“Once upon a time, three socially awkward and unattractive beer lovers wanted to start a brewery to brew great beers but worried that their ugly faces would not be well received by the rest of the world. They thought of creating fictitious ‘heroes’ for themselves so that they could bring all their beer fantasies to life.”
Self-deprecating and humble (and not actually socially awkward or unattractive), the trio have built a thriving community around sharing good beers and good times. However, a common issue with hEROES beers is that if you’re considering a craft beer with little experience and pick up one of their cans, the description might seem odd. What on earth does it all mean? Read on to find out.
Why is “hEROES” capitalised like that?
The small “h” in “hEROES” represents the humble beginnings of all heroes. Chris, Jason and Angus believe all heroes are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The hEROES motto is “unleash the hero within”.
Who is Albert?
Albert stars on many of the labels. He and his fei cheung (fat sausage) friends just like to hang out, enjoy good beer, meet new people and explore what is possible in the wonderful world of beer brewing. The people they meet inspire them to create the hEROES beers we enjoy. Albert and his team represent the hEROES brewers – the behind-the-scenes crew who brew – drawing inspiration from the world around them.
There are three categories of hEROES beers:
- Albert’s BINO beers
- Collaboration beers
- Heroes and villains
Albert’s playground is the hEROES pilot brewery in Yau Tong. The Albert’s BINO beers brewed there are experimental, often using wild fermentation that is notorious for cross-infection with other beers, so the core range of hEROES beers is brewed at the Carbon Brews facility in Shatin in order to stay clear of that risk.
Beers claimed by Albert (such as Albert’s BINO #07 Forgotten Child Flanders Red with Cherry) are often barrel-aged and limited editions. BINO sounds like the Cantonese word for “hotpot” – da bian lu 打邊爐 – and is Albert’s kettle for making beer.
The collaboration beers, such as VHHX (below) and the upcoming beers with iconic teahouse LockCha (look for the Rose Tea Saison), are always varied and interesting.
And then there is the core line of heroes (and villains) beers.
Who are the heroes?
Each style of core hEROES beers is based on a different hero. They are described on the cans in cryptic text – nearly impossible to interpret without knowing the backstory. You might love a beer whether you understand it or not, but much like craft beer in general, but the more we understand, the better we can appreciate what we are drinking.
For example, one of the core hEROES beers is Si L Dan, which began as a brew-off between hEROES and the staff at HK Brewcraft. The winning entry came about owing to a bundle of mystery hops added in error. Ever since then, the recipe for Si L Dan is periodically changed using this “spontaneous hopping technique” in order to stay true to its origin.
The hero of One Star Scotch Ale is AP-09, described as an “enhanced dog” who is actually a taproom manager. He began his beer journey with a dislike of “beer snobs”. He liked solid, classic styles of beer, but over time, he became increasingly “stiff-necked” (which translates to “stubborn” in Cantonese) and became SNAP-09 – a villain rather than a hero. There is a beer for each of his two personas: the Scotch ale and a Wee Heavy. Making a beer for a villain is a really interesting and inclusive decision. Like the craft beer environment in general, there is room for everyone.
Another character is AB-48, a former employee of hEROES who used to argue with AP-09. She likes new and innovative flavours. Her beer is the spicy, sour, AIBA medal winner Michelada Gose, which uses blood oranges and Yu Kwen Yick chili sauce. You can confirm the identity of AB-48 by her tattoo of a tiny chilli sailing in his tiny chilli boat (as found on the beer label) and ask her yourself what “AB” stands for.
Four awesome hEROES beers to try
If you are craft-curious and want to try hEROES beers, we adore the following four beers. We received all of them (and more) in our latest order of a 24-can mixed case. Some of the beers in this case were canned only two weeks prior, which is incredibly fresh.
Note that the unwritten rule has always been that hEROES will not advertise who their “hero” is, unless the hero has already outed him or herself. There are many more HK heroes to hunt down!
On the can:
Hangry Donut was born with off-the-wall levels of goofiness. Over the years of hangrily battling the status quo during prohibition, she developed powers that can bring life to the most boring (aka beerless) objects at the touch of her fingertips.
The hero: Chef May Chow
Hangry Donut is an easy-drinking American wheat beer with a twist. It’s gorgeously punch-hued, with just enough subtle floral aroma to make it interesting. Hangry Donut is the first beer we ever home-brewed from grain, using an ingredient kit from HK Brewcraft, and it will always be one of our favourites.
All-round high-achiever Chef May Chow inspired Albert to create this classic style with just a touch of HK hibiscus. The perfect base recipe and additional hibiscus set it apart and have enabled Hangry Donut to win so many international medals that we couldn’t list them here without being boring. Whilst Chef Chow admits that she is not a beer connoisseur – “I just know what I like” – the chef certainly knows flavours. The beer name came about from the apparent fact that she is emotional when hungry (aren’t we all?) and nothing but doughnuts will do.
On the can:
Kupzzy the phoenix was born with unparalleled vision, which she used to lead her followers through rains and storms. But the sky is getting darker than ever as a dark force is bringing in unprecedented cyclones and thunder. The only clear path she sees leads her flock into a terrifying cluster of black holes. Time is pressed, and forward is the only way through if they don’t want to get wiped out by the storm. She takes the lead and dives into the black hole, only with hope that there is a bright, warm sun waiting for them at the other end.
The hero: 及時雨
This easy-drinking brew was recently crowned the Champion IPA for Asia. It’s a “hazy IPA”, which means you can expect reasonably low bitterness (unlike standard or West Coast IPAs) and a thick mouthfeel that feels “juicy”. This one is a double IPA (DIPA), so it has a higher alcohol content of 7.8%.
You will find the heroes that inspired Kupzzy at many HK beer events. They are the HK musicians Rain In Time 及時雨 (kap si yu), and you can see their nickname “及記” on the label. They believe music is like an “in-time rainfall that keeps our souls from wilting”.
Rain In Time’s music is mostly post-hardcore, which is a style that often mixes in lighter elements from other genres (such as pop) into its heavy, hardcore base. Just like how Kupzzy In Time Hazy DIPA starts out fruity and juicy, but has a punch that you shouldn’t ignore. We can confirm that this delicious beer demands respect.
On the can:
After years of unrelenting boozy experiments on the brew roof, mad scientist Hunk Sir finally produced this secret peacemaker potion that can turn the worst enemies into friends.
The hero: Jordan Kostelac
In real life, Hunk Sir is home-brew fanatic Jordan Kostelac, who met the hEROES team in 2012, before the brand even existed. They would get together to share home-brew resources and notes, and Jordan always loved to incorporate local flavours into his brews, bringing about his “mad scientist” reputation. His previous creations include an unsuccessful but admirable char siu stout and a well-received milk tea porter, which evolved into the coffee porter that is Hunk Sir today. hEROES combined cold-brew speciality coffee with lactose in order to bring out the essence of the signature local “cha chaan teng”–style coffee in Hong Kong.
Jordan is now involved in the talented team behind Hong Kong’s own cidery, Neonotic!. He has always maintained that brewing is purely a labour of love, but he couldn’t resist the opportunity to push the boundaries of what cider can be.
We were interested to find out that Hunk Sir is not Jordan’s favourite hEROES beer. Hunk Sir loves a Hangry Donut!
On the can:
On his way to the next quest, Albert took a detour down VHHX, the old aviation heroes’ training ground. The headmaster shared stories of how low-flying heroes honed their skills landing on this challenging runway located in the middle of the world’s densest city. Back then, each hero was supplied with a floating bread roll to help them keep balance in the sky. Since the training ground moved to its new home in 1998, these bread rolls were left unused floating around. Knowing Albert, he decided to throw these floating rolls into his BINO to see what happened and ended up with this rich, toasty VHHX Vienna Lager.
VHHX is a collaboration beer, not from the “hero” line. It’s a fresh and easy-drinking Vienna Malt released recently by hEROES with Cathay Pacific Catering Services (CPCS), using surplus soft bread rolls to supplement the grain bill. “VHHX” is the code for Kai Tak Airport and is now only used in aircraft simulators the world over (the current airport code is “VHHH”). You can purchase VHHX at the CPCS online shop Deli Delight, amongst other obscure goodies.
CPCS CEO Liza Ng oversaw the development of VHHX, supporting her team when a junior member championed the idea of using leftover bread in a supporting roll (ha) to make beer. Beer is generally an environmentally taxing drink to create, with eight litres of water used for each litre of beer produced – all the more reason to improve where we can.
Even though there is no hero attached to VHHX, we think the brewery has done such a lovely job with this beer that we give them the honour.
A little 10% bonus for reaching the end of the article. Buy hEROES beer here!
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