Header photo courtesy of Ex Plum Wine (via Facebook)
While Hong Kong has no shortage of world-class bars, prestige is normally conferred to those who utilise fine spirits imported from famous alcohol producers like Japan, Scotland, the United States, and other far-flung places. However, did you know that Hong Kong has its own small but burgeoning scene of craft alcohol producers? (There is also a varied and thriving craft beer industry, but that is its own beast worthy of its own dedicated article—which we have already written!) From fun and fizzy hard seltzers to craft gins spiked with local botanicals and traditional rice wines, here are the local alcohol brands to know. Cheers!
While there are quite a few gin brands headquartered in and inspired by Hong Kong, there are in fact only two licensed gin distilleries in Hong Kong. Two Moons, a Chai Wan-based distillery, was founded by Hongkongers Dimple Yuen and Ivan Chang after the pair experimented with gin infusions and decided to create a complex and balanced spirit that would taste just as good straight as in a craft cocktail.
Yuen, who is Hong Kong’s only female head distiller, produces Two Moons’ signature dry gin in small batches in the brand’s namesake, a custom-made 100-litre copper still called Luna. Besides the requisite juniper berries, the spirit is also flavoured with Asian botanicals like 陳皮 (can4 pei4), an aged tangerine peel prized in Chinese medicine and cooking, Chinese apricot kernel, and Chinese almonds, as well as other aromatic ingredients like pink peppercorn, lemon, vanilla, and tonka.
Learn more about Two Moons’ history, distilling process, and the history of gin in general (or should that be gin-eral?) with a private tour of their facility, where you will get to see Luna and taste some craft tonics. Alternatively, you can purchase Two Moons’ star product from their website or at retail stockists, or try it in cocktails at gin-focused bars like Origin, Dr Fern’s Gin Parlour, and Ping Pong Gintonería, as well as other esteemed drinking establishments like Tell Camellia and Doubleshot by Cupping Room.
Founded by two friends, Jeremy and Nic, whose lack of experience in the F&B industry informed the brand’s name (“Not Important Person”), NIP Distilling takes inspiration from the enduring Hong Kong spirit to make, well, a Hong Kong spirit. Inspired by their love of craft gin, the duo ventured to Scotland to learn the art of making gin from veteran distillers at the end of 2017 and launched their brand two years later (coincidentally around the same time as Two Moons) after extensive experimentation led them to their signature rare dry gin recipe.
The spirit, which is flavoured with longjing and shoumei tea, as well as 陳皮, snow pear, ginger, and osmanthus, is an homage to Hong Kong flavours and culture, as indicated by the 勝 (victory; sing3) character on the bottle, which is found in old-school Chinese drinking bowls (you know, like at Tung Po).
Besides their flagship product, NIP also produces limited edition and collaborative releases, like G0T, a ready-to-drink lemon tea-inspired gin and tonic made with local mixer brand Carbonation, “Awakenings,” a festive spiced apple gin, and most recently, 800M, a Lunar New Year release spiked with auspicious additions like mandarin, oolong tea, lotus seeds, ginger, and gold flakes.
Learn about the history of gin, the distillation process, the botanicals that go into NIP’s rare dry gin, and Jeremy and Nic’s plans to expand their repertoire on a private tour of their Quarry Bay facility, where you’ll also get to see April, their custom-made copper still that was assembled by the duo themselves.
We can’t talk about local alcohol without touching on rice wine—and while most mainstream brands are produced in mainland China, there’s one craft producer that’s been based in Hong Kong for over a century. Founded in 1876 by Guangdong native Wong Sing-hui, Wing Lee Wai, which translates to “eternal fortune and fame,” established its headquarters on Wing Lok Street in Sheung Wan in 1905.
During its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, Wing Lee Wai was a highly regarded rice wine brand known for its signature 五加皮 (ng5 gaa1 pei4; herbal wine) and sweet, floral 玫瑰露 (mui4 gwai3 lou6; rose dew wine), which were commonly consumed at lavish banquets.
While classic rice wines fell out of vogue for a few decades, there’s a growing taste for the traditional liqueurs among trendy young Chinese consumers. You can now try its rice wine at its longstanding headquarters on Wing Lok Street (where you can enjoy the wine with some hairy crabs), or at trendy bars like Bound by Hillywood, which showcases the brand’s yuk bing siu (玉冰燒), a Cantonese rice liqueur flavoured with pork fat, in its signature cocktail menu.
Craft beer enthusiasts will likely be familiar with Double Haven, a relatively new but already popular craft brewery based in Fo Tan. What you may not know is that the brewery is also behind the city’s first-ever hard seltzer, Dragon Water!
While hard seltzers may carry a slightly less-than-prestigious connotation in the United States, Dragon Water is a craft product through and through, with a light sparkling mouthfeel and subtle, pleasantly refreshing flavours like cucumber watermelon, lemongrass lime, and ginger blood orange. The Double Haven team, who named the brewery after the serene harbour of Yan Chau Tong, clearly take pride in their seltzers, with tasting notes befitting a craft IPA or Berliner Weisse accompanying each and every flavour.
While umeshu (梅酒; plum wine) is most commonly associated with Japan, there’s actually been a locally produced plum wine on the market for the last year! The brewers at indie umeshu brand Ex Plum Wine do everything from washing the plums to steeping the fruit and bottling the liqueur right here in Hong Kong—To Kwa Wan, to be exact. Each green plum is carefully selected before being steeped in alcohol for one whole year to infuse fully before the sour-sweet liqueur gets bottled. Those who enjoy espresso martinis, coffee shochu, and other caffeine-spiked spirits may be interested to hear that Ex recently released a coffee-flavoured umeshu, which you can try in highball form at Dio in Soho.