Beer in Hong Kong – Part Two – The Imperial Brewing Company Ltd

Martyn Cornell has kindly given permission for extracts from his article, A Short History of Beer in Hong Kong, to be posted on our website.

The article was published in the Journal of the Brewery History Society, Brewery History, Issue 156, 2012

Martyn has his own blog, Zythophile – Beer now and then, linked below.

Despite its title the article is quite lengthy and packed with information. The first extract posted was titled, Beer in Hong Kong – Part One – the early days up to the planned opening of its first brewery. The story continues…

“About the time the Hongkong Brewery Company was folding, however, the Imperial Brewing Co. Ltd. was founded by a local trading firm, Barretto & Co., which itself had been established in 1895 by a couple of Portuguese businessmen, Messers A.A.H. Botelho and F.D. Barretto. Imperial Brewing was founded in 1905 and began operations in a converted house in Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley, on Hong Kong island late in 1907. A government report in 1908 said the brewery’s capacity was a substantial 76,400 barrels a year, and ‘Large quantities of their products are being exported to the various ports in China’.(30)

Imperial Brewery snipped Martyn Cornell article

Figure 3. Imperial Brewery ad. China Mail, 24 January 1908, p.5.

A full and enthusiastic report was published on the brewery’s operations that same year, which made it clear the brewery was producing lager:

An industry only recently started in Hongkong is that carried on under the general management of Messrs Barretto & Co by the Imperial Brewing Company Ltd, which was formed in 1905 and commenced operations in December 1907 as soon as the necessary plant had been erected. The premises are situated in the Wongneichung [sic] Road, and the equipmentimported from America by Mr FJ Berry, the present works manager, and erected under his supervision, is thoroughly up to date and makes possible the latest scientific methods. The brewing master is Mr AF Weiss, a graduate of the USA Brewery Academy, under whom are employed about sixty men. In brewing beer, the first desideratum especially in a hot country like Hongkong is that a uniform temperature shall be maintained, and to facilitate this a refrigerating plant has been installed The famous Shevilier [Chevallier – MC] malt is used and it is first crushed and made into a mash. This takes place at a temperature of 140F, which is slowly raised in the course of an hour or so to 167F. An hour’s rest is then allowed after which the liquid is drawn off and run into a copper kettle to which hops are added in the “woert” [sic]. The brew is brought to a boil for two or three hours, according to the brand of beer required, and is then ready for discharging into a hop jack. This is fitted with a false bottom, and the clear beer is then pumped on to a surface cooler, where it remains for an hour or two. It is then run over a Baudlet cooler, and while at a temperature of 36F, yeast is introduced. The beer is then aerated for from twelve to fifteen hours, when more yeast is added. The froth caused by the fermentation is removed, the skimming being continued until the fermentation ceases, this process lasting from three to eight days according to the strength required. The beer is matured in tanks for several months, and is then run into chip casks and re-charged with kreausen [sic – krausen]. Twelve or fifteen days later it is ready for filtration and casking or bottling. That intended for bottling is pasteurised to prevent deterioration and give it a palatable fullness. The brewery has an ample supply of good water from the public mains of the Colony, but to ensure a service in the event of this breaking down, a reservoir capable of meeting all requirements for several days has been erected. The beer brewed is of excellent quality as is evidenced by its already wide popularity.(31)

In June 1908 the Chamber of Commerce Journal, writing of the Imperial Brewery, said:

The Belgian Consul at Hong Kong reports that a brewery has recently been started there and is already doing an excellent business. The enterprise has been established with local capital, both European and Chinese. The beer which is brewed is of the light pale kind, and is sold both in casks and in bottles. The company makes its own casks. The beer has already met with such an excellent demand that a second brewery is in contemplation by American promoters. There is no doubt that if the Chinese acquire the taste for this beverage to the same extent as the Japanese have done, there is a great future for the brewing industry in Southern China, in which case a considerable demand will arise for the appliances and accessories required in brewing, as well as the ingredients of the beer.(32)

The brewery manager is listed in Hong Kong’s 1908 voters’ list as Francis James Berry, living at the Connaught Hotel, and the same source names the brewery chemist, Adam F. Weis, who seems to have been living at the brewery, at 9 & 11 Wong Nei Chung
Road.

However, its beers failed to impress the local consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who wrote to Vienna in 1907:

In Wanchai in the past year the Imperial Brewery was put into operation, but their product has had very little response. Both flavour and clarity have much to be desired and should probably be blamed on the technical management of the company. The whole plant of this brewery, which is in makeshift accommodation in a former private house, points to the low capital strength of the owner.(33)

The Imperial Brewery quickly had a rival…” to be continued…

The Image on the Home Page, not from Martyn’s article, was kindly sent by IDJ and shows the Imperial Brewery in 1905.

References:

30. Colonial Reports Annual No 570 Hong Kong Report for 1907. HMSO (1908) p.11.
31. Wright, A. (1908) Twentieth century impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other treaty ports of China: their history, people, commerce, industries, and resources, Volume 1. London: Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Co. p.249.
32. Chamber of Commerce Journal, London Chamber of Commerce. (1908) Vol. 27, June. p.179.
33. Berichte Der K Und K Österreich-Ungarische Konsularämter über das Jahr 1907 Herausgegeben im Auftrage Des K K Handelsministeriums Vom K K Österreiches Handelsmuseum. Section IV, pp.6 & 9. Translated M. Cornell.

See:

  1. The Brewery History Society website The Society was founded in 1972 to promote research into all aspects of the brewing industry, to encourage the interchange of information about breweries and brewing, and to collect photographic and other archive information about brewery history.
  2. Martyn Cornell’s blog, Zythophile – Beer now and then

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Beer in Hong Kong – Part One – the early days up to the planned opening of its first brewery
  2. The Imperial Brewing Company formed 1905, commenced operations 1907
  3. Hong Kong Brewers & Distillers – the opening of the Sham Tseng Brewery
  4. Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers – The Sham Tseng Brewery 1930-1935
  5. Lady Southorn’s hop shovel – Hongkong Brewers & Distillers 1934
  6. Oriental Brewery – “The beer that’s brewed to suit the climate”

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