Earlier in the year I saw an ad for the Hong Kong Beer Co. hanging at the Asia Contemporary Art Show. I was intrigued: craft beer is being made in Hong Kong. Craft beer is made and consumed all over the world, but it struck me that the thought of local craft beers here in Hong Kong had never crossed my mind.In early December, I finally made an appointment to visit HKBC’s Chai Wan brewery to find out more. Here’s what I found out during my tour (and tasting!)…Take a journey through the brewing process with my graphic! I never knew how complicated it was to make beer. The multitude of beers that are made in the world (e.g. pale ale, stout, lager) vary because of different choices made during the brewing process.How you treat the barley grains (toasted vs. roasted) beforehand, for example, makes a difference; what kind of hops are added for flavour; how long you leave the beer to ferment, and at what temperature; the list goes on…
Conditioning is the final stage when the yeast has finished most of its work, and the beer is matured. Some manufacturers let the beer continue to ferment in the bottle, but HKBC’s beers are filtered and ‘stabilised’ before bottling.While many craft beer makers have sprung up in the past couple of years, HKBC remains the only one in Hong Kong that has its own bottling machinery in-house. And it’s an impressive piece of machinery…
I was told some other smaller craft companies (that don’t outsource their bottling) bottle manually – talk about hands-on dedication!Once the tour was over, it was on to tasting (my favourite part!). HKBC currently produces five different beers, each with a distinct personality. But you won’t find any ‘exotic’ flavours, along the lines of lemongrass, ginger and the like, because they want to make a statement with classic styles, before venturing into more creative blends.
As you’ll notice, all the beers have locally-inspired names. And the tasting went from left (lighter) to right (darker) beers.Gambler’s Gold: Made using toasted barley (resulting in a lighter colour than roasted barley), this beer was the freshest and lightest of the batch. It’s also the one with the lowest alcohol content at under 5%. Fruity and breezy are the words that come to mind…Hong Kong Beer: Named after our beloved city, the HK Beer is also their most popular. Unlike the normal beers I reach for on an evening out (e.g. Heineken, Kronenburg) this beer – and the others – has an aromatic punch to it that immediately feels different from what I’m used to.Dragon’s Back: Probably the perfectly-named beer to enjoy at the end of a hike on Dragon’s Back, this beast is floral, refreshing and a bit bitter.Big Wave Bay: My personal favourite, the Big Wave Bay is an IPA (Indian Pale Ale). According to beer lore, IPAs were developed during the British East India Company’s heyday. More hops were added to preserve the beer over the long voyages undertaken by their sailors. The Big Wave Bay is stronger (at 7% alcohol), with bitter tones alongside a rich aromatic flavour, courtesy of the hops. Sevens: I usually avoid dark beers. So, I was surprised to hear that HKBC’s Sevens is popular with the ladies. After one sip I understood why: charming chocolate and coffee flavours! The dark colour is thanks to the use of roasted barley.HKBC’s beers are not available everywhere in HK, but if you do come across them, I suggest giving them a try! It’s refreshing to try something new, especially when it’s home-grown. According to the team there, HK’s craft brewery scene is a couple of decades behind the US, but they – and others – are catching up one bottle at a time.
Craft beers that are imported to HK from overseas have to sit in boats for months, so the advantage of drinking craft beer produced locally is that your drink will be fresher (yes, beers can get stale, too!).
Thanks for reading, and happy drinking!