Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers -The Opening of the Sham Tseng Brewery

Hugh Farmer writes:

This article was originally published in Newsletter 6 on May 4, 2013. I have added photographs of JH Ruttonjee and SH Dodwell, who are mentioned below and who were prominent figures in the Hong Kong business community.

On 30th August 1933 Hong Kong Brewers and Distillers Ltd officially opened its brewery in the presence of several hundred prominent Hong Kong citizens. A fleet of 100 cars enabled them to make the 12-mile journey from Hong Kong island, and also Kowloon, to the Sham Tseng plant west of Tsuen Wan, by mid-afternoon and back to town when the inspection of the plant and the sampling of the new beer had been completed.

The General Officer Commanding, Major General OC Borrett officiated at the ceremony and his wife formally opened the doors of the main building using a silver key. The guests gathered in a huge matshed decorated with bunting and hung with flags. Several speeches were made, including one by JH Ruttonjee who was managing director of the brewery (his father had been a trader in wines, spirits and provisions in Hong Kong since 1884).


Jehangir Hormusjee Ruttonjee

SH Dodwell, Chairman, also addressed those present and pointed out that the Sham Tseng beer would be about half the price of the imported product.

Stanley Hudson Dodwell

Stanley Hudson Dodwell

It seems to have been a very jolly afternoon, no doubt encouraged by liberal consumption of the product, as he recalled the old 19th century music-hall song, “Come where the booze is cheaper”.

Credit: Library of Congress, Music Division

Credit: Library of Congress, Music Division

Despite Mr Dodwell’s proud boast the brewery was not a success and had to be liquidated (pun intended). Before long however another company was up and running under the modified name of Hong Kong Brewery and Distillery Ltd. This one fared well and became a profitable enterprise.

Though taken over the Japanese during the war it was returned in reasonably good condition. In 1948 the brewery was sold to Colonel Soriano, the head of San Miguel Corporation of Manila, for HKD6 million, after negotiations that allegedly took just under one hour.

The site of the Sham Tseng cum San Miguel brewery is now Bellagio, a private housing estate.

The San Miguel Brewery at Sham Tseng

The San Miguel Brewery at Sham Tseng

Let’s end this newsletter with a rousing chorus commemorating that August day nearly eighty years ago……..

Come where the booze is cheaper!
Come where the pots hold more!
Come where the boss is a bit of a joss!
Come to the pub next door.

This article was first published in the Indhhk email Newsletter 6 sent out on 4th May 2013.

Related Indhhk articles:

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


  • Mary Esther Parker

    In 1965, I purchased a sterling silver “hops shovel” at an antique shop in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. On the back is inscribed:

    Hong Kong Brewers & Distillers Ltd.
    27 6 1934
    Lady Southorn used this shovel to put in the first hops.

    It is more elegantly written than I have here. I will try to capture a picture of the hops shovel to send you if you send an email.
    It is a treasure and I use it to serve food at parties. Mary Esther Parker
    you send an email

    • otchan

      Dear Ms Mary Esther Parker,

      We are now conducting a social reserach project related to the social history of the brewery in Sham Tseng. I would like to know if you could send us the photo? My email is otchan@ied.edu.hk. Please contact us if you need further infomation. Thank you very much.

      • Mary Esther Parker

        Yes, per Hugh Farmer’s email, I will be happy to forward the “hops shovel” photographs to you. Hopefully, I can capture a better view. The sterling silver and especially the engraved inscriptions are difficult to photograph clearly.

        Good Luck on your project.
        Mary Esther Parker
        Tampa, Florida, USA

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