A mass-market beer giant launching a supposedly artisanal craft beer may be akin to Michael Bay directing a small-budget indie film. But because craft beer has the potential to rise from its current 3 percent share of the market in Hong Kong to a 20 percent share, Carlsberg has taken action.
Collaborating with New York microbrewery Brooklyn Brewery, Carlsberg wanted HK Yau (named from the Chinese character 'yau 友' which means 'friendship') to be its "pioneering" craft beer brand in the city and to be "approachable" for Hong Kong drinkers.
Naturally, the logo was designed to be a fusion of two cities—Hong Kong and New York—and is a mark of friendship and camaraderie, according to the company. The bold red circle signifies ‘a wax seal’ of friendship between Brooklyn Brewery and Carlsberg, while the 'yau' in the centre is outlined to echo the neon lights common in both cities. The logo is framed by a traditional Chinese tile pattern and a strip of stars like those found on the flag of the United States.
Currently, the HK Yau brand offers three relatively safe brews: a wheat beer, a lager and a pale ale. All three are being brewed in Hong Kong by an undisclosed partner.
The pale ale, called Underground, tastes less bitter than typical IPAs—by design. Peter Poon, managing director of Carlsberg Hong Kong and Taiwan (pictured below) said consumer research revealed limits to the local tolerance for bitterness. The cold-fermented lager, called Times Square, is an "easy entry to craft beer for first-time drinkers who are used to mass-produced beer", Poon said.
Plenty of imported craft-beer brands are available in Hong Kong. Among about 10 local-made brands, Young Master Brewery stands out as a distinctive competitor to HK Yau. Young Master's offerings veer more to the avant-garde side, like its tart and saline Cha Chaan Teng Gose, brewed with local salted lime and other Hong Kong ingredients. The brand's website promises "no pandering to lowest common denominator flavor profiles".
"I don't see HK Yau as competing with either the local or the foreign craft brands here, as what we're trying to do is to expand the local market," Poon told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
What's really missing in the local craft beer market is the international standards of quality set since 1847 by Carlsberg, Poon agued. “Our collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery was planned one and a half years ago," he said. "It is a remarkable milestone as we become the first professional brewer to include local craft beer in our Hong Kong portfolio."
HK Yau will initially be sold on tap at six bars (with a target of expanding to 65 outlets by the end of 2017) but is expected to be available by the bottle in the next phase.
For HK residents or visitors interested in trying the brews, here are the first phase restaurants and bars:
- Liberty Exchange Kitchen & Bar
- The Garage Bar (Cordis Hotel)
- The Pawn
- Fat Pig
- Stormies (LKF & Elements)
- Pickled Pelican
Here is a list of the notable Hong Kong craft beer brands:
|Brewery Name||Cantonese Name||Established||Brewery Location|
|Black Kite Brewery||黑鳶||2015||Wong Chuk Hang|
|Gweilo Beer||鬼佬啤酒||2015||Chai Wan|
|Hong Kong Beer Co.||香港啤酒||1995||Chai Wan|
|Kowloon Bay Brewery||九龍灣釀酒廠||2015||Tsuen Wan|
|Lion Rock Brewery||獅子山啤||2015||Kwai Chung|
|Moonzen Brewery||門神啤酒||2014||Kwun Tong|
|Nine Dragons Brewery||九龍啤酒||2013||Sheung Wan|
|Yardley Brothers||-||2014||Kwai Hing|
|Young Master Ales||少爺麥啤||2013||Ap Lei Chau|