Ale and hearty

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 12:00am

Anything with the slightest connection to Macau is reaping the windfall as the tiny city rises to fame. So it is not surprising that the sales of Macau Beer tripled from 2003 to last year. This year, the low-profile, low-budget company is targeting a 60 per cent growth rate.

'It became apparent to us years ago that Macau would boom, so we took advantage of that,' said managing director Yuki Saito.

For any foreigner wanting to taste and experience Macau, a glass of its native beer appears the obvious choice. Macau Beer assumes the role of an ambassador, as people who have never set foot in the city can drink it in bars in Shanghai, Beijing and the northeastern provinces of China. Distributors have also been lined up in Singapore and New York, Mr Saito said.

The most popular malty ale is called 'the blond brew', which features a picture of the ruins of St Paul's, Macau's best-known landmark, on the bottle. A lighter ale has the Guia lighthouse, the oldest on the China coast, as its emblem. And a dark ale, brewed from roasted malt, is known as 'amber', and served only in kegs.

'Not many beers in the world are allowed to carry the name of the city,' Mr Saito said. 'For instance, the beer of Zhuhai is named Haizhu, inverting the Chinese characters.' However, carrying the name of Macau does not mean that all the beer is made here. In fact, most of it is brewed in a plant in Zhuhai, although a microbrewery is still operating in Macau.

Behind the scenes, Macau Beer is a hybrid of cultures, just as the city is a melting pot. The company that owns Macau Beer, the Zhuhai Kirin President Brewery, is a joint venture between Japanese company Kirin Brewing and Taiwanese food conglomerate Uni-President Enterprise.

Mr Saito is a Japanese beverage salesman who can pass as a native Mandarin speaker. He regularly plays golf in Macau and conducts business throughout the Pearl River Delta.

Nevertheless, when the joint venture decided to buy the flagging Macau Beer brewery in 2001, the company struggled, sharing the fate of the Macau economy. 'There was a time when we stopped production,' Mr Saito recalled. 'We renovated the brewery facilities and revamped the packaging.'

When the beer was relaunched in 2002, it sold only 5,000 cases that year. But as the brewery's infrastructure got on track, sales rose to 100,000 cases in 2003 and 300,000 cases last year.

With Macau's casinos and tourism industry catering for the mainland market, Macau Beer has jumped on the bandwagon. 'We're targeting the northeastern provinces because they consume a lot of beer there,' Mr Saito said.