Until recently, Hong Kong was the badlands of beer.
If you wanted a brew, your choices were limited to boring mass market lagers the likes of San Miguel, Carlsberg, Blue Girl, Corona or Tsingtao — okay for getting a buzz on if you downed enough, but not much else.
And while selection has substantially improved, given the arrival of excellent beer bars that specialize in American, Belgian, British and German craft beer, as well as about a dozen newish local microbreweries, Hong Kong can do better.
Quality beer is far from ubiquitous, despite stories dating as far back as 2012 about the domestic craft beer market “exploding” in the city.
In Los Angeles, I count more than 1,250 different craft beers on tap or in bottles within five minutes from where I am sitting. (Yes, there’s an app for that.)
Differences in population notwithstanding, I’m certain that Hong Kong doesn’t come close to matching even a tenth of that heady count, though I will try to get a proper fix when I get back to town.
It’s enough to make a hophead cry.
Despite the excellent selections at places like The Roundhouse Taproom and The Globe in Central, The Ale Project in Mong Kok and a few others, Hong Kong is far from reaching peak beer.
Here, I can explore and try new beers I’ve never heard of — again, within walking distance or just a short drive — at numerous fine dining restaurants, cute cafes, hole-in-the-wall eateries, neighborhood diners, hotel bars, pizza joints and even a pub inside a grocery store, as well as beer-focused gastropubs and at least four brewpubs that make beer on the premises.
When you can do that in Hong Kong — walk into any door for a quality craft beer — it’ll be paradise.
But it’s not like purveyors of top-notch brews aren’t trying.
Thanks to a small group of devotees, word is getting out, and people are being educated as to the mind-boggling varieties of beer produced by small, independent brewers that make their product with traditional (and sometimes cleverly imaginative) ingredients and a lot of love.
It’s great to see that the volume of American craft beer exports to Hong Kong is up 150 percent, according to most recent numbers.
It’s marvelous to know that virtually all Hong Kong’s craft beer makers — Black Kite Brewery, Fat Rooster Brewing, Gweilo Beer, Moonzen Brewery and Young Master Ales among them — have come into being within the past three years.
And it’s absolutely stupendous that buzz builders like the Beertopia craft beer sampling festival, now entering its fifth year, draw enthusiastic crowds that get bigger and bigger every year.
But for the domestic craft beer market to really explode, people like you and me need to demand more quality beer, domestically produced or imported, at the places we eat — as opposed to the places we go primarily to drink.
Why, pray tell, do restaurants have thick, leather-bound wine lists and extensive cocktail menus but offer only three, watered-down industrial lagers?
Why can’t I have an Imperial stout or dark Belgian ale with my ribeye?
For that matter, why can’t I have a Hefeweizen with my dim sum?
What could go better with hot pot than a double IPA?
And why can’t I have a barrel-aged Tripel with my Hong Kong-style French toast? (Other than it being only 7 o’clock in the morning.)
Beer reps and breweries, my friends, can’t do it alone.
No one has more power over an establishment’s choices then customers.
If we as customers speak up, and do so in numbers, hopefully places will revisit their drinks program.
With your help, Hong Kong can become a beer lover’s paradise.
(Lest you think I’m an insufferable beer snob, let me assure you I’m not insufferable.
Oh, OK, I look at my beer, swirl it and smell it before I taste it. It’s part of the experience.
For example, I’m seeing a clear amber body and a fluffy head on this Stone Sorry Not Sorry IPA I’m having.
And while I’m slightly annoyed it wasn’t served in a tulip glass, after moving the beer around a bit, I’m catching the aroma of peaches, citrus and light pine. Sorry, I have a cold.
At first sip, the hops smack me upside the head, just the way I like it, and there’s a bitter grapefruit peel finish that lingers. Nice.
Overall, it’s tasty and gives off a nice ethereal vibe.
I also feel the booziness of this double IPA and must say it’s not a beer you’d want to drink from a plastic cup or shoot through your nose.
If I was hungry, I’d pair it with a big, fat, juicy grilled pork chop with some pink in the middle.
More importantly though, as far as beer snobbery goes, I keep my beer opinions to myself, except for the illustration above.
I don’t tell my bar mate that the beer he’s drinking looks like a urine sample and tastes like crap.
And I don’t play the “my beer is better than yours” game either — although the notion of saying “your beer has the nose of a Wan Chai prostitute that fell into a squat toilet” does have some appeal.)
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