When Black Kite was founded in 2015 by Daniel and Dave Gallie, it was one of a handful of craft breweries in Hong Kong. When their head brewer went on holiday at the end of 2015 and never came back, the brothers kept on brewing. Five years later, Dave is still brewing at Black Kite and has teamed up with Tom Turner of Neonotic! cider.
Tom Turner and Dave Gallie at Black Kite Brewery
We caught up with Dave and Tom over some delicious brews to chat about the beer scene in Hong Kong and their plans going forward. They had just finished brewing a batch of Lychee Milk Stout (sneak preview alert!) and the air was thick with the aroma of malt.
Black Kite’s core beers
Over the years, Black Kite has maintained six core beers. Although Dave is born and bred in Hong Kong, his father is from Oxford and Tom is from Dorset (both in England), so they are both fans of traditional, malt-forward beers. Gradually, their tastes have evolved, and they've toned down the maltiness a bit (keeping some because they like it) while upping the hops.
Wanting to focus more on seasonal and experimental brews as craft brewers are wont to do, Black Kite need to free up some brew space. So right now there are only three core beers: the ever-popular “craft gateway beer” Glider Golden Ale, the slightly hoppy High Flyer Pale Ale and Birds of Prey IPA. However, they may also reduce the pale ale to a seasonal brew.
We started our meeting with the golden ale and can understand why it’s a popular choice. It is an ale, but it’s crisp, light and sessionable, with a clean, lager-like flavour and very few hoppy elements. The pale ale is a step up in maltiness, with a slightly higher alcohol content, bitterness and fruitiness. We love it, but Dave and Tom feel it’s too similar to the IPA to keep as a stand-alone core beer.
Their 8% ABV Double Dollar DIPA was supposed to be an experimental beer and part of a series exploring different hops (similar to the Little Rich Lupulins series by Carbon Brews), but it has become so popular that they need to keep making more of it. Similarly, the relatively new Pins and Needles Passionfruit Sour has proven to be a hit and is regularly made. Sheepishly, Dave and Tom admit there is also a “hidden core” porter that they need to make for regular clients...
And so after their best efforts, they are back to six core beers.
Not that they are complaining. With the restrictions on bars and restaurants, 2020 has been a terrible year for breweries. After Black Kite sneaked in their June 2020 relaunch party (just before lockdown), they had to pivot to home sales over the more streamlined process of keg sales.
A new counter-pressure bottling machine is helping with the extra workload (and improving consistency), but small-quantity, just-in-time deliveries are logistically difficult. Craft beers typically include lots of hops, whose flavours degrade quickly, especially if cold-chain storage cannot be guaranteed.
We do love Black Kite’s Glider Golden Ale, Double Dollar DIPA and Pins and Needles Passionfruit Sour – and we’re not the only ones. In November, these three beers were chosen in a blind taste test and selected to be on the shelves of Dairy Farm stores all over Hong Kong. You can get them online from Market Place by Jasons through their app or visit Market Place and Wellcome stores around town (with your earphones to mute the Yuu song).
Current Black Kite experimental beers
The hazy, retro-labelled Ice Cream Swirl Milkshake IPA has the slightest aroma of mango and a hint of peach when drinking it, and yet, through the magic of hops, it contains no fruit whatsoever. The addition of lactose (which does not ferment out) makes it a little sweeter than a traditional IPA, but the effect is subtle. Because it is not overpowering in flavour, we could see ourselves having multiple bottles in one go.
The new sister sour to Pins and Needles Passionfruit Sour is a kettle sour reminiscent of your favourite childhood blackcurrant drink. Pins and Needles Blackcurrant Sour has a gorgeous purple pour, with the familiar sweetness and tartness of blackcurrant balanced by a light sourness. We love it, but not quite as much as the Passionfruit Sour. It is available right now at Craftissimo.
One we did not try is Gingerbread Latte Milk Stout, made in collaboration with NODI Coffee Brewer at LANDMARK in Central. It’s creamy, with a blend of chocolate, crystal, Vienna and pilsner malts. It's cold-brewed with NODI’s house espresso blend and finished with a gingerbread spice mix.
There was a recent Double Haven collaboration ale called The End Is Rye, and a very special, top-secret Yardley Brothers collaboration beer is in the works. Black Kite want to continue teaming up with local breweries and are exploring international options to get creative and keep pushing the boundaries.
They are planning to do a special brew at least every month – experimental beers as well as some more true-to-style brews. We are hoping they bring back their smoked (and vegan) beer Oh, Bacon! so we can try pairing it with Dutch cheddar and smoked cheese or some vegetarian dumplings.
The new Black Kite
Black Kite rebranded halfway through 2020. The new logo is more complicated than the original, which was a favourite of many for its effective simplicity.
But the design has grown on us. The new Black Kite logo consists of a collage of icons, and the distinctly Hong Kong elements within the new logo are already making their way to stand-alone labels.
The kettle sour range Pins and Needles uses an icon to represent the acupuncture points used in Chinese medicine, and of course Double Dollar DIPA needs no introduction to anyone familiar with Hong Kong.
Other elements include a Hong Kong tram, a cable car, the Star Ferry and a cheongsam. We look forward to seeing these on future special-edition beers.
Which beers do the brewers drink?
Tom used to brew for Young Master, and he still loves their Another One Pale Ale. Pushed to choose a beer worldwide, he worries that his love for English beer is based on nostalgia as the last time he went home he was disappointed. But good memories die hard, and he will go straight to a Badger Best Bitter or Ringwood Razor Back cask ale when he’s allowed to travel back to the UK again.
Dave enjoys a clean Double Haven Lager when he’s not drinking his own beer. Given the choice of any beer in the world, he would choose a Wildflower Beer from Sydney. This brewery specialises in wild sour beer. They hang dried native flowers and plants to impart some of their natural bacterial goodness to the beers, which are barrel-aged and blended to balance the old and new flavours.
Photo credit: Wildflower Brewing & Blending
Sour beer sidetrack...
With Dave’s mention of barrel-aged sour beer, we had to get some as we have recently become sour beer lovers. We found it in Hong Kong at HK Brewcraft. Barrel-aged sour beer is really something else. Wild sour beer is extremely risky to brew, given the unpredictable nature of wild bacteria, and even Wildflower expect wastage of up to 20%. Dave says he would love to open a brewery dedicated to this style of beer. Brewing it alongside other beer styles or even kettle-soured beer is risky for cross-contamination, so ideally this would be done in a separate brewery.
Yardley Brothers have just got themselves a coolship, used to collect wild yeasts and bacteria to innoculate the wort prior to fermentation using the wild elements in the air, and Hong Kong's sour beer lovers are watching, albeit with reluctant patience.
The Hong Kong craft beer scene
We chatted a bit with Dave and Tom about Hong Kong’s craft beer scene in general – what people like and don’t like and how they find and buy their drink. Many of our friends who don’t drink beer find they really like sour beer. Dave’s wife is not a beer drinker, but she does enjoy a stout with its chocolate and coffee flavours.
The beer selection here is SO HUGE, but the community is also SO ENTHUSIASTIC to talk beer – so don’t be intimidated to try something new. One of our favourite things to do at the moment is buy a bottle of sour beer and enjoy it over dinner – like a bottle of wine, but with less alcohol and some really interesting flavours.
Our recommendations for trying Black Kite craft beer are:
- If you love lager, try Glider Golden Ale
- If you don’t like beer so much, try Pins and Needles Passionfruit Sour
Where to find Black Kite beer
For home drinking, always try to buy directly from the brewery. There is usually a minimum order of one case (24 beers). Black Kite have given us a promo code to use when buying from them.
- Order directly from Black Kite – use promo code "blackkitefoodie10" for 10% off until May 2021
Big beers with a small footprint – the Black Kite brewhouse
Other places to get your Black Kite for home
- Beerhound, Wong Chuk Hang, beerhound.com.hk (use promo code foodie for freebies)
- HK Brewcraft, Central, @hkbrewcraft, hkbrewcraft.com
- Craftissimo, Sheung Wan, @craftissimohk, craftissimo.hk
- Angry Beer, Mongkok, @angrybeerhk, angrybeer.com.hk
- Tramline Liquor Co, Kennedy Town, thetramlineliquorco.hk
- Mango Store (中文), mangostore.co
- Bestbev, bestbevhk.com
On tap in HK Island
- The Globe, SoHo, Central, @theglobehk, theglobe.com.hk
65 Peel, SoHo, Central, @65peel, www.facebook.com/65peel(Recently closed)
- Hong Kong Island Taphouse, Tin Hau, facebook.com/HKIslandTaphouse
- Blue Supreme, Sheung Wan, bluesupreme.live
- Hoppy Junction, Wanchai, facebook.com/Hoppy-junction
On tap in Kowloon & the islands
- Once You Go Craft, Tai Kok Tsui, @onceyougocraft, facebook.com/onceyougocraft
- Kowloon Taproom, TST, facebook.com/KowloonTaproom
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