Inside Young Master Brewery, Asia’s Leading Craft Beer Brand
September 01, 2022
Synonymous with Hong Kong’s recent craft beer explosion, assuming a strong role in the city’s adapting food and beverage space, is Young Master Ales Brewery, a local brewery and craft beer brand that has penetrated the city’s drinks market and served as a gold standard leading a hoppy revolution in Asia.
Distinct with their red-pant-kung-fu-stance logo and native Cantonese iconography, the local beer brand has established itself as a leader in the Asian craft beer industry, boasting a series of core beers, defining partnerships with local businesses, and a strong troupe of successful F&B venues.
“We are a bunch of craft beer lovers, founded under the principle, a calling to promote craft beer,” said James Ling, beverage director of Young Master’s city-wide restaurants and bars, in an interview with The Beat Asia at the group’s Mong Kok-based taproom, TAP: The Ale Project. Joining the company as an intern in the first quarter of operation in 2013 with founder Rohit Dugar, James joined the company full-time in 2014.
“At the time [of founding in 2013], there was nothing like craft beer in Hong Kong. There were one or two bars that imported interesting beers from the [United] States, the U.K., or Europe, but the term craft beer had not spread. People didn’t understand the difference between a good beer and a macro beer. Our mission was to guide people to know what [a craft beer] is and let people know how good a beer can be.”
Inspired by the 1963 Hong Kong coming-of-age film, “The Young Boss of the Factory (工廠少爺),” Rohit and his team became enamoured with the tale of a “young master” of a factory driving business in place of his ailed father, drawing connections from the old Hong Kong film, its iconography, and rags to riches story. “Rohit sees himself as the factory’s young master,” James said, “we share the connection with this film, we all live like a young master with a driving spirit and strong work ethic.”
The diligent ethos of the team in the nine years of operation has seen Young Master penetrate the local market with beers, a brewery, and food venues that embody a Hong Kong Lion Rock spirit and an old iconography, playing on the city’s colonial roots.
The company opened their first brewery in November 2013 in Ap Lei Chau, before feeding demand for their product with a second brewery welcomed to Hong Kong in August 2016 in Wong Chuk Hang.
The Southside of Hong Kong is where the team brought to market their first beer, the 1842 Imperial IPA, employing a colonial beer style and historical connection. “This beer summed up what we wanted to set ourselves in the beginning.” In their year-round core collection, Young Master produces a classic pale ale, a Cha Chaan Teng-inspired gose, a contemporary pilsner, Another One, an all-day session ale, wheat beer Fleeting Clouds, and Jeng, a trendy IPA.
Into the mid-2010s, James said, “we started collaborating with a lot of different brands, making our presence known in Hong Kong and Asia.” Young Soy has partnered with breweries Heroes Beer Co, FINBACK, Carbon Brews, hotels Mandarian Oriental, Kowloon Shangri-La, and Hytatt Regency, local chain restaurants Tamjai Samdor and Yan Chim Kee, cocktail bars COA and Shady Acres, and western eateries Feather & Bone, Cookie DPT, and Ho Lee Fook. Since 2014, they have released 70 limited release brews, too.
“COVID-19 made us become open-minded to what we have to do. For a lot of breweries [in Hong Kong, the pandemic] was an extinction signal. Now we had to survive that, collaborating with brands and other businesses to try and survive, thrive too!”
It was Young Master’s chain of restaurants and bars that afforded the brand in the past seven years to innovate and introduce their revolving line of seasonal, year-round and collaboration beers to a physical market. The group operates two The Ale Project restaurants in Mong Kok and Tseun Wan, New York-Italian-style diner Alvy’s in Kennedy Town, craft beer gastropub Second Draft that recently re-opened in Causeway Bay, bar 1842 in Basehall, and craft beer bar and restaurant The Guild in Singapore.
With a distinct identity in menu offerings, vibes, music, and restaurant design, each venue caters to specific beer drinkers, different clientele, and demographics. “We created our own bars and restaurants to ensure that we have a channel to speak to customers face-to-face. We are a pioneer introducing new beer styles in a really personalised experience at our bars, restaurants, and at our brewery. We want people to know we are a Young Master bar, but we also want all our venues to have their own identity and offering.”
James attributes both the brand’s iconography and connections with Asia-wide retailers, brewers and F&B partners for the rocket success region-wide and beyond. Commenting on the success of opening the brand’s Singapore-based brewery, The Guild, profiting with sales in the Garden City, and exporting en-masse to the U.S., the beverage manager said that Young Master’s Hong Kong brand has been helpful to market the label as “Made in Hong Kong.”
“We are proud to be founded and made in Hong Kong and we want to keep this passion going. We have been pretty successful in keeping the Hong Kong story in Asia, particularly in China, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, beyond in Europe winning awards and accreditation, and selling in the U.S. People resonate and understand the vibe of the 1950s-esque [graphical] style,” James said.
“As craft breweries, we are happy to be a part of the community and become friends with different breweries, learn from them and grow together… The goal is to change the face of craft beer in both Hong Kong and Asia-wide. We want to become number one in Asia.”
James refers to the Cantonese idiom of 認咗第二冇人敢認第一, meaning "if they say we are the second, who said who’s the first.”
When asked for a takeaway for someone who’s never tried a Young Master beer, James said: “We're trying to bring the diversity back [to beer] and make sure people know this beverage can be so interesting with our lines of craft beer."
“You don't even have to just try our beers. We are all in this craft beer community. We believe we are the best, but other people are doing great as well. Try them all out. Pick a drink that you like; you don't need to talk to anybody else about what you or others should drink. We are providing that diversity that everybody should be happy with.”
James and the team are resolutely optimistic for the growth of the brand in Hong Kong and worldwide. The third and fourth quarters of 2022 will set a focus on branding and reaching to local demographics to position Young Master as the primary beer brand in Hong Kong, the August opening of Second Draft in Fashion Walk, Causeway Bay, imminent releases of beers in convenience stores city-wide, and expansion of the brand’s newest line of can highball drinks, HIGHERTHAN. In the future, James wants to expand the coverage of Young Master’s venues to cities across the region and beyond.
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