Irish get hopped-up
DELANEY'S has gone designer. The Irish pub chain has put its money where its name is to serve the first beer in Hong Kong to carry the name of the bar it is served in.
To be launched next month, Delaney's Irish Ale heralds a new twist in the territory's premium beer market, which is only just waking up to its first boutique brew. The new ale comes just the way the Irish are drinking it - cold.
Described as a good session beer, the ale is not meant to knock Guinness off its pedestal nor is it the cheap version of a name brand.
'Guinness is like a meal,' says Delaney's director of operations, Clayton Parker. 'You can't drink four or five in a night.' Four or five of their Irish Ales, on the other hand, should slip down smoothly in a single session. 'It will also give lager drinkers an excuse to try something else,' Parker says.
As much as 60 per cent the beer Delaney's sells is Guinness and the Irish Ale is aimed at the other 40 per cent of its market. The ale was created, Parker says, to go with the Delaney's lifestyle. 'Delaney's is a real drinkers' bar. It's important to give people something different. This has its own identity, and gives the pub much more character.' The ale also already has its set of converts - 12 regulars who were included in the selection process.
'It's irrelevant what we want to sell,' Parker says. 'It's what people want to buy.' So they asked the people who they hope will eventually be buying the new product to tell the pub what they wanted.
They also provided a vague recipe of what the Delaney's Irish ale should include. A dozen samples and three or four hours of tastings later, and a formula for the new Delaney's Irish Ale was born.
Combining the best features of three or four samples, the ale is a rich amber colour, with a smooth, full flavour, medium body, medium alcohol, a light nose and very lightly carbonated.
While they were doing the tasting, the panel also developed on a beer vocabulary which can be used to describe the territory's slowly growing range of boutique beers.
The ale has all the best qualities of a micro-brew. It is not pasteurised, contains no preservatives and is made with 100 per cent natural ingredients. 'There is no rice, no corn and no formaldehyde to extend its shelf life,' Parker says.
So he promises drinkers will not wake up in the morning with a hangover caused by additives and preservatives.
Creating their own brand was a more expensive venture than buying from such established brewers as Carlsberg or Fosters.
But the costs haven't been as high as the company thought it might be.
'We thought it would be exorbitant,' Parker says. 'We asked one of the larger breweries if they could do it, but the quantities they wanted us to order were just too large.' So the group sought out Hong Kong's sole micro-brewery, the South China Brewing Company in Aberdeen. 'It was our best option,' Parker adds.
Their first order, to be delivered on November 15, is for 75 kegs, 'which should last us for a couple of weeks'.
If their Irish Ale takes off, the range will be extended. Already, plans are being made for an Irish whiskey, which will be distilled for Delaney's in Ireland. The group has found a distillery and are working on bottle shape, blend and simple logistics, like how to get it to Hong Kong.
The launch of their Irish Ale coincides with the launch of the first Delaney's pub in Thailand at the end of November. Bangkok has one advantage over Hong Kong, Parker says. 'There the locals drink a lot. Here they don't generally.' But the beer culture in Hong Kong is far from flat, even if it takes shape in interesting ways. There's Guinness with a drop of tomato juice, Guinness and cider, Guinness and blackcurrant, even Guinness and straws.
'We had two young women come in at lunchtime and drink their Guinness through straws,' says Lesley McDermott, the manager of Delaney's in Wan Chai. 'The Guinness is so thick the straws just stick straight up, like in a milkshake.'