Condé Nast Traveler: Inside Hong Kong's Craft Beer Revolution
Condé Nast Traveler: Inside Hong Kong's Craft Beer Revolution By KATE SPRINGER
IN 2013, THE TERRITORY HAD TWO BREWERIES—TODAY, IT HAS MORE THAN 35.
When you enter The Artist House in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district, it might strike you as more of a science lab than a bar. Off to the right, a glowing hydroponic farm sprouts edible herbs and flowers under rows of intense LED lights, while a “scent lab” at the back of the bar helps first-time visitors determine their ideal beer variety. A few sniffs of carefully arranged perfume bottles, and I’m steered toward the floral notes of a Belgium-based brewer’s IPA. Within the hour, I’ve also tried my hand at the DIY beer-labeling station and attempted to brew my own beer with herbal infusions from the aquafarm.
Just a few years ago, a beer-centric destination like this would have been unheard of in Hong Kong. The vast majority of bars only stocked boring, big-batch commercial beers like Carlsberg, Heineken, and Tsingtao, while even craft beer pioneers like The Globe—an institution on Graham Street in SoHo, with 19 taps and a 200-strong beer menu—were limited to imports. “We ended up with an odd situation with lots of imported beers but no homegrown craft beer,” says Toby Cooper, owner of The Globe and founding chairman of the Craft Beer Association of Hong Kong.
Five years ago, it was as if someone flicked a switch. The territory’s local craft beer market boomed, jumping from two breweries in 2013 to more than 35 in 2018. The catalyst? Industry experts in Hong Kong all point to Young Master's debut in 2013.
The story starts as many do: Young Master founder Rohit Dugar couldn’t find any quality beer in Hong Kong, so he made some himself. But Dugar wanted to go beyond the small expat market, which was driving demand at the time, and create true Hong Kong beers. With this in mind, he turned his attention to residents of Chinese descent, who account for 91 percent of the city’s 7.34 million population.
To reach his ideal demographic, Dugar set about trying to spread the good word about craft beer in Kowloon. Located across Victoria Harbour, north of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon peninsula is connected to mainland China and home to the vast majority of Hong Kong residents. He teamed up with a few beer-obsessed partners and opened TAP-The Ale Project in 2014 in Mong Kok—a primarily Cantonese neighborhood, and one of the world’s most densely populated areas, with 130,000 people per square kilometer.
“When they first started planning The Ale Project, everyone was really skeptical that they could do something in deepest, darkest Mong Kok,” says Cooper. “But they proved how successful craft beer can be in Kowloon—and now that whole street really has turned into a beer destination, with lots of little craft beer bars opening up, all inspired by TAP.”
To make the bar stand out as a beer-lover’s paradise, Dugar installed Hong Kong’s first 'Flux Capacitor,' a futuristic draft system also found in places like New York City and Los Angeles. This system enables TAP to serve beer as the brewer intended, with the right temperature, carbonation, and gas. The team deliberately hand-picks a diverse range of beers, usually a few Young Master drafts alongside other local beers and guest taps from around the world—the funkier, the better.
“We’ve found that a lot of the drinkers at TAP are extremely open minded,” says Dugar. “Even among craft beer drinkers, there are people who are set in their ways—only drinking IPAs or pale ales. But over there, we see people enjoying beer for what it is and not relying on any preconceived notion of what they like or don't like.”
After TAP’s success, Dugar targeted several more lesser-served neighborhoods, opening Second Draft—with award-winning chef May Chow behind the menu—in Tai Hang, an artsy neighborhood just south of Causeway Bay, in 2016. In 2017 came Alvy’s, a New York-style pizza spot, in Kennedy Town, a traditionally quiet residential area on western Hong Kong Island with a fast-evolving food scene.
Young Master’s projects pushed Hong Kong’s craft beer market forward—not just in terms of availability, but also variety. “We feel it’s part of our responsibility to showcase the many things that beer can be,” says Dugar.
As part of that, Young Master releases a new beer in its experimental ‘Days of Being Wild’ series every few months. This style, Dugar says, takes inspiration from the Belgian and Lambic traditions of fermenting beer. But instead of using wild yeast and traditional spices, the brewers reach for locally sourced yeast that’s typically sour and funky.
Then there’s the long-time favorite: Cha Chaan Teng Gose. Sour and surprising, this concoction is the drink of choice for scorching summer days. The crisp citrus notes cut through even the most oppressive of Hong Kong humidity, making it particularly enjoyable while lounging on the beach or manning a steamy barbecue. Originally planned as a seasonal variety, the now-signature beer takes inspiration from a local salted-lime soda drink that you’ll find in just about every local diner. “We wanted to do a gose because that style hadn’t been done yet in Asia,” says Dugar. “Sitting at lunch one day, someone on our team ordered a salted-lime soda and it just struck us—it’s refreshing, recognizable, and makes perfect sense.”