Cover Beers by Singapore's The 1925 Brewing Co (Photo: The 1925 Brewing Co)

Our pick of the continent’s coolest, tastiest and most representative craft brewers

Craft beer may have begun its meteoric rise decades ago, but time has served to sort the wheat from, well, the less good wheat. A number of brands across Asia have established themselves as pioneers and leaders in the craft beer movement, representing the regions where they brew through their products. Here, we pick some of the most innovative, expressive and characterful craft beer brands brewing across Asia right now, from the Philippines to Singapore, as well as those contributing to a better beer world.

Hong Kong

Young Master Brewery

A decade into the new millennium, imported craft beers started to trickle into Hong Kong from around the world. The craft beer bars and festivals followed, and then came the local brews. It was Rohit Dugar who really pioneered local craft brewing in Hong Kong when he established Young Master Brewery in Ap Lei Chau in 2013. Since then, Young Master’s handful of beer styles has grown along with the company, which added a second brewery, the city’s largest craft beer brewhouse, in Wong Chuk Hang, and expanded distribution to Mainland China and Singapore. The original brewery is now dedicated to the brand’s small-batch limited edition beers, which complement award-winning year-round offerings that include pale ale, pilsner and wheat beers as well as Hong Kong-inspired brews such as the Cha Chaan Teng Sour featuring the salted lime commonly served with lemon soda in the city’s cha chaan tengs.

Mak’s Brewery

Mak’s Brewery operates on a smaller scale than Young Master but has been around since 2014, so is another early adopter of craft brewing in Hong Kong. What began as a small brewing operation on Yim Tin Tsai, a small Hakka island in Sai Kung after which the founders Tak Chi Lo, Po Mak, and Ho Lun Mak named one of their early beers, has since moved to a facility in Tsuen Wan where the brand continues to draw on local traditions and culture when crafting its beers as well as incorporating local Hong Kong ingredients, particularly those used in traditional Chinese soups. Mak’s range runs from a Longan Pale Ale, with dried longan, goji berries and preserved fruit flavours, to a Sugarcane Stout and Lemongrass IPA, with many more in between.

Carbon Brews

Based in industrial Fo Tan since its founding in 2018, Carbon Brews specialises in innovative beers, offering a year-round range as well as seasonal beers, and an array of collaborations among which they have worked with acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle, with whom they have created two beers, a double hazy IPA with tropical fruit flavours called I Drink Therefore I Am, and a robust IPA with citrus and pine notes that goes by the name Like The Wind. Other creative collaborators include fellow craft breweries—both local and international—as well as coffee shops, fashion brands and more, delivering an intriguing selection of beers that will never bore.

Singapore

RedDot BrewHouse

Blazing a trail for Singapore’s craft beer scene, RedDot BrewHouse was founded by Ernest Ng in 1997. Later he was joined by his daughter Crystalla Huang, who learned about beer brewing at VLB Berlin, the world’s oldest beer brewing institute, as well as training in food science and receiving a degree from The Culinary Institute of America in culinary arts. Her broad education has allowed her to develop a wide array of innovative beers under RedDot, which include signatures such as Chrysanthemum Rum Lager and Yuzu Craze Pilsner, as well as intriguing concoctions like Green Monster Lager, which is infused with spirulina, and a Sauvignon Ale that delivers mineral and tropical notes thanks to a combination of beer and wine yeast. In 2015, the brand expanded brewing operations to Melbourne, and it has also launched an overseas franchise in Myanmar.

Brewerkz

Also founded in 1997, this home-grown beer brand helped pave the way for craft beer in Singapore. Its wide range of beers, many of which have won awards from official beer bodies around the world, encompasses classics from English-style IPA pilsner and stout, to collaboration brews that incorporate sea salt and kaffir lime, or nutmeg, coriander and yuzu. Brewerkz also seeks to develop strong ties to the community through initiatives that range from design competitions for beer labels to outreach initiatives that support not-for-profit organisations such as TOUCH Community Services.

The 1925 Brewing Co

Relatively late to the brewing game in Singapore, the 1925 Brewing Company came about in 2013, yet it has firmly established itself as one of the city state’s most representative beer brands, using a wealth of Asian flora and herbs as well as teas in its beers, and brewing them specifically to pair with Asian food. Both creativity and sustainability are at the brand’s core––innovative local flavours like the Kaya Toast Stout, with aromas of pandan and coconut, have been developed that use surplus breads from Singapore’s online supermarket RedMart in an upcycling move, while the brewery’s used malts are sent to community gardens where they are employed as fertilisers, thereby reducing waste and making the most of all ingredients.

Philippines

Engkanto

Engkanto was created with change in mind. Founder Ian Paradies wanted to encourage people to challenge things they were not happy with. For him, one of those things was the beer options in the Philippines—there weren’t any. And so, in 2015, Engkanto was born, offering consumers exposure to a whole new world of beer, specifically craft beers that went outside the world of commercial lager. Using quality ingredients and eschewing additives, Engkanto’s range includes a Lager, a Blonde Ale, a Pale Ale, an IPA and a Double IPA. Earlier this year, the brewery welcomed a new Brewmaster, MJ Jordan, who brings expertise creating award-winning beers in Portland, the global capital of craft beer, and most recently in China where he helmed the renowned Boxing Cat Brewery. No doubt he’ll be bringing some new and enticing flavours to the table.

Crows Craft Brewing & Distilling Co

“We brew the beer we want to see in this world.” That’s the mission of Crows Craft Brewing which is unapologetic in stating that its craft ales are not for everyone. That being said, the quality brews, which use just four basic ingredients—malt, hops, yeast and water—have met with acclaim, whether it’s the hoppy Pale Ale, the Carte Blanche white IPA, the Mala Hierba or the punchy De Puta Madre, the brand’s flagship. As well as beer, Crows also makes two gins, has released a craft single malt whisky, a mango brandy, and last year launched Crows Nest Agrikultura, a white rum made from local sugarcane sourced from Batangas.

Taiwan

Taihu Brewing

Taihu Brewing’s mission is to ‘Defy Ordinary’. Since it was founded in 2013, it has done this with some seriously innovative brews. When it’s not showcasing the produce of Taiwan, as it does, for example, with its Taihu Kumquat, which brings a big hit of crisp, fresh, locally-grown kumquat, or its Pineapple Gose, an ale that incorporates pineapple juice and dried fruit, as well as Chinese hawthorn and coriander seeds, it’s letting its creative juices flow with beers like Taihu Sangria de Cerveza which boasts fruity notes and hints of light red wine; or Big M.A.C., a double IPA the brewery believes pairs perfectly with a burger and fries. Taihu has also partnered with various brands, including EVA Airways, with whom it crafted a Jasmine Tea Ale using jasmine flowers and green tea; and Starbucks for the Kenya Grapefruit India Pale Ale and Guatemala Imperial Stout.

Alechemist

Seeking to encourage production of wheat and barley in Taiwan, which were once mass-produced but whose prominence has dwindled in the last 40 years, Alechemist started planting barley in 2013, harvesting it in 2018 with an aim to create beers using exclusively local ingredients. Founded by agronomy graduates from National Taiwan University, Alechemist also works with farmers across the nation to incorporate other local ingredients into its expressive, characterful brews.

Sunmai

Established in 2004 as one of Taiwan’s first craft breweries, it was Sunmai’s beer made with local longan honey that propelled the brand into the limelight and set a course for what was to come. That longan honey beer won the World Beer Cup in its first year and inspired the brand to continue seeking out distinctive local ingredients to showcase. Today, as well as the honey beers, which use select longan honey that is only harvested during a four to six-week period each year, there are various fruit brews—Passion Fruit Beer, Kyoho Grape Lager and Lychee Lager, and Tea Beers—Pouchong and Oolong, as well as an Osmanthus Pale Ale. The brand’s award-winning beers, lagers and ales can be found in bars and restaurants from Shanghai to Suzhou and the brand has plans to expand to Japan.

Thailand

Chit Brewery

Much has been written about the Thai army colonel called Chit who defied the long-standing 1950 Liquor Act preventing the sale of home-brewed beer and started his own brewery on Koh Kret, just a stone’s throw from Bangkok, in 2012. Here, he not only serves the various IPAs, wheats, sours and porters he crafts but also runs brewing classes that have seen former students set up breweries outside Thailand to import Thai brews incorporating local flavours back into the country.

Indonesia

Stark Beer

It might seem surprising that a majority Muslim country boasts its own thriving craft beer brewery, but Stark Beer was founded by Chinese Christian Bona Budhisurya and his brother-in-law Jacob Suryanata in 2011. Crafted in the mountains of Bali where local mineral-rich spring water is used to produce the range of beers that includes wheat beer, a mango ale, a lychee ale and an IPA, all Stark’s products are made without preservatives or chemicals.

China

Master Gao Brewing

There is much debate over who started the craze for craft beer brewing in China. A handful of expats launched brewpubs and breweries in the ‘90s and noughties. One of the most renowned was Boxing Cat Brewery, which was established in Shanghai in 2008 and later, in 2017, acquired by AB InBev. In parallel, a local by the name of Gao Yan established Master Gao Brewing in Nanjing in 2008. He went on to publish a guide to home brewing in Chinese, inspiring a new generation of craft brewers, all the while creating a wide range of beers under his label, many of which, from his Baby IPA to his Puffed Rice Chinese Pale Ale, have won awards at international beer competitions.

NBeer

NBeer took home a wealth of awards at the World Best Awards 2020, from World’s Best Gose for its Beijing Gose Modern, a malty brew with tropical fruit and jasmine flavours, to World’s Best Speciality Beer and World’s Best Speciality Experimental for its Niubic Riesling Sour, a beer with wine notes, sour and sharp character and enticing brett notes. Established in 2013, NBeer, one of the first craft beer makers run by local Chinese, today produces a wide selection of acclaimed beers while also operating taprooms across China and offering brewing courses.

Japan

Hitachino Nest Beer

Hitachino Nest will be well-known to both Japanese and Hong Kong beer drinkers, as not only was the craft brewery founded in Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan in 1996 by Toshiyuki Kiuchi, of the Kiuchi sake brewery, but it expanded to Hong Kong in 2016 opening a second craft brewery in Fo Tan. Its recognisable labelling, which features a wide-eyed owl, adorns the bottles of the brewery’s wide range of beers which include its signature White Ale, its DaiDai Ale, which is brewed with fukuremikan orange and special hops, and, in tribute to its connection to sake, its Saison du Japon, brewed with local wheat and koji.

Vietnam

Pasteur Street Brewing Company

With a vision to bring American craft brewing techniques and Vietnamese ingredients together, Pasteur Brewing Company has become one of Vietnam’s biggest beer brands since it started brewing in 2014 and officially opened its doors in early 2015. In its first year, the brand brewed a hundred different styles of beer, from the Passionfruit Wheat Ale – a mainstay on the brand’s menu, and their now iconic Jasmine IPA made with local jasmine flowers from Sapa in northern Vietnam, to the short-lived Durian Ale and Jackfruit Wheat Ale. The brewery has worked with local brands like renowned chocolatiers Marou on a stout, adding local cinnamon and vanilla to what became their Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout and which, in 2016, won gold at the World Beer Cup, Today, the brand’s beers can be found in its taprooms in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Hoi An, and in bars and restaurants across the nation.

East West Brewing Company

East West Brewing Company may have been a later entry to Vietnam’s craft beer scene, but it has nevertheless made its mark since it threw open the doors to its state-of-the-art brewery, taproom and restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City in early 2017. Here, a selection of its beers, brewed by Sean Thommen and Trung Dau, are on offer, alongside an East-meets-West menu. Highlights on tap include Vietnam-inspired brews like the brand’s Coffee Vanilla Porter, which uses premium local coffee, and its Modern Belgian Blonde incorporating Vietnamese palm sugar.

India

White Rhino Brewing Co

One of India’s first craft breweries, White Rhino was established in 2016 close to New Dehli. The brand currently offers a carefully curated range of just three beers, but that’s not to say creativity is not on the cards—there are plans for new beer styles in the pipeline. Meanwhile, those on offer are quality brews and include a Belgian Style Wheat beer made using Indian rolled wheat and organic coriander seeds sourced from the Himalayas; a craft Lager, designed to offer an elevated beer compared to what’s currently on the market; and its India Pale Ale, which is a modern rendition of this classic style, embracing its history—IPA was originally shipped from London to quench the thirst of wealthy British in India; White Rhino hopes its IPA will go the other way—brewed in India to take on the world.

Goa Brewing Company

Based in a heritage home in Goa since it was founded in 2018, Goa Brewing Company may only have a handful of beers on its roster right now, but with a laboratory ensconced in the property—which does open for tours on occasion—there’s plenty brewing for this innovative brand. Of the beers available now, the Eight Finger Eddie is a tribute to India’s hippy sixties, while its Wheat ale combines bitter orange puree and calamansi for a refreshing beer perfect for enjoyment by Goa’s beaches. Always supportive of the community, Goa Brewing Company made hand sanitiser during the pandemic, and its next social initiative involves working to help revive Goa’s heirloom rice varieties by supporting farmers and committing to using the rice in its lager.

Kati Patang

Relatively new to India’s brewing scene, Kati Patang has quickly made a name for itself since its launch in 2018 thanks to the purity of its beers, which are made with crystal clear Himalayan spring water. With relatively few beers on its books—just four to date, they are nevertheless sought after, whether it’s the Zesty Amber with its caramel flavour and citrus notes; the Snappy Wheat packed full of flavour with lemon rind and Indian spices including peppercorn, coriander, ginger and turmeric; the Saffron Lager, whose subtle spice is sourced from Kashmir; or the latest addition to the brand’s repertoire, Bareilly Bold, which boasts notes of the Indian flower palash, or flame of the forest.