Jul 3, 2019
Asia’s craft suds scene keeps getting better. Craig Sauers checks in with six exciting breweries using local flavors and ingredients to push beer boundaries.
Taihu might be Asia’s most progressive brewery. The bathrooms are gender neutral, for starters, and when it comes to beer, head brewer Winnie Hsu is as relentless in her devotion to quality as she is in her rejection of traditional boundaries. That leads to some ground-breaking brews, like the Old Fashioned, a barrel-aged Berliner weisse that replicates the flavor profile of the classic cocktail (“A pain in the ass to brew, but a hell of a beer,” says co-founder Peter Huang), and the Woo May, a smoked sour ale brewed with Taiwanese smoked plums.
Where to try it: Taihu beer is now served at Taiwanese institutions like Din Tai Fung, The Regent Hotel and even Starbucks. It’s also available in Osaka at Watering Hole and in Shanghai at 233. taihubrewing.com.
GOA Brewing Company
The Subcontinent probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind when talking about craft beer in Asia. But if Suraj Shenai has anything to say about it, that’s about to change. The founder of Goa Brewing Company is bringing the craft movement to the south of India, brewing beer in an old heritage home while striving to be as sustainable as possible. That means making beers with local ingredients like lemon and pineapple, the latter of which goes into a refreshing pineapple saison. It’s funky but tropical—“the perfect beer to have after a dip in the sea,” Shenai says.
Where to try it: Goa Brewing Company, based in Sangolda, is only available in India at the moment. Try the beers fresh at restaurants in Goa like Gunpowder and Bomra’s. instagram.com/goabrewingco.
Magpie Brewing Co.
Pizza-and-beer pioneer Magpie helped make craft beer a thing in South Korea with its pale ale, an easy-drinking brew with hints of apricot that seven years on is still its most popular. Now, Magpie is throwing beer geeks a bone. Look out for imperial stout Black Rock when it comes at the end of summer. “Pastry stouts are super popular globally,” says co-owner Erik Moynihan, “but we wanted to do one that was a little bit more Korean, so we based it on the chocolatey, marshmallowy flavor of the Lotte Choco Pie.”
Where to try it: Magpie has bars in Itaewon and Hongdae in Seoul, as well as two venues in Jeju. The beer should hit Hong Kong’s shores this year. magpiebrewing.com.
If Hong Kong’s craft beer is finally getting the global attention it deserves, thank Rohit Dugar. His brewery Young Master has continually pushed the boundaries since opening five years ago. Now, the brand hosts an international beer festival and boasts a huge barrel-aging program that produces some wild creations. Those include a white stout called Bak Mo Sheung, which comes in variations like matcha-vanilla “soft serve,” as well as an IPA brewed in collaboration with Norway-based Lervig that uses a farmhouse yeast strain and juniper straight out of the Scandinavian fjords.
Where to try it: Young Master operates four bars in Hong Kong, including Second Draft and TAP, plus The Guild in Singapore. The beers frequently appear at Mikkeller Bangkok, as well. youngmasterales.com.
Heart of Darkness
Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s seminal novel, John Pemberton turned his homebrewing hobby into a full-time profession in 2015. Vietnamese beer hasn’t been the same since. Heart of Darkness made its name on bold, hoppy IPAs, like Kurtz’s Insane IPA and the Loose Rivet hazy IPA, two of 250 beers to come out of its Saigon operation. But some of its most fascinating beers lean local: the White Surf, a passionfruit-laced Berliner weisse, and the Hot and Cold, a pilsner brewed with cucumbers and Vietnamese chilies.
Where to try it: The home base in Saigon’s District 1 and the new Heart of Darkness brewpub in Singapore have the biggest range. They also export to Thailand and Hong Kong. heartofdarknessbrewery.com.
Anglo Japanese Beer (AJB)
“When we started the brewery, we didn’t want to be confined by styles. Allowing ourselves the space to work outside conventional parameters enabled us to create some really unique beers,” says Thomas Livesey, co-founder of AJB. That’s putting it mildly. Consider the Nagano-based brewery’s Momo Sake Gose. Livesey and company take a traditional German gose (a salty/sour beer) and mix in sake ingredients and local peach to create a distinctly Japanese beer rooted in German traditions. Now, AJB is also aging beers in French foeders (large wooden barrels) to develop some especially wild and funky flavors.
Where to try it: AJB is relatively small, but its beers can be found at craft beer bars across Japan, including Watering Hole in Osaka. anglojapanesebeer.com.
What is it? Believed to be one of the world’s oldest beverages dating back thousands of years, mead is made from a fermented blend of honey, water, fruits and other spices that takes about a year to mature.
Where can you get it? On the third floor of a small, nondescript industrial space on the outskirts of Singapore, one of the country’s most unique alcohols is fermenting. Rachelle the Rabbit meadery (rachelletherabbit.com) is the lion city’s first ever meadery. named after the daughter of owner Simon Zhao, this all-natural, no-additive meadery is making this golden elixir with honey from south Africa and Malaysia combined with Asian flavors and ingredients. A selection of the brand’s five flavors can be found at nearly 40 bars, restaurants and retailers around Singapore starting at s$40 each. Keep an eye out for their masterclasses, sometimes held at native, one of Singapore’s best bars, as well as their new line of spirits distilled from mead.
What to order? Although the honey wine flavors may sound cloyingly sweet, they’re surprisingly not. Rachelle’s Bandung is a play off the rose-syrup beverage of the same name, but it is dry in texture. Rachelle’s uppercut, a mix of ginger and lemon, is light and refreshing. Their newest seasonal flavor, Rachelle’s Fireball, combines honey and Canadian maple syrup, while Rachelle’s double Kick tastes like Christmas in a glass: a combination of orange, cinnamon and clove. — Katie Lockhart