Gin Genies: The rise and rise of Hong Kong craft gins
Applying for a license to distil gin in Hong Kong was almost unheard of a decade ago. Clearance to craft a distinctive local take on the ubiquitous juniper-flavoured spirit is almost like a mission to Mars. It involves an elaborate, arduous, and frustrating journey marked by mountains of red tape and approvals from more than seven government departments.
“High taxes were, and still are, another hurdle – while beer and wine have been duty-free since 2008, spirits above 30-percent alcohol content are taxed at a whopping 100-percent. Experimenting with a small batch of gin at home is also taxed and invites bureaucratic scrutiny.”
Stirring Up a Storm
Hong Kong had just two craft beer-makers in 2013. How the tide has shifted – ferociously, some might say. Today, the city is awash with the earthy, exotic output of some 35 artisan brewers and distillers. Gweilo Beer, which began in a spare bedroom, now operates from a US$5 million high-tech brewery in Fo Tan.
Amid a global ‘ginnaissance’ fuelled by millennials seeking a lighter, more aromatic craft drink of choice, it was only a matter of time before Hong Kong’s passionate gin lovers turned to distilling. Gweilo Gin arrived in 2019, distilled in London using the lead hop from their Pale Ale. Gin parties, gin parlours and ginvent calendars are taken very seriously here – gin is now glorious.
Types of Homegrown Gins
There are two distinct types of ‘local’ gin. Artisan brands such as Perfume Trees, Fragrant Harbour and Bauhinia are distilled abroad but infused with local botanicals to encapsulate the true essence of Hong Kong in a bottle. Then, there’s the gin of micro-distilleries based in the city – NIP and Two Moons, to name just the two – which offer unique, intrinsically local, and unconventional flavours of this resurgent spirit.
In an increasingly crowded market, we asked Dimple Yuen, founder of local micro-gin distillery Two Moons, on what makes a good gin: “Of course, taste is deeply personal; gin is an easy ‘starter drink’. Gin & Tonic is a lot of people’s first spirit. Premium gin has to sippable, not too harsh or rough on the palate and one that is a reminder of personal stories. With gin, it’s not only about the flavour or the aromas on your nose but the experience behind each sip.”
That said, there are some basic boxes which all go-to pours must tick – the gin should be smooth in a G&T, blend in a martini and be memorable enough to be sipped straight, again and again. If it is diversity and freshness you seek, then try those from copper stills on Hong Kong soil.
Like Two Moons, Jeremy Li and Nick Law of NIP received their liquor manufacturer’s licence in 2019. An abbreviation of ‘not important person’, their gin is a highly refined, deliciously nuanced spirit made of 21 botanicals that celebrates the grit, perseverance and spirit of the underdog. Since neither founder has a beverage background, the name they chose has greater resonance and the quality of their craft is even more remarkable.
Established by Dimple Yuen and Ivan Chang in 2019, Two Moons has made a splash in the craft gin space due to the care and precision shown in creating each 100-bottle batch by hand. The taste is young and experimental, so unless you are a die-hard traditionalist, get ready to be blown away by the youthful vitality of the founders who infuse the best botanicals into their premium spirit.
They are even forthcoming with their proprietary recipe. “We want to be completely transparent and share the flavours so you might enjoy them as we do,” says Yuen. If a spirit-tasting tour is up your alley, pop by their distillery for a feel of their bespoke flavours – Two Moons is the first local gin maker to accommodate visitors.
(Text: Nikita Mishra)