Five places to tap into Hong Kong's craft beer revolution
These are heady days for the city's craft beer scene, with new varieties arriving every week. Here's our guide to the best places to sample the newest local and imported brews
Hong Kong has fallen in love with craft beer. Never before have there been so many good beers available in the city: local brews you can't get anywhere else in the world, plus imported tipples with assertive, unfamiliar flavours. And while craft beer still makes up a minuscule portion of the overall beer market, the experience of other countries shows that when change comes, it comes quickly. In the United States, craft beer's share of the market rose from 5 per cent in 2010 to 11 per cent last year. Ready to jump on the bandwagon?
Mong Kok? Really? That was the question people asked when TAP opened its doors in December in an under-the-radar corner of Kowloon. Breaking away from the Central/Sheung Wan crowd turned out to be a wise course of action: TAP is packed almost every night with a mix of people you won't find on any Island-side bar.
"We always divide the market into the expat crowd and the local crowd, and it's been a surprise how well they have both responded," says manager James Ling.
What they're drawn to, beyond the electric blue walls and a soundtrack that jumps from Meatloaf to My Little Airport, is the list of 16 draught beers. Half the brews are local, mostly from Young Master Ales, including the decadent 1842 Imperial IPA and zesty seasonals like the Mo'Mo' Wit, a light wheat beer made with five local herbs and spices. The other half is a wide range of imported India Pale Ales, stouts, sour beers and others. The list changes every season, but two guest taps turn over more frequently, so there's always something new on offer. A special nitro tap is reserved for stouts, which benefit from the creamier feel produced by nitrogen rather than the usual carbon dioxide.
Food is another surprise here: hearty Hong Kong-inspired sandwiches suxch as a siu yuk cubano (roast pork Cuban sandwich) and hau shui gai wrap (Sichuan style chicken wrap), along with beer bread pintxos topped by lap cheong schmear (Chinese sausages), local honey and brie, and more.
Long before there was anything close to a craft beer scene in Hong Kong, there was The Globe. For years, owner Toby Cooper has stocked his spacious pub with an ever-changing range of beers from around the world, and he has always provided a platform for local brewers and craft enthusiasts, with regular homebrewing events, tap takeovers and beer-pairing dinners.
At the same time, this is not a specialist bar: The Globe is the kind of place you can bring your non-beer-loving friends without worrying they'll feel left out. And who knows - maybe they'll find something they like, after all. "What we've always tried to do is push people out of their comfort zone and give them an alternative," says Cooper.
That is now easier than ever, with a new 18-tap draught system and hundreds of bottles from around the world. "We're trying to get as much local beer as we can," says Cooper. The selection changes frequently, but you'll always find draught brews from Young Master Ales, along with newcomers such as Black Kite and Gweilo Beer. The Hong Kong Beer Company produces a creamy hand-pumped cask ale for The Globe in a nod to the pub's British heritage.
Speaking of British things, when the beer munchies strike, you're in luck: The Globe's British grub is some of the best in town, especially the homemade pies.
The Roundhouse was a game-changer when it opened its high-ceilinged SoHo tap room in 2013. With 24 frequently changing taps of craft beer, the selection is as varied as you'll find in Hong Kong. On any given day, you might find a sour fruit IPA from Denmark's avant-garde To Ol brewery, an easy-drinking amber ale from Shanghai's Boxing Cat or a bourbon barrel-aged stout from California's Anderson Valley.
"Every time we run out of one, we put on a different beer," says manager Demilo Torrente. "If you have 24 taps, it's really fun to play with. In the beginning it was all about IPAs, but now people are demanding different styles - hoppy pilsners, barley wines, English bitters."
Like the Globe, the Roundhouse has a packed schedule of special events; it recently hosted a meet-the-brewer session with Kjetil Jikiun from Norway's Nogne O. "People are starting to come here from other countries, like Singapore or South Korea, just to have some beers," says Torrente.
On the sud-soaking front, the Roundhouse offers a menu of Texas-style barbecue, with homemade smoked brisket, sausage and pulled pork, not to mention homestyle snacks like fried pickles, cheesy fries and pigs in a blanket.
Since it opened in Sai Kung in the summer of 2013, the Bottle Shop has become a popular seaside haunt for beer lovers, with a huge selection of bottled brews from around the world. "They get beers here and go to the beach or into the mountains," says manager Reiko Chan. Home delivery is also available through the shop's website.
Now the business is taking things one step further by opening a tap room on Bridges Street in Sheung Wan. When renovations are finished in early autumn, it will feature 20 craft taps, plus wine, cocktails and takeaway bottles of beer.
Variety has always been the Bottle Shop's strong suit, with a stock that goes beyond the usual pale ales and stouts to include plenty of yeast-driven beers such as wild-fermented gueuzes and farmhouse saisons. Highlights include adventurous brewers such as New Zealand's Garage Project and 8Wired Brewing, which has a large barrel-ageing programme, along with American lager specialists Jack's Abby, experimental Swedish brewers Omnipollo and the boundary-pushing Evil Twin, whose beers range from the hoppy, low-alcohol Bikini Beer to the complex, extra-strong I Love You With My Stout.
Tomi Ho was never much of a beer lover - until he discovered there was more to brewing than "just Carlsberg and San Miguel", he says. So when he opened a new restaurant in Sheung Wan last year, he decided to pair its beef-heavy menu with a long list of craft beers.
"Every three months we have a new list," says Ho. Expect to be surprised: Crafty Cow's selection of around 30 bottles does not play it safe, with entries such as the Rogue Old Crustacean barley wine and Kagua Rouge, a dark Belgian ale made with Japanese sansho pepper, a fruitier cousin of the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn. Two draught beers round out the selection: the easy-drinking Mountain Goat Steam Ale from Australia and a rotating guest tap, which is now fixed on the fruity, hoppy Mass Rising Imperial Pale Lager from Jack's Abby.
Though Crafty Cow was conceived as a restaurant, its relaxed atmosphere and abundance of bar seating makes it a good spot for a more casual beer and bite. "About 30 per cent of people just come for the beers," says Tomi. "They stay the whole night and try almost everything on the list."
Eight Hong Kong breweries making craft beer
Not long ago, it was virtually impossible to find a local beer in Hong Kong. Now there are eight locally based brewing companies that make everything from easy-drinking summer ales to complex beers with seasonal ingredients.
Location: Wong Chuk Hang
Location: Wong Chuk Hang
Location: Chai Wan
Location: Chai Wan
Location: Tsuen Wan
Location: Kwun Tong
Location: Lamma Island
Location: Ap Lei Chau