On Friday evening, the 4th of December, Hong Kong Beer Co held its first-ever virtual craft beer tasting.
Phillip Rankmore, Hong Kong Beer Co’s Head Brewer, and Kevin Lee, Certified Cicerone, were thrilled to welcome an enthusiastic online audience of craft beer drinkers to sample three of HKBC’s craft beers.
Kevin kicked off the hour with a step-by-step guide to beer tasting with Hong Kong Beer Co.'s Happy Valley Golden Ale. Kevin is a Certified Cicerone, a globally recognized qualification of beer knowledge and essential tasting skills similar to the Certified Sommelier designation for wine.
Kevin’s advice included practical suggestions such as looking at the label for the beer style, brewery, and all-important expiration date (to ensure the beer is fresh). He also recommends that people drink beer when it is chilled and ideally from glassware (versus directly from the bottle or can) because it allows for a more pleasing overall experience – to smell the aroma and see the colour of the beer. “Just be sure the glassware is clean, not dusty, or it might affect the flavour, aroma, or foam of the beer,” he said.
When drinking beer, Kevin recommends first carefully swirling the beer in the glass (to enliven the bubbles to release more aroma) before taking a quick sip. Then allow the beer to go to all parts of your palate (because different parts of your palate can detect different flavours) and notice the aftertaste as well to assess the full taste profile. On a lighter note, if you’re drinking with friends, Kevin recommends clinking glasses (gently) as you say, “Cheers!”
After Kevin’s excellent primer on beer tasting skills, we next sampled HKBC’s Peach Sour. Once poured, Kevin enthusiastically remarked that he could smell the peaches. Phil explained that he was going for a candied peach aroma and a sour, tart flavour, but not too sour when he brewed this beer. Kevin noticed the golden peach slightly hazy colour – which he correctly attributed to wheat as one of the ingredients. There are many styles of sour beer. HKBC’s Peach Sour was modelled after a Berliner-style Weisse or German sour wheat beer. It is intended to be dry, tart, and a little sweet because of the peaches.
Kevin is a sour beer fan. His first sour beer was a Gose, another German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer. He developed a taste for sour beer because, in his opinion, it is “refreshing”. Phil’s first sour beer was in Belgium. He was shocked because he didn’t think beer would taste sour. However, after a while, he developed a taste for sour beer and liked the way it felt in his mouth. Kevin summed up the conversation well by noting that beer has a lot of styles. “If sour beer is not your first choice, you can choose another style – golden ale, IPA, pale ale – until you find your favourite,” he said.
Beer and food pairings are a core component of Kevin’s Certified Cicerone training. When he thinks about food pairing, he thinks about matching intensities (strong flavour food with strong beer), complementing dishes (nutty beer paired with nutty food), or cutting through flavours (the bitterness of an IPA cutting through the oily feeling of roasted meats). He recommends pairing HKBC’s Peach Sour, which is quite sour, dry, and refreshing, with cheesecake because it is creamy and sweet. Another pairing – the citrus and sourness of the Peach Sour would pair well with fried food – such as fried tofu, fried noodle, or fried chicken – because the Peach Sour can cut away the oiliness of these foods and leave your mouth feeling refreshed.
Next, we moved onto sampling our final beer for the night, HKBC’s Mango Lassi Milkshake IPA. Kevin poured the Mango Lassi and immediately noticed its bright orange colour, commenting, “It looks like mango juice!” Phil replied, “This beer has a lot of mango in it – over 100kgs of Alfonso mango puree from India!”
According to Kevin, the aroma smelled of mangoes; however, the aroma was different from the golden ale and peach sour because Kevin could smell the hops, too. Said Phil, “This beer is still an IPA, so we use a lot of hops; not just mango, but dry-hopping.” Phil continued, “We chose hops – and yeast – to complement the mango flavour. This beer has mosaic hops which give off citrusy, tropical fruit notes and a Norwegian yeast called kveik that complements the mango and adds a pineapple-y character.”
After sipping, Kevin noticed that the flavour was not bitter like an IPA. Instead, the mouthfeel was smooth and creamy from the lactose, and it did not have a bitter aftertaste. Kevin thought the ideal food pairings would be spicy curry – with the contrast of spicy from the curry and sweet from the mango. Phil agreed and also thought the beer would go well with ham, chicken, and turkey. “An ideal beer for Christmastime. It adds sweetness and is festive with the higher alcohol of 6.9%,” he said.
After the beer tastings, there was a lively question and answer session. Please see below for a rapid-fire Q&A! To conclude the evening, Phil thanked Kevin and our guests for participating in HKBC’s first-ever virtual beer tasting. He also thanked Hong’s Kong’s premier performance and event venue, 卅間 Chez Trente, for so graciously hosting us.
What is ABV?
Phil: ABV stands for alcohol by volume. So, for HKBC’s Gambler’s Gold Golden Ale which has an ABV of 4.6%, one way to think about it is if you were to separate the alcohol from the rest of the beer in a glass, 4.6% of the glass would be alcohol.
Kevin: As a beer drinker, it is a reference point to let you how strong the beer is.
Phil: Beer usually ranges from about 4% alcohol to 10% for Double IPAs. If you compare that to wine, wine generally has a higher ABV – from 9% on the low end to 20% (or more for a fortified wine).
What makes sour beer sour?
Phil: The ingredient that is used to make sour beer sour is either yeast or bacteria. For our Peach Sour, we used lactobacillus bacteria, which is the same bacteria that is used to make yoghurt. Some other bacteria or yeasts can be used, but for this one, we used lactobacillus.
Where did sour beer come from?
Phil: Without a doubt, the very first beers were sour beers because when beer was discovered – about 3000 BC or earlier – they didn’t have refrigeration. It was an all-natural fermentation. When you have natural fermentation, you not only have yeast, but you have bacteria, and that would have made the beer sour. So, sour beer has existed for as long as beer has existed. It’s not like we had beer and then we made sour beer. No, we had sour beer, and then we made beer.
What is the difference between milkshake IPA and IPA?
Phil: A milkshake IPA tends to be smoother and silkier than IPA, and a little bit thicker. This silkiness is achieved by the addition of lactose during the brewing process. Lactose is a milk sugar that is not fermentable by yeast which means that it adds body and sweetness to a beer. Most sugars will be turned into alcohol by yeast during the brewing process, but if you want sweetness and body, you need to add something that the yeast can’t metabolize and turn into sugar. So, we put lactose in this beer to give it a fuller body and sweetness. Because even though we added a lot of mangos, most of the sugar and the sweetness of the mango was turned into alcohol. So, if you look at the ABV of this beer, 6.9%, it’s relatively high for beer.
I’ve heard that I should roll the bottle or can of a milkshake IPA or hazy IPA before opening it. Is this true?
Phil: This is an insider’s tip for any heavier-ingredient beer such as a milkshake IPA or hazy IPA. Rolling the bottle or can on a table before opening allows any fruit or hops that have settled to redistribute throughout the liquid.
What is barrel ageing?
Phil: At HKBC, we are barrel-ageing a stout for release in 2021. We bought bourbon barrels from Kentucky in the United States, and we put our craft-brewed stout in them.
Kevin: Barrel-ageing is when you put beer in a barrel for a long time – 6 to 12 months – and the barrel gives the beer another taste such as vanilla or chocolate.
Phil: Exactly. Barrel-aged beers tend to be much higher in alcohol, like a bourbon, because they sit for longer, so they have to be stronger beers. The beer goes into an empty bourbon barrel that, at one time, had bourbon in it. Especially if the beer is barrel-aged for one year, the ambient temperature changes while the beer is in the barrel. In warmer weather, the barrel expands, and in colder weather, it contracts. This action continually sucks the beer into the barrel and pushes it out, all the while picking up a lot of the barrel character – vanilla, char, bourbon – and creating a beautiful, silky, strong, aromatic, thick dark beer.
What is the correct way to pour beer?
Kevin: Pouring beer is pretty straight forward. Hold the glass in one hand, bottle or can in the other. With the glass at a 45-degree angle, slowly pour the beer until it reaches the halfway point of the glass, and then slowly tilt the glass to the upright position as you complete the pour.
What’s next at HKBC?
Phil: Our next beer is a pilsner. Even though it is not very common in craft beer, a pilsner is actually one of the hardest beers to make because it is so light, it’s so subtle, and the flavours are not strong. So, you have to be a very good technical brewer to brew a good pilsner. It’s a very difficult beer to make and you have to focus on the beer’s intricacies and subtleties.