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Hong Kong brewers match beer with Chinese food

Chef Jowett Yu's pairing of grilled New Zealand fatty lamb ribs and an especially brewed beer has been years in the making.

Years ago in China, the Hong Kong restaurateur had eaten lamb ribs at Guanguanji, a restaurant in Shanghai. The lamb had been slathered in cumin, fennel and chilli powder, and he had wanted to wash it all down with an ice-cold beer - which the restaurant did not serve.

Now, however, Yu has finally been able to marry the two together. Dad Bod, a beer brewed in Hong Kong by Young Master Brewery, is sold exclusively at Ho Lee Fook, Yu's modern Chinese restaurant in Soho - an upscale entertainment district in Hong Kong.

Dad Bod is a pale ale made with guava that "cuts through and balances out the richness of the dish," says Yu, thanks to the use of fruity hops and a slight amount of acidity from the guava. The beer, he adds, goes well with many of the restaurant's other meat-based dishes too.

Hong Kong brewers are increasingly working with restaurants on custom beers to pair with specific dishes. This isn't something seen only in Hong Kong; some of the world's top restaurants have beer lists as comprehensive as their wine selection.

Hong Kong brewers match beer with Chinese food

Rohit Dugar at the Young Master Brewery in Wong Chuk Hang, in Hong Kong's Southern district.

"Wine can sometimes be constrained by certain dishes," says local brewer Young Master's founder Rohit Dugar. "With beer, there's so much variety. It gives you a lot to work with."

Even a short beer list can offer rewarding experiences. Laszlo Raphael, the co-founder of Moonzen Brewery in Kowloon, says a good rule of thumb is to respect what he calls "the three C's - cut, complement and contrast."

The first refers to a beer that can cut through particularly intense dishes. "If it's fatty food, acidic beer is best," says Dugar. "If it's spicier food, there should be some sweetness and not much bitterness."

One example of this would be Young Master's Days of Being Wild, a series of sour beers fermented in a wood vessel called a foedre, before being aged in barrels with added hops or fruits.

The resulting brews have layers of flavors and an acidity that make heavy meats seem less fatty and overwhelming. Dugar says they also pair well with rich, creamy desserts.

Dan Dan beer brewed specially by Moonzen Brewery in Hong Kong is served with spicy Sichuanese dishes at Crazy Noodles.

Moonzen took a different approach with Crazy Noodles, a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong that serves fiery Sichuanese dishes.

When the restaurant asked the brewery to make a custom beer, it opted for something with complementary flavors. Dan Dan Beer is a strong ale made with chilli peppers, sesame and peanut powder that reflects and enhances the flavors of its namesake dish.

"Sometimes," Dugar says when it comes to beer, "doubling down on the flavor can work, like a chocolate stout with chocolate cake."

The trick is to make a beer that matches the intensity of a particular dish. That's why hotpot enthusiasts at Liu Yi Shou can pair their spicy broth with a mala lager brewed especially for the restaurant chain that serves Chongqing-style dishes (similar to Sichuanese).

A mala lager has been specially brewed for the hotpot chain Liu Yi Shou.

The third approach is to pair by contrast. One classic example of this is raw oysters and stout, as the bitter, roasted notes of stout help define and enhance the briny taste of shellfish.

Chris Wong, a restaurateur and brewer in Hong Kong, says fish and chips go surprisingly well with the bitterness of a hoppy India Pale Ale.

He also loves drinking Rodenbach - a Belgian beer with notes of dried fruit and sherry vinegar - with Cantonese-style roast goose. "It mimics the plum sauce," he says.

Regular beer pairing events are now being held at breweries and bars in Hong Kong and the nearby city of Shenzhen.

Wong says it's also easy to create one's own pairing experience.

"A lot of old-school Cantonese restaurants are open to people bringing their own beers," Wong says. He often ends up at the Queen's College Old Boys' Association in Tai Hang, which runs a reservation-only Chinese restaurant. "A lot of beer geeks go there and we bring beer to do our own pairings. It's fun. There are always some surprises."

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