Hong Kong's thirst for the "water of life" is on the rise as more whisky drinkers look beyond the big brands, according to the owner of a specialist whisky bar in Central. "When we first opened in November 2010, customers were mostly interested in Macallan and Highland Park, the biggest brands in whisky," said Emily Chiang, co-founder of whisky bar 001 and an adjoining shop. "But now a lot of our regular customers are exploring smaller brands and we are beginning to see the same trends that wines went through. "Typically, Hongkongers enjoy Speyside whiskies, which tend to be slightly sweeter," she added, referring to an area in the northwest of Scotland around the River Spey. While national sales figures had dropped, Chiang said, "the whisky market in Hong Kong has increased by at least 50 per cent in terms of sales and product range in the last three years". Earlier this month, Scottish expatriate Ian McKerrow hosted the city's first festival dedicated to malt whisky with about 200 people raising their glasses to the amber-coloured drink that has an alcohol strength ranging from 40 per cent to 53 per cent. Single malt whisky is made with malted barley, water and yeast whereas blended whiskies - which are often cheaper and more readily available - use a mix of malt with corn or rye. McKerrow said the Scottish whisky industry had a history of "boom and bust" cycles but was in an upswing. "Thirty years ago, malt whisky was 1 per cent of all bottled Scotch in Scotland but now it is 20 per cent," he said. Chiang says it will still be a few years before the mainland market catches up to Hong Kong.