Riding the crest of the craft-beer wave that has been sweeping the world – and Hong Kong – for the past few years is a new microbrewery in Ap Lei Chau. Young Master Ales was founded in December by Indian-born financier Rohit Dugar, who has turned his award-winning passion for home brewing into a fast-growing business with a lengthening list of craft beers in several different styles. Already, his beers are for sale in some of the most prestigious bars in Hong Kong, including the Captain’s Bar at the Mandarin Oriental and the Lobster Bar at the Island Shangri-la. But the real seal of approval is a tap at The Globe, widely regarded as stocking the city’s finest selection of craft beers.
“The local beer movement has taken quite a stance around the world recently, so I was quite surprised [when he arrived in the city in 2011] that the dynamic didn’t exist here. I was in a situation to do something about it,” Dugar says of his decision to switch from finance to beer. “I was home brewing and I knew about beer.” He’s being a little modest. Dugar’s homebrewed Hong Kong Black Ale – described by the Wall Street Journal as “a roasty but lightbodied brew with hints of coffee and chocolate” – won the inaugural Hong Kong Homebrew Competition last year. But turning a hobby into a business is rarely straightforward. In June 2013, Dugar gave up his job and devoted all his energy to Young Master Ales, starting with finding premises and sorting out the licensing. “It was a long few months,” he says. “No single factor determines the favourable location for a brewery. It takes all: from the ceiling height, floor loading for the heavy equipment, water supply and lift to fire safety regulations.”
A 3,500 sqft space on the second floor of an industrial building in Ap Lei Chau fit the bill. He sourced ingredients and custom-built equipment in Germany and China, and got to work tweaking his homebrew recipes for the local market. Now he and his staff of two (one full-time, one part-time) produce 15,000 litres of beer a month, and plan to increase production to 20,000 litres to keep up with demand. The space is divided into three: the brewing room, a beer-tasting room overlooking the East Lamma Channel and a storage space. The brewery is open to the public most Saturday afternoons for a tour and beer-tasting session.
“The brewing process is as much science as it is art, with a lot of precise calculations and recipe formulation and execution,” Dugar says. “It is all about the diversity – beer has a wide range in terms of flavours, but what marketing has done is lead people to think beer is one flavoured drink.”