HK Magazine Archive

What Was the First Beer in Hong Kong?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 10:20am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:05pm

Naturally, beer appeared in Hong Kong as soon as the British did. By 1844 pubs began springing up in the colony, selling beer imported from the UK. But towards the end of the 19th century, British ales—which don’t travel all that well—began to be replaced by European and American lagers instead. The Japanese Kirin beer made its appearance in Hong Kong as early as 1901, and it’s still in our 7-Elevens today.  

As far as Hong Kong breweries go, it wasn’t until 1907 that the Imperial Brewing Company started producing beer for the Hong Kong’s thirsty masses, based out of Happy Valley. But it wouldn’t be Hong Kong without a bit of healthy competition, and the Imperial Brewing Company was followed a year later by the Oriental Brewery in Lai Chi Kok. The Oriental Brewery had state-of-the-art facilities and the much larger operation soon drummed Imperial out of the market, leaving it to go head-to-head with beers brewed in Japan, the Philippines and China—specifically Tsingtao beer, brewed on the German-colonized peninsula of Qingdao by the Anglo-German Brewery (the name was changed in 1915 to the Tsingtao Brewery when the two countries went to war).

But the Oriental Brewery—tagline, “The Beer that’s Brewed to Suit the Climate”—suffered, and by the end of 1912 it went into liquidation. The brewery was bought by the same family that had founded the San Miguel Brewery in 1891 in the Philippines, and all that state-of-the-art brewery equipment was shipped off to Manila.

And so for another 21 years the city labored on without a brewery. It wasn’t until 1933 that Parsee Hongkonger JH Ruttonjee opened another brewery in Sham Tseng. After a few financial troubles it finally became a successful brewery. Taken over by the Japanese during the Occupation, the brewery was returned to Ruttonjee before finally being sold to the San Miguel corporation in 1948. San Miguel brewed beer in Sham Tseng until 1994 when it moved to Yuen Long, where it operates to this day. The city’s longest-lasting brewery: San Mig. Think of that next time you turn up your nose at a bottle.  

And what of that classic Hong Kong beer, Blue Girl? It’s marketed like a European import, and Hongkongers will all be familiar with the ads, full of statuesque blue-eyed blonde-haired Blue Girls, as that Foreigner tune warbles underneath: “I’ve been waiting for a girl like you / To come into my life / I’ve been waiting for someone new / To make me feel alive.” But of course, Blue Girl isn’t remotely European. It’s actually owned by the Hong Kong company Jebsen & Co… and it’s brewed in South Korea. What better sign that the age of imported European beer is over?