Brewing in Hong Kong
Craft beer brand Hong Kong Beer Co seeks to convert locals to more complex brews.
03 February 2015
The Hong Kong Beer Co is capitalising on the city’s growing thirst for craft beers. Established in 1995 as the South China Brewing Company, the business relaunched in 2003 with its new name, producing locally brewed craft beer.
From its Chai Wan brewery, the company produces five lines, with many named after the city’s key landmarks and events: Hong Kong Beer, Big Wave Bay IPA, Dragon’s Back Pale Ale, Gambler’s Gold Golden Ale and Sevens Stout.
“Local Hongkongers are proud to be selling these beers,” said Simon Pesch, the company’s award-winning brewmaster. Mr Pesch, who moved to Hong Kong in 2013, is among the frontrunners of the real-ale revolution in the city. With almost 20 years of brewing experience under his belt, Mr Pesch relocated from Berkeley’s Pyramid Brewery in the United States, where his concoctions helped to establish the trend for stronger, hoppier, malty beers on the US West Coast. He hopes to establish a similar trend in Hong Kong with the brand’s five beers.
Most popular is its Hong Kong Beer, which accounts for 60 per cent of its total production. “It’s our most approachable brew – not too sweet, bitter or strong. I’ve had people tell me our beers have too much flavour, but that's unfortunately the local palate. Nevertheless, a lot of young Hongkongers enjoy our Sevens Stout – it’s an oatmeal stout, and people who have a palate for coffee and chocolate really appreciate it.”
Educating Local Palates
Mr Pesch is excited by the prospect of turning on a new generation of beer drinkers to craft brews. “Educating the local palate is a bit of a challenge – but a good one, and people are slowly becoming more accustomed to them. When I met with the owners of the company, they told me they wanted to make American-style craft beer, and put Hong Kong beer on the map. The [craft beer] market is currently wide open in Hong Kong and we have a good infrastructure in place to move into China and other big population centres in Asia,” he said.
“The [craft beer] market is currently wide open in Hong Kong and we have a good infrastructure in place to move into China and other big population centres in Asia.”
The company has received plenty of interest in its product, particularly from the Chinese mainland. “There are no real restrictions on making beer in Hong Kong, unlike mainland China,” he said. “The certification required is not too difficult to work with, and beer that’s made here is not taxed, unlike in the US.”
The Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department granted the company a temporary food license to operate as a food factory last March, and in the same month, the brand made its debut at local ale festival Beertopia.
A Trend for Draft
The Hong Kong Beer Co is the only brewery with large-scale bottling capability in the city, and about 70 per cent of what it produces is bottled. It also supplies draft beer to several bars and hotels.
“We hope to secure more draft accounts, and have noticed that food and beverage companies in Hong Kong are changing; they’re interested to bring in more local beer, and we’re definitely expecting to do more draft this year.”
Mr Pesch said there is increasing demand from bars and retail locations for its home-grown ales; so much so that its 6,000 hectolitres (5,000 barrels) capacity a year may not be enough and the company is considering increasing production to 10,000 hectolitres (8,386 barrels). “We’re expecting to outgrow this facility quite quickly. We’ll probably still keep and operate it, but we’ll need additional premises as we expand into an international company. We’ll still be a craft brewery, but want to grow exponentially.”
Part of those growth plans include exporting overseas this year to Singapore, the Philippines and Taiwan. “We want our distribution lines to be sustainable – it’s not just about packing it into a container, but knowing where it goes and being able to properly represent it, so we’ll be developing relationships with the supply chain. There’s a certain cost in manufacturing small amounts of beer, and the cost of overheads obviously becomes less and less as sales increase.”
The company this year plans to launch cross-promotions with the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens with its Sevens Stout, and will return to the Lan Kwai Fong Beer & Music Fest in July. To further boost brand visibility, it will take part in the “Battle of the Brews” at the Space in Sheung Wan next month, when guests can sample up to 30 beers available in the city and crown a champion.
Such events are evidence that the city is fast-developing a taste for microbrews. “While the Hong Kong market is 20 years behind the US, I don’t think it will take 20 years for Hong Kong to reach the same level of saturation as the US,” says Mr Pesch. I think it’ll be more like five or six years.”
- Food & Beverages
- Hong Kong
- North America