Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers – The Sham Tseng Brewery 1930-1935
HF: Martyn Cornell, an enthusiastic writer about, and consumer of beer, wrote an excellent history of brewing in Hong Kong which appeared in the article, Roll out the barrel, SCMP 25th August 2013.
Martyn tells me this was a short extract from his much longer Brewery History Society article, A Short History of Beer in Hong Kong, which was published in 2012. Martyn has kindly given me permission to quote from this which I will do at a later date.
But let’s start with Roll out the barrel. One of the breweries he mentions is the Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers which opened a plant in Sham Tseng, on Castle Peak Road. We already have an article on HKBD, Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers – The Opening of the Sham Tseng Brewery, linked below. Martyn provides further details about the plant, its demise and almost immediate resurrection.
Martyn Cornell: In 1930, Jehangir Ruttonjee, a 50-year-old member of a Parsee family from Bombay (as Mumbai was then known) whose father ran a wine and spirits business in the city, founded Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers, with himself as managing director and largest shareholder.
By November of that year, work had started on a site for a brewery at Sham Tseng, by the seafront on Castle Peak Road. The equipment was being supplied by the Skoda Works in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, home, as the new company pointed out, to the original Pilsen lager, and Skoda was also furnishing an expert brewer. The water supply came from the hills behind the site. The 60-foot-high, two-storey brewery, designed by Hong Kong architects Leigh and Orange, had an annual output of 7,500 barrels: 1.22 million litres.
Plans for a distillery never went ahead but the brewery held its official opening ceremony in August 1933, an event attended by more than 600 prominent citizens, who were driven out to the site in about 100 cars. Catering – “teas, cakes, ices, etc” – was organised by Lane Crawford in an open mat-shed erected for the occasion between the brewery (itself decorated with bunting and flags) and the sea, while music was provided by the band of the South Wales Borderers, a British Army infantry regiment.
Unfortunately, adverse macroeconomics came into play. Hong Kong and China were the last places in the world to still tie their currency to silver, and high silver prices hammered their exchange rates. The rising value of the trade dollar, Hong Kong’s currency at the time, made exports expensive and imports much cheaper, so much so that British beer was being sold for the same price as the local brews, despite the cost of shipping it nearly 20,000 kilometres.
In early December 1935, it was announced that the brewery was going into voluntary liquidation, its collapse “in direct consequence of violent exchange fluctuations”. However, “it is planned to carry out a reorganisation scheme and meanwhile the company’s business will continue as usual”. The following year, Ruttonjee incorporated a new firm under a similar name – the Hong Kong Brewery and Distillery – and bought the Sham Tseng brewery from the liquidators, again taking up the post of managing director.
HF: The image shown on the Home Page is of Sham Tseng Brewery when later owned by San Miguel.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers -The Opening of the Sham Tseng Brewery
- Oriental Brewery – “The beer that’s brewed to suit the climate”
- Wo Fat Hing Distillery, Lung Wo village
- Wo Fat Hing Distillery, Lung Wo village…Part Two – photos of the plant functioning
- Wo Fat Hing Distillery, production of 玉冰燒酒 (Juk Bing Siu Zau) or 肉醪燒 (Juk Lou Siu)