Here's cheers: tap into the world of crafty brews

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am


According to Jonathan So Shing-bong, the city has never had a genuine beer festival, featuring products from a wide range of different brewers, of the sort that European and American beer fans will be familiar with.

So the 29-year-old Toronto-born beer enthusiast, whose parents hail from Hong Kong, is organising the Beertopia beer festival.

Although So developed a taste for craft beer during his time as a student at Columbia University in New York, the idea for Beertopia came to him, he says, after he visited Beerfest Asia in Singapore two years ago.

'I was impressed. I didn't expect much, but there were 30,000 people drinking 150 different beers over four days. I thought, 'How come Hong Kong doesn't have anything like this?' I didn't do anything for two years, and then late last year I decided to really put my head to it.'

Beertopia will offer more than 90 different beers to sample in a wide range of styles, from 10 different countries, including Estonia, New Zealand, Britain, the United States, Australia and Japan, as well as Hong Kong's own two breweries, Hong Kong Beer and the tiny Typhoon Brewery from Lantau.

The main thrust of the festival is to expose local drinkers to the varieties of beers that other countries take for granted.

While Singapore now has nine different small craft brewers, and Shanghai and Beijing have thriving craft beer scenes, Hong Kong lags some way behind. 'In Hong Kong, it's hard to know what craft beer is because you don't see it that often,' So says. 'Nine out of 10 bars won't have any craft beer, so people aren't aware what it is.'

The gathering, he says, will give people a chance to learn more. 'I'm encouraging all the vendors to have staff on hand who will be able to chat about the beers, and not just have people serving.'

The biggest challenge in establishing the festival, So says, was finding a large enough venue that was easy to get to. Eventually, he settled on a space in Western Market on Des Voeux Road, which can accommodate 800 drinkers.

Finding suppliers for glasses was another problem: 'A thousand glasses seems like plenty, but it's not enough. Larger factories aren't interested, they won't give you a favourable quote, probably because they aren't interested. And the smaller companies are less competitive on price. But we did find one in Hong Kong that could add our logo at a fair price.'

Food will be provided by Pyjama Hong Kong, which also catered for this year's Sevens, and there will be games such as beer pong for those looking to test their motor skills under the influence.

'We'll also have lectures on beer tasting and on matching beer with food. Avid home brewer Adam Goldberg, from the beer supplier AmeriCraft Imports, will talk about home brewing. It will become an annual event, if there's enough appetite and interest in it,' says So.

One beer lover looking forward to meeting the public is Jeff Boda, the 41-year-old American journalist who is chief executive of Hop Leaf, which imports craft beers from the US and Japan for thirsty Hongkongers.

'We'll be offering pretty much every style of beer: lagers, stouts, porters, smoother British-style pale ales and the more hopped-up India pale ales that are proving popular in the US. We've got Dead Guy from Rogue Beers, which is a German-style Maibock,' says Boda.

'We're trying to cover the entire spectrum of beer. If people say, 'I'm only familiar with lagers, can you show me different styles?' we can give them six different pours, of six different types of beer, from light ones through more roasted styles, to higher alcohol, more bitter varieties.

'There's a huge potential market here in Hong Kong for craft beer, especially with people who come from Hong Kong and have been exposed to them overseas. If something is good, Hong Kong people latch on to it and will buy it.'



Saturday, April 28, 12 noon to 11pm

2/F Western Market, Sheung Wan

Entry: with a glass and five beer tokens, HK$250; with a glass and 10 beer tokens, HK$300.

One token buys a four-ounce sampler of beer or a snack.

Tickets will be available on the door, but organisers advise buying in advance. They can be obtained online at; The Globe in Graham Street, SoHo; The Beer Bay at the Discovery Bay ferry pier in Central; Liquid Assets wine store in Jardine House, Connaught Road.