Taste of micro-pub culture

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 October, 1997, 12:00am

One of the joys of the micro-breweries that have erupted across North America in the past 20 years is their beer lists. This genre of tap-room literature gives you full details, histories and lore of the hand-crafted beers, ales, lagers and stouts you are about to enjoy.

Poets write these things, in return, I suspect, for a bucket of ale. The descriptions are glowing and penned with love. Alas, there is none of that pub literature at the recently opened East End Brewery in Quarry Bay. Here, the list is sadly bereft of facts and, while the staff are keen and helpful, they cannot give adequate descriptions of the beers - a notable lapse in an otherwise interesting establishment.

So when I went along recently for an impromptu tasting with a few friends, I carried with me the bible for such matters: The Encyclopedia of World Beers; a Reference Guide for Connoisseurs. Written by Graham Lees and Benjamin Myers, this book is as refreshing and enjoyable as a well-chilled Pilsner malt ale on a hot afternoon.

The majority of beers sold at East End hail from micro-breweries in the States, with a couple from Belgium and Holland. Most of these are described in the book. Average price is $38 a bottle.

Two decades after the brew-pub revolution swept California and the Pacific Northwest of the US, the effects are relatively unknown in Hong Kong. There are a few - but, sadly, not enough.

The East End is a fair imitation. Sipping six brightly labelled bottles of ale in the spacious bar, I discovered the brew pub concept is alive - with some significant differences.

They only have two draught brews, and one of these had run out the day I was there. The other, Taikoo Brew, is a good solid wallop.

But these draught beers are not made on the premises. Over the sizeable bar are two large stainless-steel tanks with a large glass window in them. In similar establishments overseas, customers would look through the glass at burly brewers shovelling hops and malt.

Here, the tanks are mere decoration.

I started with a Blind Pig, a heady ale made in Fort Bragg, California. 'Swig it, pig' is the slogan on the label. I did. A nice, darkish, brew with a heavy aftertaste.

There were four of us, and the staff cheerfully gave us four new glasses with every bottle.

Bert Grant's Scottish Ale is made in Yakima, Washington state. This is the hop capital of North America. It's a rich, malty brew - dark and pleasant, with a strong character.

Three Finger Jack from Oregon bills itself as 'A lagered beer for a thirsty frontier'. The labels on many of these micro-beers are works of art and the descriptions alone give you a thirst.

But after three beers, all of them of good quality and brilliantly packaged, the mouth begins to pucker. The problem is, these are made from genuine hops, malt, yeast and water, like the classical German beers, and leave a sweetish residue in the mouth.

Now, if you were having lunch and ordered a ham sandwich with English mustard on brown bread ($55), one of these beers would be a magnificent accompaniment. But just munching peanuts and drinking one dark, sweet beer after another, it's too much like hard work.

The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was different. This is not filtered, and the beer is cloudy. It has a bit of a bite. It has a unique taste.

By the time we got to the Red Tails from Mendocino, a coastal town north of San Francisco and one of the cradles of the brew-pub culture, I was beginning to flag. Once again, this is a solid, very drinkable beer. But this amber ale left a sugary deposit.

The beer selection includes some of the great classics that helped spur the growth of the micro-pub culture.

In the late 1970s, sparked in part by the Real Ale movement in Britain and the search for natural flavour in America, a whole new genre developed in northern California and Oregon and around Seattle. Technology and fresh ideas combined with a wave of revulsion against pallid, commercial beers to create a new phenomenon. The brew pub was born.

However, you can have too much of a good thing, and after tasting six bottles of American brew-pub beers, I was left with a cloying taste.

I finished tasting and headed down the road for a badly needed pint of well-chilled Carlsberg.

East End Brewery G/F, 23-27 Tong Chong Street, Quarry Bay, tel: 2811-1907, Hours: 11.30am-midnight