The brew­ery pro­duces a pale ale, an IPA and a wheat beer and plans to in­tro­duce a pil­sner, stout and dou­ble IPA to its range by the end of the year.

Launched in July 2015 by Ian and Emily Jeb­bitt and Joseph Gould, the com­pany’s founders say they wanted to pro­duce English-style ses­sion beers with a trop­i­cal twist.

“We want to be ap­proach­able as craft beer can be a bit snobby – some is even drunk from wine glasses. Ours are not too strong and are good ev­ery­day beers,” says Jeb­bitt, who has just given up his job as a trade­mark lawyer to con­cen­trate on grow­ing the busi­ness across Asia.

Its IPA is the team’s “dream beer” ac­cord­ing to Jeb­bitt – they spent six months tast­ing hops from around the world to get the flavour pro­file, be­fore opt­ing for South Pa­cific and US hops and Euro­pean malt. Mean­while, its wheat beer, Wit, launched as a sum­mer beer last year of­fer­ing notes of mango and kaf­fir lime, has proven so pop­u­lar that it’s be­ing pro­duced year-round. Then there’s its cit­rusy pale ale, which re­cently won a bronze medal in Lon­don at the In­ter­na­tional Beer awards.“We want to en­ter for­eign awards and do col­lab­o­ra­tions [with other brew­eries] so peo­ple get to know us and we can gen­er­ate in­ter­est in the brand,” says Jeb­bitt.

Gweilo is hop­ing to repli­cate its suc­cess over­seas, and there has been plenty of in­ter­est from main­land China, Sin­ga­pore, Tai­wan, Aus­tralia, Thai­land, the Philip­pines and the UK.“In ten years’ time, I’d love to be the most widely dis­trib­uted craft beer in Asia and put Hong Kong on the map for be­ing a beer pro­duc­ing coun­try,” Jeb­bitt says. The Gweilo team is also fo­cused on open­ing its own bar,

he adds.


Es­tab­lished in 2014, The Ale Project (TAP) Mongkok of­fers a re­volv­ing range of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional beers on tap from its lo­ca­tion on a quiet back­street of this busy shop­ping district. Its clien­tele is about 60-70 per cent lo­cal, with the rest a mix of ex­pats and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors. It has just opened a sec­ond lo­ca­tion, Sec­ond Draft in Tin Hau, where its three fea­tured beers are served at dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures to en­hance their flavours – a first for Hong Kong.“If beer gets too cold the flavour gets locked in, like wine,” says gen­eral man­ager James Ling. “Beer com­mer­cials are mis­lead­ing as they show beers be­ing served ice cold, or even with icy pieces on top. We want to ed­u­cate peo­ple that it de­pends on the beer, that the flavour can [of­ten] be en­hanced if served warmer.”

Ling worked at the Globe pub in Cen­tral and in­terned for lo­cal brewer Young Mas­ter Ales, who helped set up TAP Mongkok.“At that time, there weren’t any craft beer bars on the Kowloon side, but we just thought we’d try it out. And now on this street, two other craft beer bars opened this March, and res­tau­rants are start­ing to stock more craft beers,” he says.

Ling has been pleas­antly sur­prised by the re­sponse so far. “Ev­ery­one is in­ter­ested in try­ing it out, sam­pling dif­fer­ent styles of beer. Half of our list is lo­cal… we have stocked beers from Young Mas­ter Ales, Hong Kong Beer Co, Moonzen and Lion Rock, among oth­ers. Lo­cal beer is very fresh,” he says, adding that pop­u­lar pours in­clude pale ales, IPAs and sour beers.

With the ad­di­tion of the Kowloon Tap Room in Tsim Sha Tsui, which serves a solid se­lec­tion of lo­cal beers in­clud­ing Moonzen and Mak’s, there’s now more of a craft beer pres­ence in Kowloon. While most bar own­ers wouldn’t be happy to find out that there were new bars mov­ing in on their ter­ri­tory, Ling seems un­fazed.“I’m quite happy with that – we’ll be­come a beer street where peo­ple can go craft beer bar hop­ping. We have 16 taps, and it’s never enough.”


One for­eign craft beer brand that has sensed the po­ten­tial of the Hong Kong mar­ket is Aus­tralia’s Lit­tle Crea­tures, which opened a large pub in Kennedy Town in west­ern Hong Kong Is­land last sum­mer. Its beers are also avail­able on tap at the Grand Hy­att and the Phoenix bar in Mid-Lev­els. Head brewer Tom Cham­pion says the de­ci­sion to open its first over­seas out­let in Hong Kong was based on

the speed with which the craft beer scene is grow­ing here.

Brew­ing once a week, its best seller is its sig­na­ture pale ale, a re­fresh­ing hop-driven brew that works well in the Hong Kong cli­mate. With roasted tof­fee, caramel and light cit­rus notes, its Rogers beer – which it is trans­port­ing from Aus­tralia to Hong Kong in re­frig­er­ated kegs – takes time to get trac­tion, be­ing an am­ber ale.“It’s sig­nif­i­cantly darker than the rest of our beers, and in the beer game, peo­ple drink with their eyes. But at 3.8 per cent, it’s a very ses­sion­able beer with some hop char­ac­ter,” Cham­pion says.

The brand just did a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gweilo, cre­at­ing a farmhouse beer made with kumquats to cel­e­brate the Year of the Rooster. Cham­pion says it got through a tank of ale that would usu­ally last two weeks at an event that of­fered two hours of free flow to 200 guests who had signed up on Face­book. “We talk a lot at Lit­tle Crea­tures about col­lab­o­rat­ing with the craft beer com­mu­nity, be­cause if we get to­gether, all busi­nesses ben­e­fit. We def­i­nitely want to do more col­lab­o­ra­tions, as that’s re­ally in line with our phi­los­o­phy to grow the craft beer mar­ket for ev­ery­one. We like to con­sider our­selves as co­op­er­a­tive rather than com­pet­i­tive.”

To pay tes­ta­ment to that, be­hind the bar at Lit­tle Crea­tures is the pro­duce of an­other col­lab­o­ra­tion, The Boosh, which the brew house made with four other lo­cal brew­ers – Black Kite, Yard­ley Broth­ers, Kowloon Bay and Can Brew for the Hong Kong Craft Beer As­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual meet­ing this Jan­uary.

And that, it seems, is what the craft beer scene is all about in Hong Kong: the art of col­lab­o­ra­tion, a com­ing to­gether of brew­ers to pro­duce even bet­ter ales. Which can only be a good thing if you’re seek­ing out great beer in the city.

TAP Mongkok

Clock­wise from above: Lit­tle Crea­tures pub and eatery; Cathay Pa­cific’s Betsy beer; a night at Beer­topia; and Gweilo draft and bot­tled beers

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