Roll out the Barrel
27 November 2013
Gastro-pub The Globe features a wide range of craft beer from around the world
Whether you’re in the heart of Wan Chai or the heartland of Yuen Long, it has long been held that you can easily, and affordably, enjoy a cold beer in Hong Kong. What’s new is that while Hong Kong is now the world’s leading wine hub, it is also a burgeoning oasis for beer lovers, thanks in large part to strong demand. It also helps that Hong Kong’s zero wine tariff extends to beer. But it’s not just any lager that Hong Kong consumers crave: craft beer is enjoying strong demand among local consumers.
Beer accounted for 88 per cent of Hong Kong’s total alcoholic consumption in volume terms, compared to wine consumption at about nine per cent, and spirits at 2.5 per cent, according to the 2011 Government of Canadian report “Consumer Trends – Wine, Beer and Spirits in Hong Kong.” Despite the small percentage of volume sales, wine represented about 35 per cent of total alcoholic sales by value.
The report concluded that beer demand in Hong Kong is expected “to rise steadily, attributable to the widespread embrace of westernised drinking habits by the young and affluent Hong Kong population. Progressive economic recovery is likely to lead to customers trading up to premium lager. Furthermore, the demand for stout remains strong given the perceived associated health benefits.”
A Euromonitor report in 2011 projects that 74 million litres of beer would be consumed in Hong Kong in 2013, up from 68.9 million litres in 2008. In 2015, the figure is expected to reach 74.9 million litres. That’s roughly 10 litres of beer consumed by each of Hong Kong’s seven million residents.
Some of the microbrews available from the Hop Leaf
Business is particularly booming in the fast-growing craft beer market. A Microbrewery, by definition, produces less than six million bottles a year. This is a far cry from the beer scene in the early 1990s, when Samuel Adams, from the United States, and Moosehead beer, from Canada, were about as exotic as it got. Now there are hundreds of choices available in the city. Companies have sprung up to import and distribute craft beer, including Hop Leaf, AmeriCraft Imports and The Bottle Shop, all of which were started by beer enthusiasts.
“Hop Leaf has seen its craft beer sales more than double at the wholesale level in the past year,” said co-founder Jeff Boda. “It's clear there is the demand here for craft beer; the question is how big it will grow in the end. One thing to watch, I think, is how local craft breweries do once they come online.”
Beertopia has become an annual microbrew festival in Hong Kong
Such strong demand for premium beer has resulted in Beertopia, Hong Kong's largest international craft beer festival. Started in 2012, this year’s festival attracted more than 6,000 beer lovers, sampling from more than 250 types of beer from around the world. The festival also included food, live music, lectures and games. The Lan Kwai Fong’s Beer and Music Festivals this year included Craft Beer Street on Wo On Lane, where more than a dozen stalls poured thousands of beers during a hot summer weekend.
Pubs and restaurants throughout the city now offer premium beer made in the United States, Belgium, Denmark, Japan and elsewhere. The Globe, in Central, has been pouring suds since the mid-1990s. On a good Friday night, The Globe can ring up food and alcohol sales totalling more than US$32,000.
Beyond the Green Bottles
“Craft beer in Hong Kong is improving on two fronts,” said Patrick Gatherer, Manager of The Globe. “First of all, there are more kinds of beer on the market than there ever have been, and it continues to grow. Secondly, there are more people interested in trying new things, moving beyond the same three green bottles of beer. It’s brilliant.”
It’s not all smooth pouring, of course. Recently, the Inn Side Out pub had to shut its doors after the landlord decided to redevelop its prime Causeway Bay location. There are also hurdles to overcome on the supplier side.
“There’s limited storage space. Most bars and restaurants don’t have cold storage,” said Laurie Goldberg of AmeriCraft Imports, adding that the large restaurant groups control entry into many bars and restaurants. Additional factors include exclusive sales contracts, the lack of craft beer knowledge among servers, and grey market/parallel imports. Ms Goldberg said it costs about US$4,500 to ship a 20-foot container from Oakland to Hong Kong in three to four weeks, which works out to about one US cent per bottle or can.
Other issues facing Hong Kong’s beer business include a rising demand for mixed cocktails, the availability of high-quality home-brew kits online from such outlets as Hong KongBeerEnthusiast.hk, as well as increased competition among distributors and retailers.
For the consumer, however, it means only one thing: that Hong Kong will remain a beer oasis for many pints to come.
- Food & Beverages
- Hong Kong
- North America
- Western Europe