The Brewers of the Far East

Located in the corner of the industrial area in Chai Wan is the Hong Kong Beer Company, the first craft beer brewery established in Hong Kong. Craft beer is made in small batch breweries, with its own distinct recipes and ingredients, differentiating it from other commercial beer companies.

Hong Kong Beer Company started off as South China Beer Company in 1995 in Aberdeen. The company is a small brewery with only 8 workers, producing 3,000 hectolitres of beer per year, which is relatively small compared to other breweries. However, it produces various kinds of craft beer including light beer, wheat beer, pale ale, stout, amber ale, IPA, and many others. It was featured in the South China Morning Post as one of the best craft breweries in Hong Kong, where its IPA won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup, known as Olympics of beer industries, and Best Stout Award at the Hong Kong Best Beer Championship.

Devin Kimble, the director of the Hong Kong Beer Company

The current head of the Hong Kong Beer Company is Devin Kimble, aged 54, who graduated Cornell School of Hotel Administration. He first came to Asia in 1994 to work for Dan Ryan’s in Hong Kong. He then founded and came to own one of the largest craft beer brewpubs in Singapore in 1997, when craft beer was still a unique concept in Asia. He became the 4th owner of the Hong Kong Beer Company after purchasing it from the previous owner in August 2013.

“I sold the one in Singapore because I saw that Hong Kong was a market that was very underserved,” said Kimble, “it has grown rapidly in America, it’s beginning to grow rapidly in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Asia hasn’t really taken off yet so it looks like we have a very good opportunity in the region.”

The craft beer industry in Hong Kong was not big, mainly due to its unfamiliarity among the Asian countries. There were only two breweries in Hong Kong when Kimble purchased the Hong Kong Beer Company. In the United States, craft beer generates 20% of the revenue for the beer industry, whereas in Hong Kong, it is under 1% percent. Multinational commercial beer companies hold most parts of the beer market. However, in recent years, craft beer in Hong Kong is experiencing rapid growth in popularity, especially among the younger generations who travel around the world and experience better dining and spirits.

“Beer is a nice thing, like coffee is, it’s an affordable luxury. Particularly for the younger generations, it’s hard to afford wine all the time so beer is the one that is interesting. Craft beer’s got more flavor than those industrial lagers,” said Kimble, “it’s about differentiation. The beer has huge, wide range of different flavors, and it’s a very compelling thing to go with food.”

Kimble said the major advantage of the Hong Kong market over Singapore is a larger beer consumers base. Muslim nations are surrounding Singapore, and so there are fewer alcohol consumers. In Hong Kong, however, there are over 60 million people within a day’s drive from Guangdong Province, which works as a great export market for craft beer.

The brewery in the Hong Kong Beer Company

The interest about craft beer among Hong Kong people has been increasing the production of beer. Before Kimble was the director of Hong Kong Beer Company, its beer production was made once a month, but today, it is produced four times a week. This was followed by an increase in the size of the company, which had 100% growth last year, and it is expected to have another 100% increase for this year as well. It also brought major suppliers of ingredients to enter the Hong Kong market.

“We get our malts from Germany, and our hops are from the US company’s hop storage facilities in Hong Kong,” said Simon Pesch, the brewmaster of Hong Kong Beer Company who has 25 career years of brewing beer, “we get our yeast from Oregon, but there is also Yeast Bank set up here as well, so it’s interesting, where we are seeing more and more stuff coming into the region.”

The growth in the market followed with an increasing number of local craft breweries, which was increased to more than 20. However, Kimble did not consider them as competitors.

“The bad guys are the big guys. Now we are seeing a very big push from huge multi-billion dollar craft breweries. So these are the ones that we are hard to compete against,” said Kimble, “The guys who are local craft brewers are, you know, they are friends and colleagues. We try to support them, and if they need anything, we share those stuff back and forth, because it’s the big guys that want to close us out of the market.”

There are now challenges for the local breweries to produce better products in order to compete against the world-class breweries in the growing Hong Kong market. It also becomes important to have uniqueness to the beer, where the types of beer have become more diverse than before and therefore need to differentiate it from others to gain competitiveness.

“You can have different hops, yeasts, and brewing techniques to brew a beer,” said Pesch, “they are like herbs and spices that chefs use to foods. We use them to change taste, flavor profile and alcohol degree.”

Hong Kong Beer Company’s over 20 years of history has shown that craft beer in Hong Kong has a potential to grow. Despite the entrance of the ‘big guys,’ the local craft beer breweries are expected to continue their growth in the future. Kimble is planning to increase the next year’s production up to 5000 hectolitres and expand the business in coming years.

 

Writer & Photo: Seong Hyeon Choi (Vincent)

Editor: Ng Nok Hei

Copy Editor: Sara Furxhi

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