A fresh pint of view
There's so much more to beer than lager and ale. Our very own beer hunter, Shane Tam, samples the city's best boutique brews
The only thing that gets some people through a hard day at work is the thought of unwinding afterwards at the local pub and downing a pint (or two) of beer.
Some Chinese call beer 'gweilo herbal tea'. It has a fairly low alcohol content and is believed to release the inner heat of the body. Although it's considered a simple drink (if you look at the average drinks list in a Hong Kong restaurant, you'd think there were only about three types) there are many styles of beer made from different ingredients, with a taste spectrum that runs from deep, dark and bitter to mildly sweet.
'Locals like to drink beer, but there aren't enough choices on the market for them to explore new stuff,' says Adam Shield, bar manager at Jubilee in Central. The restaurant and bar, which opened about four months ago, serves more than 90 kinds of beer. More than half are Belgian and the rest come from countries including Australia, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Italy and Greece.
Shield says: 'We have the strongest lager beer in the world, Samichlaus Bier [Santa Claus beer], which is from Austria and is 14 per cent alcohol. We believe that if there is variety, people will be willing to try.'
'There isn't a beer culture in Hong Kong,' says Yau Churk-nam, manager of Lulu Bar & Restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. 'Most people think beer is all lager, which is not true. We offer 20 kinds of beer - from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Turkey and other places. We want to introduce as many options as possible.'
Christian Velten, restaurant manager of the German-themed Schnurrbart, which opened its Tsim Sha Tsui branch 26 years ago, says: 'The older people get, the more open-minded they are in trying new beer. Local people, especially the younger generation, drink beer too fast while playing dice. They want a quick beer, unlike us [Germans], who drink slowly and to appreciate the flavour.' Velten says it takes five to seven minutes to pour a quality draught beer, and it should take about 30 minutes to drink a pint.
Rhys Adams, project and marketing director of Inn Side Out in Causeway Bay, thinks the beer scene is changing for the better. 'Hongkongers pay attention to the quality and taste of the beer they drink. They now tend to choose something other than Heineken or Carlsberg. I see a lot of room for development in the industry.'
His bar stocks more than 70 brands of beer.
The Globe in Hollywood Road, Central, is another haven for beer lovers, offering about 100 types from as far afield as Namibia. 'Hong Kong people aren't satisfied with only the big brands. They're getting more sophisticated and adventurous in trying out new beers,' says general manager Tony Cooper, who believes the perception of the ancient beverage is changing - but that customers need to be educated.
'Beer has always been considered a working-class drink,' he says. 'It's cheaper than wine. The fastest way to educate locals to appreciate beer is to attract them with extensive varieties.
'Sometimes our clients feel intimidated by our long beer list. Many aren't familiar with beer from other countries. My staff and I give advice and help them choose a kind that best fits their expectations. It's about changing the perception that beer is just fizzy lager.'
Unlike wine, which generally improves over time, beer loses its flavour with age. That, and the fact that it's relatively inexpensive, can put people off. 'People drink wine because they consider the 'face' value and they're concerned more with price than quality,' says Yau. 'People feel superior if they can afford to drink wine.'
Adams says: 'Drinking wine represents status. People who drink wine are seen as wealthier.'
Yet as wine becomes more affordable, Adams says people will be more open-minded about trying other drinks, including beer.
'There are books that explain how beer is made, teach how to appreciate beer and pour a glass of beer,' he says. 'But the most persuasive way of changing the social norm of drinking beer is to attract customers to try a new brand each time they visit a bar.
'Hong Kong people are moving away from the big brands and opening up to beer from all over the world,' Adams says. 'But there's still a long way to go before beer is appreciated for its taste and not just as a thirst quencher.'
Tap into the taste
G/F, 39 Hollywood Rd, Central,
tel: 2543 1941
Inn Side Out
G/F, Sunning Plaza, 10 Hysan Ave, Causeway Bay, tel: 2895 2900
Jubilee Restaurant & Bar
G/F & Cockloft, Man On Commercial Building, 12-13 Jubilee St, Central,
tel: 2542 1255
Lulu Bar & Restaurant
Shop 2, 5-6 Hanoi Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui,
tel: 2312 0468
G/F, 9-11 Prat Ave, Tsim Sha Tsui,
tel: 2366 2986
G/F, 29 D'Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong,
tel: 2523 4700