Ask the Foodie: Jeff Boda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 9:35am

Jeff Boda, born in Wisconsin in the United States, is a journalist based in Hong Kong and the founder, CEO and "chief beer evangelist" of the craft beer importer Hop Leaf, which supplies boutique brews from countries such as Denmark, the US and Japan to private customers and more than 30 bars and restaurants around the city.

Do you consider yourself a foodie?

I consider myself someone who loves really good food. I suppose I'm a foodie, it goes back to my childhood. The reason I know how bell peppers are supposed to taste, and carrots and fresh-cooked peas, is that we had a garden: we had to go and pick our own stuff. If we wanted berries for cereal in the morning, we ran down the road, and picked blackberries and raspberries among the spider webs.

How did you get interested in beer?

When I went to university I lived above a beer and sub shop that had a local brew for two dollars a pitcher. On Tuesdays it had some imported beers on special - that's when I first started drinking Theakston's Old Peculier, which was probably my first really good imported beer. Flash forward to 1993, I'm interning for a newspaper in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I go out drinking one night, go back to a reporter's house for an after-bar, he introduces me to microbrewed beers, his home-brewed blueberry porter, Miles Davis and John Coltrane all in the same night.

Do you find yourself, when you're cooking or dining out, choosing a particular beer to go with a meal?

Sometimes. I view beer as a means to an end. A beer can stimulate the taste buds and conversation. Beer is not the end in and of itself. A great beer helps to enable a great evening. If I'm having a steak I usually try to find the right beer, but sometimes a glass of wine is better.

Once craft beer goes into a market, it never retreats. It's not a fad. And it's not just the expats drinking it

Do you have a "desert island" beer?

It used to be Saison Dupont, by a Belgian brewery: Saison is one of the few beers that goes with almost every type of food. Now it's Three Floyds Gumballhead from the United States, a hoppy wheat beer, 5½ per cent alcohol, huge honey flavour. Every time I have a Gumballhead it amazes me, 10 years after I first had it: that's the sign of a great beer, that you still find something new in the flavour.

When did you start to think you could improve the beer scene in the city?

In 2008, I was in Beijing, and there was a stout with a strange label in a store and I thought, "That looks like an American import". It was from the North Coast brewery in California. I was shocked - how could mainland China be getting this, but not Hong Kong? I found the importer and got 12 cases across the border from Shenzhen. I thought, "We could probably sell beer in Hong Kong." We formed a company called Foreign Devil that went on for about 18 months, until the original partners flew back to the United States and I said, "I still think there's a business here, let's get a lot more partners", formed Hop Leaf, and it's gone better than I could have hoped.

How do you see the future for craft beer in Hong Kong?

I think 2013 is the year it's going to start growing big. Once craft beer goes into a market, it never retreats. It's not a fad. And it's not just the expats drinking it: go to Biere von Irene in Yuen Long. The clientele is entirely Cantonese, and it had our beer on draught before anyone else.