Island 1842 from Young Master Ales (front) and Sevens Stout from Hong Kong Beer Company (rear)
Exactly a year ago, my girlfriend, Kerry, forwarded me an article from the Wall Street Journal about the budding beer culture being cultivated in Hong Kong. I read about the efforts of breweries like Hong Kong Beer Company, New Empire Brewery, and Nine Dragons Brewery, as well as game-changing local beer bars like The Roundhouse and The Globe. I also read about a man named Rohit Dugar. At the center of Hong Kong’s gastro-gentrification is Rohit, the man singlehandedly changing the way the former British territory thinks about beer. Over the past year, Rohit’s brewery, Young Master Ales, has greatly expanded Hong Kong’s local beer options, incorporating traditionally inspired flavors and spices into the unique and fresh creations one might expect from any American craft brewer.
FVs in HK
I had the distinct honor of meeting up with Rohit for a few beers at Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn this past October (which I encourage you to read about here first). I learned about Rohit’s personal background, found out how he gains inspiration for his beers, discovered the challenges of owning a brewery in Hong Kong, and gained an inside perspective on the future of Hong Kong’s neophyte beer culture. So when I learned that Kerry and I would be taking the trip over to Hong Kong in March of 2015, I quickly focused my attention on making it over to Young Master to pay homage.
TAP: The Ale Project
Our trip to Hong Kong was made possible by participation in a law school arbitration competition. No doubt one of the nerdier things I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of, I fortunately found myself with some extra time on my hands to explore the landscape and soak up some local suds. The first night we arrived, struggling to persevere through the jet lag and yearning for a local brew, Kerry and I made it over to TAP: The Ale Project, a recently established gastropub offering a range of local and imported craft beers alike. TAP, another venture by Rohit to ignite the passion for local crafts into the livers of Hong Kong’s beer enthusiasts, offers virtually the entire current Young Master lineup as well as selections from other HK brewers. It was here that I finally had my first foray with Young Master. The beer was Island 1842, an imperial IPA whose exuberant spicy hop profile is matched punch for punch by its sizable malt body. After spending my day sweating through the humid streets of Kowloon, this was just what the (juris) doctor ordered.
Young Master’s dojo
Fast forward a few days and my competition and all responsibilities had come to an end. We caught the MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system) down before catching a cab to Hong Kong Island’s nether region, Ap Lei Chau, where Young Master Ales sits humbly in a tall industrial building along the coast. Overlooking the channel between Hong Kong Island and Lamma Island, the brewery is in a curious location based on my own experiences. While an industrial building is no doubt the universal brewer’s norm, I’ve never seen a brewery anywhere above the ground floor (I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I just personally haven’t seen it). Blessed with one of the few fog-free days we had during that week, Young Master’s facility, brewing equipment included, is all housed on the building’s fourth floor, offering quite a beautiful sight along the row of windows lining the tasting room.
Getting a handle on Young Master’s beers
Unfortunately unable to synchronize my schedule with Rohit’s, we were greeted by his associate, Hong. Hong, the lone native on Young Master’s staff, is the posterchild for Hong Kong’s growing beer culture. After spending time studying in Dublin, Hong returned to his homeland with a degree in food science and nutrition as well as with a penchant for craft beer. Fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, Hong has become Young Master’s customer relations contact, a role he fits masterfully. Like many of the individuals I met throughout my stay, Hong was warm and inviting. From the moment Kerry and I arrived, he was eager to chat about beer with us and offer some local insight. As we sat there picking Hong’s brain with a tiring amount of questions, two other American nationals came in, Paul and Aaron, opening up the floor for further discussions about beer and its emerging influence on the region.
The Young Master Glassic
From here, though, the focus shifted back to the reason we were all there in the first place: the beer. Like any server worth their weight in wort, Hong lead us on our expedition from lightest to heaviest, starting us off with their dainty spring seasonal before finishing the session off with its hop-obsessed imperial IPA. Along the way, we treated our palates with the likes of a sessionable pale ale, a pumpkin peach ale (fuss over that, AB InBev), and a smoked oak amber ale (which I’m still thinking about). To keep it brief, we found a great degree of diversity and consistency with Young Master’s beers; they were all easily approachable yet exhibited complex enough flavor profiles to appease even the most distinguished drinker. For a deeper understanding, I encourage you to read about my review of each here (review coming very soon).
After leaving the brewery and meeting up with our friend Angela to take in a match of beach rugby, Kerry and I found ourselves at The Roundhouse that evening to rest our tired feet and treat ourselves to some Texas style BBQ and another taste of Young Master. Kerry found herself reverting back to In the Mood for Spring while I couldn’t escape the thought of the salty, smoked allure of Ashes of Time.
Ashes of Time (front) and In the Mood for Spring (rear) from Young Master Ales
Beyond the excitement of travelling to a new region, I was really psyched about the prospect of exploring a new place with such a promising future for craft beer. The foreign influence in both the culture and the beer is apparent; I found a lot of beers from the larger micro breweries that really got me into the beer scene from the beginning. And, honestly, that would have been enough, but beyond that I came across the likes of Evil Twin Brewing, Mikkeller, Brouwerij de Molen, and Jack’s Abby Brewing to name a few. It is apparent that Hong Kong is well on its way to craft beer stardom. The wide array of craft-focused beer bars and the emergence of notable domestic breweries promises to nurture the very atmosphere needed to make the small group of islands a must-see destination. For those, like Rohit, who are investing all of their time and energy now into generating the acclaim needed to take the craft scene to the next level, it is evident that their efforts will yield untold rewards.