Where to Drink in Hong Kong, China

Destinations by | Oct 2014 | Issue #93

Illustration by Sam Brewster

Three years ago, there wasn’t much of a beer scene in Hong Kong. Now it is one of the most exciting cities for craft beer in Asia, with a growing community of brewers, bar owners and independent importers doing their part to give local taste buds an alternative to fizzy light lagers.

Hong Kong has always been a free port, and from its earliest days as a British colony, the local market was flooded with imported beer. British Porter was the original tipple of choice, only to be replaced by Japanese lagers. So began a century of mass-market brand domination.

Things began to change in 2008, when Hong Kong’s government removed all tax on beer, wine and liquor below 30 percent alcohol by volume. That made it affordable for enthusiasts to import small batches of craft beer from abroad. In 2012, a handful of these micro-importers took part in Beertopia, Hong Kong’s first craft beer festival, which has since grown to a three-day waterfront event that draws 12,000 people.

Around the same time, homebrewers began stepping out of the shadows, holding regular meetings and an annual competition. The winner of the first homebrew contest was a hoppy black ale brewed by Rohit Dugar, a New Delhi-born banker. Last year, he quit his job to launch Young Master Ales, a seaside microbrewery. Since then, Young Master has been joined by two brewpubs and four more small breweries: Moonzen, New Empire, Nine Dragons and the recently relaunched Hong Kong Beer Company.

The Globe
Set in a modern, semi-basement space, this British-style pub has become the de facto headquarters of the Hong Kong beer scene. Here, owner Toby Cooper provides a home for new and exciting craft beers with regular tasting events, homebrewer meetups and tap takeovers. The 150-strong bottle list is constantly changing, while 18 taps feature a mix of local brews and imports from breweries like New Zealand’s Tuatara.

The Roundhouse
With a bright red façade and sleek, industrial décor, this tiny beer-and-barbecue joint offers 25 taps that change almost daily. Often the first place to launch new local brews like the Nine Dragons Pale Ale, it also features an intriguing selection from overseas, including To Øl and Mikkeller from Denmark, De Molen from the Netherlands and Baird from Japan. It’s also the only place outside mainland China currently serving brews from Shanghai’s vaunted Boxing Cat Brewery.

Craft Brew & Co.
17 Old Bailey Street, Central
Opened in summer 2014, this beer and bratwurst bar sits across from the 19th-century Victoria Prison. Large, folding glass doors and a corner location give it an al fresco feel, while 15 taps feature Young Master Ales alongside imports such as Oregon’s Worthy Pale Ale and 10 Barrel OG Wheat IPA. A well-chosen bottle list includes classics like Anchor Steam and more obscure entries like Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black.

The Beer Bay
Located next to the bustling Central Ferry Piers, this outdoor standing bar boasts a large selection of bottled British ales imported by owner Annie Lam. Standouts include Oakham Ales Citra Pale Ale and Dan Thwaites’ Crafty Dan series, American-style ales brewed with an eye toward British sessionability. Although macros dominate the taps, there are a couple of offerings from Fuller’s plus a rotating craft beer guest tap. At US$3.80 per pint, it’s a steal in a town where 12-ounce pours often run upwards of $10.

Inn Side Out
South China Athletic Association, 88 Caroline Hill Road, Causeway Bay
With a sprawling patio overlooking a driving range, this boisterous pub’s surprising beer selection features 18 taps and about 100 bottles. Draft highlights include Hong Kong Beer Company’s flagship Amber Lager, La Chouffe, Chimay Red and the fruity Hopwired IPA from New Zealand’s 8 Wired Brewing. There’s just one hitch: the sports club location requires a membership fee at the door. Fortunately, the bar offers a cash voucher to offset the cost.

Tipping Point Brewing Company
A refuge for craft beer drinkers on Wyndham Street’s buzzing nightlife strip, Tipping Point is a brewpub founded by a chef with a big appetite for experimentation. Along with house brews like its Belgian White Ale made with kumquats and ginseng, 10 taps pour an eclectic range of imports from Rogue Dead Guy Ale to De Molen’s hefty Zwart & Wit black IPA. Don’t miss the adventurous pub fare, like chorizo rice-stuffed squid with fried tentacles.

Trafalgar Brewing Company
As its name suggests, this newly opened bar in Wan Chai is decidedly British in orientation, with clubby armchairs, soccer on the television and a 50-strong list of bottled Bitters, Pale Ales and Porters. But it’s the brewing system housed behind a glass wall that sets it apart from other similar pubs. The first batch of beers—including an English IPA and a Czech Pilsner—were ready to drink in late August.

de België
21 Elgin Street, Central
Plenty of Hong Kong bars and restaurants serve Belgian beers, but few places treat them with as much care and attention as this hillside hideaway in Soho. Among the 10 standard draft options is Brouwerij Bosteels’ Tripel Karmeliet, plus two rotating taps that feature imports like Rodenbach Grand Cru and Kasteel Donker. The Belgian theme continues with the food (think classic frites and waffles) and most of the 154 bottles are served in brewery-branded glassware.

Quality over quantity is the philosophy at this friendly neighborhood bar. There are just four taps and nine bottles, but the selection is well curated and frequently changing. On one visit, Anderson Valley Summer Solstice, Rogue Farms 7 Hop IPA and Tuatara Pilsner were featured on tap. Bottles include Japan’s Kagua Rouge, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with sansho spice.

The Bottle Shop
114 Man Nin Street, Sai Kung
Hong Kong’s largest craft bottle shop is located in the pleasant seaside suburb of Sai Kung. Owners Danny Wong and Tracy Gan hail from Australia, so you can expect a strong selection of antipodean brews, including 8 Wired, Mountain Goat and Saison specialist La Sirène. There are also standouts from other corners of the world, such as Evil Twin, Siren Craft Brew and 3 Fonteinen.

HK Brewcraft
Located on an upper floor of a commercial block in Central, Brewcraft is a bottle shop, homebrew supply store and brewing workshop. There’s a Young Master tap for growler fills and a collection of 100 bottles ranging from the sessionable Founders All Day IPA to Lambics by Mikkeller and sours by Jolly Pumpkin. The shop also hosts workshops like a recent yeast-cloning and beer-tasting session led by Chris White of San Diego’s White Labs.

TAP – The Ale Project
15 Hak Po Street, Mongkok
Hong Kong’s first brewery taproom is slated to open in November in the otherwise craft-deprived neighborhood of Mongkok. The full range of Young Master Ales will be available on tap, from the robust Island 1842 Imperial IPA to the malty Rye Old Fashioned, not to mention seasonal brews like Mo’ Mo’ Wit, a summer Witbier brewed with dried Mandarin orange peel and a mix of five local spices. Guest taps will include local brews and imports, while the bottle list will lean toward imperial stouts and other big beers.