Young Master Brewery founder Rohit Dugar used to be an investment banker with a dream. A passionate lover of craft beer, he used to hang out six years ago at what used to be the only craft beer bar in town – Taps Beer Bar Kuala Lumpur – every time he was in town.
“He used to tell me, ‘Alvin, one day I will open my own brewery’,” recalls Alvin Lim, co-founder of Taps and craft beer distributors MyBeer Malaysia. “Talking to him, you could tell he knew a lot about beer, so when he told me he would open a brewery one day, somehow, I believed him.”
Six years ago, Rohit finally took that leap of faith and founded Young Master Brewery, Hong Kong’s first ever craft beer brewery.
“When Rohit moved to Hong Kong in 2011, he realised that there was no local craft beers in Hong Kong. So he quit his job and opened Hong Kong’s first craft brewery in 2013,” recalled Young Master’s director of business development and operations, Kingson Kok.
Last week, Rohit’s Malaysian connection finally came full circle, as Taps became the first bar in Malaysia to import and tap Young Master’s beers. The beers are also available on tap at Pahit gin bar.
The brewery’s name, ‘Young Master’ – ‘siu yeh’ (少爺) in Cantonese – was inspired by an old 1963 Hong Kong film called Gong Chong Siu Yeh, or Young Master Of the Factory.
“That movie was about a Young Master who used to wear the sort of pants that you see on our logo. He was a very playful guy, but had to take over his father’s factory, and so he had a serious side as well.
“That sort of resonated with us, because we are very playful, fun guys, who were serious about making good beers!” Kok explained.
“Back in those days, Hong Kong also used to manufacture a lot of things, especially textiles. So this was also us, making something in Hong Kong once again.”
Today, Young Master Brewery is credited with kickstarting the current craft beer movement in Hong Kong. While Kok says that there were other craft brewers in Hong Kong before them, they never quite managed to gain a foothold amongst the Hong Kong beer drinkers, who were more used to cheap commercial lagers. So how did Young Master finally do it?
“In our first or second year, we took a bold move of opening a small bar in a very, very local neighbourhood (Mong Kok) where we were surrounded by local bars selling cheap beers,” Kok explained, adding that it was mostly foreign expatriates and youngsters who came by at first.
Then, they had a breakthrough via one of their most unconventional beers. The brewery decided that they wanted to bring in beer styles that no one had done or even tried before, and that included sour beers.
“In Hong Kong, there’s a popular drink called the ‘Ham Ling Chat’, which is basically 7-Up with preserved salted limes. We took that idea and made a sour beer out of it, and called it a ‘Ham Ling Beer’,” Kok recalls. “It was a big hit, because it was a good stepping stone for people to try a new style of beer that is still approachable to them.”
Today, that beer, which is officially called the Cha Chaan Teng Gose (named after the common Hong Kong coffee shops), is one of the brewery’s best selling beers in its core range.
The brewery also releases seasonal and limited edition beers such as a foeder aged mixed culture forest berry sour ale, barrel-aged beers and collaborations with other breweries both in Hong Kong and overseas.
Here’s a rundown of the beers that are currently available in Malaysia:
Classic Pale Ale (5% ABV)
The name itself says it all – this is simply a classic beer, and not just because it was one of Young Master’s first ever beers. A versatile, refreshing pale ale with the perfect balance of hops and malts, this beer was recently awarded the Best Of Asia Gold Medal for the third year running at the recent Asia Beer Awards in Singapore.
Cha Chaan Teng Gose (4% ABV)
A classic sour and salty Gose brewed with salted lime commonly found in local coffee shops (called cha chaan teng) in Hong Kong. If you’ve never had a sour beer before, this would be a good introduction the to beer style. Refreshing and crisp on the palate, the sour and salty flavours of the beer will tickle your tastebuds and make you just want to gulp it down and get another one. Speaking of which….
Another One (3.3% ABV)
Who says low ABV beers can’t be good? This juicy and refreshing session ale may be low in alcohol, but it is high in flavour, enough that you will want to have Another One.
Contemporary Pilsner (4.5% ABV)
A pilsner made in a classic Czech style, this is a clean, crisp pilsner that doesn’t pretend to be anything else (though it still has a lot more flavour and body compared to many commercial lagers).
“This beer was made because some of our clients requested it, because sometimes their guests just wanted to drink a lager,” said Kok.
Island 1842 Imperial IPA (8% ABV)
Trust Young Master to go big for their first IPA. Named after the year Hong Kong was colonised by the British, Island 1842 a powerful IPA with big hoppy, fruity, citrusy notes and a robust malty body that linger long on your palate. Later, the brewers realised that the high alcohol level could be a little intimidating for casual drinkers who just wanted a hop hit, so, they came up with…
Jeng IPA (6.0% ABV)
In Cantonese, ‘Jeng’ means ‘great’. It may be a ‘toned down’ version of the Island 1842, as Kok explains, but it is still a pretty good IPA – easier to drink than its ‘big brother’, but still full of hoppy, juicy, citrusy goodness. Like the official website describes it, this beer is “Jeng, very Jeng, super Jeng.”
Rye On Wood (6% ABV)
Inspired by rye whiskey (which explains why this was my favourite of the lot), this oak-infused rye ale uses a blend of caramel and pale malts with some rye malts to give it a spicy sweetness.
The result is a beer that is malty sweet and chocolate at first, but with a tinge of spice from the rye, and a hint of wood on the finish.