Craft Beer


Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy ja­son quibi­lan

Brew­ers are tap­ping a new mar­ket as Asian con­sumers de­velop a taste for craft beers

Half­way through a tast­ing ses­sion at a Hong Kong spe­cial­ity beer shop, the ta­ble is lit­tered with half-empty bot­tles. “It re­minds me of a game we used to play in uni,” jokes Nas­ta­sia Malat­esta, one of The Bot­tle Shop’s em­ploy­ees. But the bot­tles don’t con­tain the types of sudsy lagers you’d find at a stu­dent party. In­stead there are ro­bust oat­meal stouts and farm­house ales, hoppy wheat beers and In­dia pale ales.

“It smells like Chi­nese pear,” says a reg­u­lar cus­tomer of the Sai Kung shop, Liam Lee, be­fore he takes a sip of a Dead Frog Fes­tive Win­ter Sai­son, a Cana­dian take on a tra­di­tional Bel­gian farm­house ale. Malat­esta sam­ples a C4 Dou­ble Cof­fee Brown, made by New Zealand’s 8 Wired Brew­ing. “This tastes like Greek cof­fee to me,” she says.

Danny Wong, who owns The Bot­tle Shop with his wife, Tracy Gan, brings out a

large bot­tle of Oro de Cal­abaza, a sour ale brewed with wild yeast by a US craft brew­ery based in Michi­gan called Jolly Pump­kin. He pours a sam­ple into ev­ery­one’s wine glass. “I smell truffles,” says The Bot­tle Shop sales man­ager Joey Chung. Wong takes a sip and says, “It’s like eat­ing an ap­ple with that bit of sour­ness on the front. Drink­ing th­ese beers is in­ter­est­ing be­cause you can never quite put your fin­ger on it. This has a white-wine qual­ity to it.”

Such tast­ing scenes have be­come in­creas­ingly common as a flood of im­ported craft brews has washed over Hong Kong, and the three-day Beer­topia craft beer fes­ti­val drew more than 10,000 peo­ple to the West Kowloon water­front in March. Brewed in small batches with high-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, craft beer is to mass-mar­ket beer what sin­gle-malt Scotch is to bot­tom-shelf blended whisky. Hong Kong now boasts four craft brew­eries, two brew­pubs and a small but ded­i­cated net­work of craft beer bars and

bot­tle shops. It’s a sim­i­lar story across Asia, where a mix of im­ported brews and lo­cal tipples is fos­ter­ing a new and ex­cit­ing cul­ture.

As tastes be­come more so­phis­ti­cated and ad­ven­tur­ous, so do the beers. One of the most ex­per­i­men­tal brew­ers is Mikkeller, which re­cently opened a tap­room in the Bangkok sub­urb of Eka­mai. “It’s most fun to do some­thing that isn’t ex­pected,” says founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. “Thai­land is a new cul­ture for beer. It’s one of those coun­tries where peo­ple are get­ting more money and spend­ing it on bet­ter things, and one of our in­ten­tions is to show peo­ple things they didn’t know al­ready.”

Bjergsø got into brew­ing as a high school sci­ence teacher in Copen­hagen, where he lives with his wife, Pernille Pang (whose fam­ily is from Hong Kong) and their two young daugh­ters. He is now one of the world’s most re­spected “phan­tom brew­ers”—pro­duc­ers with­out a brew­ery who have their recipes brewed by oth­ers.

Last year, Mikkeller pro­duced 124 brews at a care­fully se­lected net­work of brew­eries around the world. There are spon­ta­neously fer­mented lam­bics (fruit beers left in open vats to cap­ture dis­tinc­tive wild yeasts), ul­tra-low-al­co­hol beers packed with hop flavour, and baroque con­coc­tions such as Mexas Ranger, which is a stout made with five kinds of malt, three dif­fer­ent hops, black beans, hor­chata, co­coa, av­o­cado leaves and five types of Mex­i­can chillis.

Bjergsø spends much of his time cre­at­ing new recipes, of­ten in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other brew­ers or with some of the world’s top restau­rants, in­clud­ing Noma in Copen­hagen and El Celler de Can Roca in Cat­alo­nia, Spain. “One of my beers is a 12 per cent im­pe­rial stout, re­ally thick and creamy,” he says, spec­i­fy­ing its al­co­hol con­tent. “I wanted to make a ver­sion with dif­fer­ent spices in it—cin­na­mon and vanilla, two dif­fer­ent chillis, co­coa, co­conut flakes. So I tried to make an ex­tract out of th­ese things. I just opened up the bot­tle, added it to the beer and tasted it.”



At its most ba­sic, beer has just four in­gre­di­ents: wa­ter, grain, hops and yeast. Th­ese of­fer so much va­ri­ety that even the most straight­for­ward beers can taste rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent due to var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of malted bar­ley or hops. There’s a clear dis­tinc­tion be­tween the mango and pas­sion­fruit char­ac­ter­is­tics of Aus­tralian Galaxy hops and the bit­ter, pine-like notes of Amer­i­can Cen­ten­nial hops, for ex­am­ple. De­pend­ing on the amount of fer­mentable sugar in a brew, a beer’s al­co­hol by vol­ume can range from 1 to 18 per cent, though some brew­ers have suc­ceeded in mak­ing whiskys­trength beer by freez­ing it re­peat­edly to con­cen­trate the al­co­hol.

Craft beer em­braces the use of ad­juncts, such as fruit or spices, which can add in­trigu­ing new di­men­sions. This has been used to great ef­fect by Ja­panese brewer Shiro Ya­mada, who was study­ing at Cam­bridge Univer­sity when he at­tended a lec­ture by Karan Bil­imo­ria, an en­tre­pre­neur who cre­ated a brand of beer to pair with curry. “I thought I could do that with Ja­panese food,” says Ya­mada. His ex­per­i­men­ta­tion fi­nally ar­rived at the recipe for Kagua Blanc, a Bel­gianstyle wheat beer made with the Ja­panese yuzu fruit, and Kagua Rouge, a ruby-red Bel­gian dark ale brewed with fra­grant san­sho spice.

In Beijing, Great Leap Brew­ing makes six beers with Chi­nese tea, in­clud­ing Iron Bud­dha Blonde, Dan­shan Wheat (made with gongfu tea), and Three Door Tripel, a strong Bel­gian ale made with os­man­thus tea. “The flower tea adds a beau­ti­ful fin­ish­ing note that helps ob­fus­cate some of the harsher al­co­hol notes,” says brew­mas­ter Carl Set­zer.

Tea-in­fused brews are not the only dis­tinc­tively Chi­nese beer Great Leap of­fers. Its best-sell­ing Honey Ma Gold is an easy-drink­ing ale en­livened by flo­ral, mouth-tin­gling Sichuan pep­per­corns. The brew­ery is also pi­o­neer­ing the use of Chi­nese hops; Set­zer praises the mint and melon notes found in a Qing­dao Flower hop.

With so many com­bi­na­tions of in­gre­di­ents, it’s easy for brew­mas­ters to go over­board. “The most im­por­tant thing in a beer is bal­ance,” ex­plains


Jeppe Jar­nit-bjergsø, the twin brother of Mikkeller’s Mikkel as well as the founder of Evil Twin Brew­ing in New York. (The pair’s con­tentious re­la­tion­ship was the sub­ject of a New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file head­lined “A Fight is Brew­ing” ear­lier this year.)

Jar­nit-bjergsø once brewed a beer with mo­lasses, choco­late, al­mond, hazel­nut, vanilla beans, cin­na­mon, oak, chilli, marsh­mal­lows, mus­co­v­ado sugar, chest­nuts and cof­fee. He called it Bozo to poke fun at the max­i­mal­ist ten­den­cies of many craft brew­ers, in­clud­ing his brother. But he’s no stranger to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion him­self, mak­ing In­dia pale ales with Bret­tanomyces—a wild yeast once ab­horred for giv­ing beer a flavour known as “horse blan­ket”—and age­ing many of his beers in bar­rels that pre­vi­ously housed wine and spir­its.

Bar­rel age­ing is one of beer’s new fron­tiers. “Brew­ing gets re­ally tech­ni­cal,” says Søren Erik­sen, a Dan­ish brewer who runs 8 Wired Brew­ing in New Zealand. “With bar­rel age­ing, it’s much more down to na­ture. You lose con­trol a lit­tle bit. You just have to go with it and see what comes out.”

Erik­sen has about 220 bar­rels, mostly white-wine bar­rels from New Zealand’s Marl­bor­ough re­gion, which he is us­ing to age 25 beers. “The one I’m most ex­cited about is the fei­joa. It’s a South Is­land fruit that is pretty much only grown in New Zealand,” says Erik­sen. “I’ve never tasted or smelled the flavour any­where else.”

Other brew­eries use dif­fer­ent bar­rels to cre­ate dis­tinct ver­sions of the same beer, al­low­ing the qual­i­ties of the bar­rel to play off the beer’s in­gre­di­ents like mu­si­cians riff­ing in a jazz group. Mikkeller Black, a 17.2 per cent im­pe­rial stout

whose la­bel car­ries the Chi­nese character for black (黑), is sold in var­i­ous edi­tions named after the pre­vi­ous con­tents of their bar­rels, such as Co­gnac, Cal­va­dos, Grand Marnier, Is­lay whisky and tequila. “It lifts the beer to a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion,” says Mikkel. In one case, he aged a sour beer in Sauternes bar­rels. “It gave it a bal­ance that is re­ally amaz­ing.”

That’s some­thing Hong Kong-based Ro­hit Du­gar is hop­ing to achieve with his first bar­rel-aged brew, a 10 per cent rye beer cur­rently stored in Tem­ple­ton Rye whiskey bar­rels. “There needs to be some­thing in the beer that pairs nat­u­rally with what­ever was in the bar­rel,” he says.

Since launch­ing Young Master Ales last year, Du­gar has demon­strated an ap­petite for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. In ad­di­tion to his year­round line-up, he has re­leased a sum­mer wheat beer made with chan pei (dried orange peels) and a cock­tail of five in­gre­di­ents— ze­doary, co­rian­der seeds, chrysan­the­mum, chamomile and white pep­per. He also col­lab­o­rated with New Zealand’s Re­nais­sance Brew­ing to make Siu Sau­vin, a sin­gle-hop wheat beer that showcases the dis­tinc­tively goose­berry-like Nel­son Sau­vin hop. “Peo­ple com­pare it to sau­vi­gnon blanc,” says Du­gar. “To me, I get crushed berries and an el­der­flower nose to it.”

The re­ceived wis­dom is that drinkers in Asia, weaned on wa­tery mass-mar­ket lagers, need to be eased into craft beer. But there may be more ap­petite for ad­ven­ture than one might ex­pect. Set­zer says he of­ten sees Bei­jingers in­tro­duced to Great Leap brews by for­eign friends. Though re­luc­tant at first, they soon re­turn to try all the brews. “Within a month you’ll see that cus­tomer come back with a group of his own friends.”

Back at The Bot­tle Shop, no­body needs any con­vinc­ing. “Beer lost the PR bat­tle to wine and there’s no rea­son why it should have,” says cus­tomer Chris Wil­liams. “Beer is a lot more com­plex than wine. It’s the real con­nois­seur’s choice.”

brim­ming with pride Craft beer comes in all shapes and sizes, in­clud­ing An­der­son Val­ley’s The Kim­mie The Yink & The Holy Gose, Evil Twin’s Noma Ox­alis and Nip­pon Craft Beer’s Kagua Rouge; The Round­house in Hong Kong fea­tures 24 craft beers on tap

go with the flow Nip­pon Craft Beer’s Kagua Blanc is brewed in Bel­gium with yuzu from Ja­pan

roll out the bar­rels Søren Erik­sen is the Dan­ish brewer who runs New Zealand’s renowned 8 Wired Brew­ing

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