We chat Hong Kong craft brewing, innovation, and experimentation with Yardley Brothers founder Luke Yardley.
Have you always been a beer drinker? What motivated you to start Yardley Brothers?
I’ve always loved delicious tastes in food and drink, and still get a lot of my new recipe inspirations from the food I discover in the region and from far afield. My beer drinking and appreciation of finely crafted ales started with sips of cask-conditioned English ale in the pub as a teenager. Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery now makes cask-conditioned real ale as one of our styles, as a nod to our past.
The Hong Kong environment, with its high rent and limited space, can make it a challenging place to be creative. Since opening our craft brewery in Kwai Hing in 2016, we have proven that you can craft international award-winning beers locally.
For me, Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery is an ongoing, evolving life project to communicate and share unique tastes to craft beer enthusiasts and those dipping their toes into this rapidly growing market.
What’s missing in the Hong Kong craft beer scene to date?
Hong Kong has come a long way in the last decade.
Previously, there was no craft beer, only bland macro imports, but now we are one of the best producers in Asia. We have gone from bland macro lagers to local crafted hazy IPAs being widely available.
Sour beers and barrel-aged beers are a passion of mine. They bridge a gap between wine, cocktail, and non-beer drinkers and have amazing complexity. Yardley Brothers is the leading sour beer craft brewery in Hong Kong. That’s where the future is!
You recently created a very unique mango beer? What inspired its creation?
Quite simply, food! The well-known dish of mango coconut sticky rice is one of my favourites and one I always seek out when eating Thai food. Also, Mango Sticky Mango Imperial Gose was a personal challenge to push the limits and try something challenging. Mango is a notoriously hard fruit flavour to express in beer due to its high sugar content, which is susceptible to fermenting out easily, therefore losing all the volatile aromas and flavours.
The beer has a consistency that’s more akin to mango nectar than beer. How did you create this viscosity and how has it been received?
The ingredients of Mango Sticky Mango Imperial Gose consist of oats, 30% mango juice from Kensington Pride mangos, sugar cane, pink Himalayan salt, filtered water, malted barley, and yeast. Interestingly, there are no hops used in the brewing process, which explains the lack of bitterness (flavour and aroma).
Coming in at 9% ABV, it drinks more like a dessert wine. This is intentional as we wanted this exciting new brew to be thick and creamy like mango coconut sticky rice. The addition of oats is what gives the brew a luscious, velvety texture and smooth mouthfeel.
In terms of how the market has reacted, it sold out in record time to bars, restaurants, and craft beer retailers, and of our more than 70 beers produced to date, Mango Sticky Mango Imperial Gose has received the highest average rating (4.21/5) via the popular beer rating app Untappd. It is fair to say the beer has been a resounding success and one we hope to replicate – and surpass – with our next individually unique creation. Watch this space!
Fruit beers aren’t a new thing; what stands yours apart?
Traditionally, fruit beers are gently fruited; we are the exception as we go big with massive amounts of the best, freshest fruit from around the world added to our beers and we are not afraid to experiment to bring something new and unique to the market. Also, it is not just about fruit, but more a balance of complex flavours to make unique beers that people talk about and remember. A great example is our Thai Chili Getaway, which incorporates herbs like basil and chili for a spicy, sweet, sour Thai beer that challenges the taste buds.
It’s also a heady drop, why did you go with a 9% ABV?
The goal for this beer was to make an intense taste explosion that is more than mango. Inspired by the coconut and mango tastes of sticky rice, we overloaded the beer with ingredients to create an intense taste and luscious mouthfeel. The fewer the ingredients, the lesser the taste, the lower the ABV.
How is the HK craft beer market at the moment and how has COVID and the various restrictions affected your business?
I’d say the market was rapidly growing and there was a noticeable movement towards quality craft beers as opposed to the mass-produced, flavourless watery stuff. The craft brew crowd, both the brewers and the drinkers, are a resilient bunch, so it has been good to see the industry remain steadfast through a tough time, not just solely for our industry.
The brand has become an HK craft icon; are you looking abroad for Yardley Brothers?
The next evolution for Yardley Brothers is to get our unique beers back into the Singapore and Melbourne markets and possibly begin exporting to China. For export, we’d focus on our highly specialized and sought-after sour and barrel-aged beers, which travel well to provide consumers with a lasting experience without compromising flavour and quality. From a sustainability standpoint, there is little advantage to exporting a low ABV hoppy pale ale as hoppy beers are always best enjoyed locally and as fresh as possible.
How important is seasonality and limited runs to your business and what can we look forward to next?
While we do have a handful of year-round beers, keeping people excited and guessing what is next is important to us and allows us to continually experiment and push boundaries. Coming soon, be on the lookout for Fruit of the Gods, which is a hazy IPA brewed with the South American feijoa fruit and North American hops. This divine elixir turns heathens and blasphemers into converts and believers.
Seasonality really depends on the beer. Our Wampi Foraged Sour is seasonal as we brew the beer with wild wampi fruit foraged from Lamma Island when ripe. Our other beers are not specific to Hong Kong seasons as we source the best, freshest ingredients from around the world. The rhubarb for our Mum’s Rhubarb Crumble Pasty Sour comes from France, gooseberries for a recent barrel-aged sour came from New Zealand, and for an upcoming raspberry vanilla sour, the raspberries are being flown in from Scotland.
We heard whispers of a Mango CBD sour; what’s the motivation behind the addition of CBD and what can consumers expect from such a beer?
Yes, our recently released Mango CBD Sour is our first foray into adding CDB into craft beer. Mango CBD Sour is the little brother of Mango Sticky Mango Imperial Gose with an ABV of 5%. Partnering with Open Book Extracts Asia (OBX) to source premium plant-based cannabinoid products direct from the farm, Mango CBD Sour is brewed with sour, tart young mangos and 66mg per litre of Hydrobond, OBX’s proprietary THC-free water-soluble CBD, to make a juicy, refreshing, and super chilled out beer.
What I’m noticing is that beer consumers are looking for alternatives to standard alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, and CBD is just the beginning. I see the future role of bars as being “social pharmacies” where the consumer can select what is best for them and their current situation. Have a delicious beer, a great time, and feel good the next day. We have come a long way from lager monopoly!
Tell us about your brewery experience in Kwai Chung
Come visit us on the last Friday of every month at our craft brewery in Kwai Hing from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. As a Hong Kong brewery with limited space, we are on two floors of an industrial building. On the fourth floor is our barrel room where we age beers in French and American oak barrels for up to two years as part of our Barrel Brothers project.
Visiting the brewery is a chance to see some of your inventive barrel-aged beers, including one you aged in chardonnay barrels with fresh gooseberries and vanilla pods. What impact does this aging process have and what other experiments are we likely to encounter at the brewery?
Barrel-ageing beers is a passion project of mine. I am fascinated by the metamorphosis of the beers over time and how bacteria (Brettanomyces, Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, etc.) interreacts with the barrel’s wood and the characteristic of the wine previously held in the barrel. Similarly, barrels that have stored port, whisky, or cognac in the past add another complex layer, resulting in unique beers that are crossovers between beer, wine, and spirits.
For more Society stories click here.