HK-born craft beer brand Carbon Brews already opened its first branded bar last year – not in Hong Kong but in Tokyo. But, finally, now that our restrictions are in retreat, they have been able to soft-open their flagship location at the Wyndham Street spot vacated by Solas in 2021. The ground-level space has been extensively renovated and now has a full kitchen for the first time.
The interior design is by Brevity, and the result certainly challenges our preconceptions of what a craft beer bar should look like. It extends the Carbon Brews brand design by Kith&Kin – unconventional, experimental and creative.
“The goal was to turn their quirky and fun graphic brand into a three-dimensional experience. If you are familiar with Carbon Brews, you will have a blast spotting all the design features that play on their brand elements and label designs.”
– Jeffrey Shum, Brevity
A typical gastropub this is not. The psychedelic colours, futuristic curves and reflections and (Squid Game–ish) shapes are derived from Carbon Brews’ various label designs, and are sure to attract crowds that are not usually enticed by beer. But there needs to be something more than shiny things to keep them coming back, and it was with this thought foremost in our mind that we began our visit.
Crabmeat and taramasalata, chicken drumettes and Crazy Rich Lupulins beer cheese
The head chef in the new kitchen is Sean Yuen, who previously worked at three-Michelin-starred Caprice. With this menu, he aims for simple, fresh ingredients prepared with skill without being excessively ornate, and following in the footsteps of Roganic and Blue Supreme, each dish has recommended beer pairings.
Starters include the Crazy Rich Lupulins beer cheese ($75) – wholegrain sourdough served with oozing, rich Cheddar and taleggio cooked with a touch of beer. We were recommended to pair it with something hoppy, like a hazy IPA, in order to balance and cut through the decadent cheese.
For a lighter snack, the crabmeat and taramasalata ($120) has delicate flavours including smoked herring pearls and is matched with the lightly sour Berliner Weisse beer Sour Punch ($47/$77/$93).
The fried chicken drumettes ($95) come with delicious, snackable pickled veggies (in the Carbon Brews brand colours), and of the three hot sauces, you should choose the house-fermented jalapeño for copious dipping.
The whitebait frites ($85) are a delicate version of the classic pub dish, with the frites made from Canadian Agria potatoes. This is an easy plate to share and enjoy with any beer.
Hanger steak frites and slow-cooked, pan-seared lamb belly
Our number-one choice on the menu is the hanger steak frites with smoked bone-marrow sauce ($255). Not only is it melty on the inside, charred lightly on the outside and served with a generous serving of hand-cut fries, but the bone-marrow sauce has the most irresistibly smoky flavour from the Jack Daniel’s wood chips used. In addition, the recommended pairing of Good Things Hop’in Threes ($53/$88/$107) is just right; its fresh, danky aromas and light, malty sweetness complement the smoky bone-marrow sauce and umami steak.
The slow-cooked, dukkah-crusted and pan-seared lamb belly ($235) with chipotle purée is also delightful, and it’s worth splurging to enjoy it with a small pour of limited-edition, barrel-aged Never Skip Leg Day ($110/$182/$220).
Whilst there is a small selection of wines available, it’s the taps and extensive beer list that demand our attention. There are 28 taps along the wall, and roughly half of them will always be Carbon Brews beers. The others will rotate depending on what’s fresh and what’s just arrived in Hong Kong, with a likely focus on Japanese beers.
The 29th tap can be found at the top of the bar ladder, a nod to the first Carbon Brews brewery, which was split between the 10th and ground floors, necessitating the constant moving of large vessels of beer by lift. Today, of course, they own the Fo Tan brewery built originally by Double Haven, which is where a number of other HK beers are brewed too. The elevated 29th tap will only pour limited or exclusive beers such as those made especially for Group 14 members.
Yet to be put into service is sneaky tap number 30 – located behind a secret compartment near the front door. At some point, beer lovers will be able to purchase an entire keg for this tap and enjoy an impromptu street party!
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A choice of so many beers can be very intimidating for those who are not familiar with the different styles available. We’re here to help! Here’s what you should try:
- “I don’t really drink beer.” Have yourself a Sour Punch – it’s light, fruity and sour but not face-puckering. Another popular option is Kokomo, with flavours of pineapple and coconut.
- “Beer is good.” The Carbon Brews IPAs are great, not good. Crazy Rich Lupulins is arguably their signature – it’s hazy and fruity (from hops, not fruit) in a NEIPA style that’s not bitter. It’s an 8.3% ABV though and packs the calories too. If you like a dry, bitter IPA, we love the Like the Wind collaboration with Christoper Doyle (杜可風) with its deliciously malty backbone. There are also lighter session IPAs if you need to pace yourself and a selection of lagers if you want something clean.
- “Something special, please.” Carbon Brews has an extensive barrel-aged programme, and these limited beers vary depending on what’s available. We love the Young Master x Carbon Brews collaboration beer Never Skip Leg Day, a Belgian-style Quadrupel that’s been aged in cherry wine barrels. This beer was made as part of the Good Friends Project organised by the Good Beer Project, and it’s… good.
When in doubt, always ask the staff. They are very well informed and can’t wait to talk beer with you.
Our initial fear for Carbon Brews Central was that all the focus would be on the daring design but that it would lack substance, however, the most important elements of Carbon (ha) are spot on. Carbon Brews is an “employee-driven” company, and so far, the staff at the new venue are appropriately enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Without a written beer-tasting guide, the employees are doing the heavy lifting, gently guiding those who want to try something completely new. Going forward, the staff will be a large part of what determines the success of this bold venture.
And whilst the beers at this taproom are rightfully a focus, we are happy to report that the high standard and variety of food will ensure you will want to drop in for a bite to eat any time.
G/F, The Centrium, 60 Wyndham Street, Central, 5409 4840
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.