This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Country #34: Hong Kong

Beer: Hong Kong Beer

Brewery: Hong Kong Beer Company Limited, Hong Kong

ABV: 4.7%

A tasty beer, made all the tastier after a day of walking approximately 47 miles around Hong Kong.
I just got back from my second trip to Asia, where I ate entirely too much food and drank entirely too much beer. The food was to die for, and I nearly did, twice: a man’s stomach lining can only take so many dumplings in one day. The beer was far less interesting, however. If you’ve had one Asian beer you’ve had ‘em all, the saying goes. People in Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea all like pale, fizzy yellow beers made with rice. At least the rice gives Asian beers terroir, since it is literally the lifeblood of the region and included in almost every meal, and in the best cases it gives Asian beers a very dry, crisp finish that goes well with spicy cuisine. But really, most of them are pretty boring. 

A typical Hong Kong meal: a bad beer (Harbin Beer, the Coors Light of mainland China) and REALLY good food (deep fried oyster pancake).
Hong Kong, which I visited along with Taiwan in January, was under British control for over 150 years. While the Brits suck at making food, they figured out how to make good beer a long time ago. While the population of the Fragrant Harbor has always been overwhelmingly Cantonese, a whole bunch of drunken limeys and gweilos have been living there since the mid-1800s, and most of them have stuck around even though the People’s Republic regained political control in 1997. 

There sure is a lot of junk on this label, and also a junk. This is confusing: up top it says "Established," and then it doesn't tell you when it was established. It says 1997 farther down, but that's the year that HK went back to China. Somebody fire the graphic designer! (Though I do like the Mets-ish color scheme)
Given its large population of expats from a beer-loving part of the world, and the go-go capitalism still present in Hong Kong despite Chinese rule, you’d think that somebody there would have started making something thick, dark, and tasty a long time ago. Alas, you’d be wrong. Until just ten years ago, the only locally made beer was San Miguel, a Filipino brand contract brewed in Hong Kong, and it dominated the market along with something called Blue Girl, which is made in Korea exclusively for Hong Kongers with bad taste. 

I tried not to be too foreign and awkward, but asking the tiny Cantonese bartender for the bottle cap got me a strange look.
But finally, in 2003 the Hong Kong Beer Company was opened. Their flagship offering is the cleverly named Hong Kong Beer, a darker, malty lager that’s not too heavy for the tropical heat, but still plenty flavorful and interesting, especially compared with its local competition. Think Samuel Adams, but without the advertising. I had Hong Kong Beer on several occasions, mostly because I was looking out for it, but the average person might not even know it exists. San Miguel and Blue Girl are still utterly ubiquitous, and only a handful of bars and stores carry Hong Kong Beer. 

Hong Kong Beer is not heavily advertised (if at all), but it's not like Hong Kong doesn't like ads. Pretty much every street in Kowloon flows under a canopy of iron and neon, and Blue Girl signs were as plentiful as the beer itself.
Furthermore, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region also recently passed a law that eliminated tariffs on beer, so the few craft beer bars and specialty stores in the city now stock a bewildering variety of imported beers that Hong Kong Beer will have to compete with, along with another newly opened local craft brewery. For a diverse country* with good taste in food, I don’t see this being a problem, and it appears that craft beer might be ready to take off in Hong Kong. When and if it does, Hong Kong Beer can claim to have started it all.

*Yes, I'm calling it a country, even though it's Chinese territory. Hong Kong is the first place I've written about with an ambiguous status as a country, but it has its own passport, its own money, its own flag, and it sends its own teams to the Olympics and to World Cup qualifying. Sounds like a country to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment