Header image: KICK ASS wings + taps at The Madhouse Mongkok
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The Madhouse Taproom, Mongkok
What is it? A taproom in Mongkok that focuses on introducing customers to new experiences by bringing in fresh craft beers, mainly from Europe, trying to keep them as affordable as possible.
(And Madhouse have an online shop too – they are the official Hong Kong distributor of Amundsen Brewery, North Brewing, Polly’s Brew Co., Moersleutel, Eik & Tid, Fierce Beer, Adroit Theory Brewing, and Tempest Brewing.)
Why should you check it out? The Madhouse has a fantastic atmosphere and reliably fresh beers. It’s a great place to explore different beers and get advice on what to try. The food is a little different to what’s served at most taprooms.
Where is it? A short walk from Mongkok MTR station, exit D3
We first visited The Madhouse not long after it opened in 2017, before we became quite so obsessed with the freshness, styles and flavours of ours beers. The owner, Ha Suk, was there then, and he chatted with us about his home-brew kit in the corner, the variety of cans on display from Norway and which beers we should try.
We clearly remember that day, mainly because we had the most delicious mala chilli wontons that seared themselves into our memories forever. But we can’t remember what beers we had, so we are annoyed at 2017 us.
The Madhouse in Mongkok was half-full when we arrived at 5pm on a Friday afternoon and completely full when we left two hours later. It’s a small venue, with room for roughly 30 people, but the ceilings are very high, so it doesn’t feel cramped, and this also means there’s no direct air blowing on you. We know this is a random observation, but it’s a pet peeve of ours.
The crowd was a mix of locals and foreigners, and many seemed to drop in for a round or two and some snacks and then leave, with a familiarity that suggested this was a regular routine. The music was not too loud, and the conversation was a constant buzz around us, occasionally breaking into our own sphere when punctuated with beer terms like “IPA”, “NEIPA” and “Gose”.
Ha Suk’s home-brew kit is still sitting in the corner, and he laments that there’s no time to home brew anymore. “My home brew was never as good as these beers anyway,” he said with a laugh.
Ha Suk has a calming presence, quiet but at the same time enthusiastic. His love of craft beer began after discovering HK Brewcraft, and not long after that, he came across Norwegian beers. He explained that these beers are special owing to the pristine nature of the water in Norway, the clarity of which comes through in the brews. Ha Suk needed to import them himself in order to get a fresh supply. On our visit, there were no Norwegian beers on tap, but we will certainly be back to try them another time.
The beers & snacks
There are 20 taps, with two or three reserved for local craft beers and the rest imported directly by The Madhouse from Europe. On our visit, most of the beers were from Fierce, Vault City Brewing and Tempest Brewing Co, all in Scotland. There was one from Belgium and three beers from the UK.
The Madhouse brings in its own beers, and the taps change constantly. They serve 150 to 200 different beers a year, so every visit is unique.
All the servers at The Madhouse are Cicerone Certification Program–certified beer servers, which means they all know these beers, and they know how each one should be served and how to ensure the optimal conditions. Knowledgeable and passionate is quite the combo.
The tap guide on the left gives you the price (1), tap number (2), brewery logo (3), beer colour (4), brewery name (5), drink name (6), style (7), alcohol content (8), bitterness rating (9) and country of origin (10). Most of the beers here are priced at $48 per 200ml, with the most expensive being $78.
The Madhouse gets its beers directly from the suppliers in Europe and is responsible for organising all the cold-chain logistics involved with fresh, kegged beer. This can get expensive, but Ha Suk tries hard to keep the prices as low as he can. He really just wants to share his love of beer with as many people as possible.
We tried several beers over two hours. First up, a British NEPA (New England pale ale) called Transmission ($53/200ml) from North Brewing Co (UK), a juicy and fruity (from hops) pale ale that’s less bitter than the same version of an IPA. This style of beer needs to be drunk quickly after fermentation is finished because the hop aroma and taste fade quickly, but this one still had plenty of both, indicating freshness despite its long journey.
Evil Spam fries, wontons and Fierce x NZBC fruited Gose
Whilst there are only limited beer-pairing suggestions on the menu, Ha Suk told us he likes to drink a sour beer with the crabby shrimp deep-fried wontons with Japanese crab-roe dipping sauce ($68) because the umami from the sauce is balanced by the sweetness of the beer. The wontons were excellent, not oily and not overly spiced, which is good because it’s the crab-roe sauce that is the star. The sauce was creamy and tasted like fresh oysters, and we took advantage of the plentiful fried wonton skins to get every last drop. Alongside, we enjoyed All Gose South ($53/200ml), a Fierce (Scotland) x New Zealand Beer Collective fruited Gose, and it really did nicely balance all the flavours.
Beer pairings are interesting things. There don’t seem to be many rules (and it’s all very personal), but we think Ha Suk has the right approach. His suggestions explore the primary and secondary flavours of the food, with the beers trying to balance them, rather than just doing beer-battered this or beer-marinated that.
Evil Spam fries ($63) are one of those Hong Kong–type dishes you won’t find at many taprooms. These were crispy and without excess oil, fried at the right temperature, with a neutral crumbed coat and served with a slightly spicy mayonnaise reminiscent of Thousand Island dressing – but, still, you’re either a Spam fan or you’re not… We’re neither here nor there with Spam and would prefer another serving of those wontons instead.
Must-try! The Madhouse’s mala mala wontons with mala vinaigrette ($68) are the bomb. They say when tasting beer you should not eat any spicy or strongly flavoured foods. Oh well. Each wonton was small but perfectly proportioned in terms of filling to skin, with plenty of folds to coat in the chilli-oil vinaigrette.
Pictured alongside is a black sour called Blood of Nidhoggr ($68/200ml) from Fierce x To Øl (Denmark). We had never heard of such a thing! It was toasty malt and tangy blackcurrant sour at the same time – crazy! – like coffee with yoghurt. This beer is not for us, we decided, but we are happy to have tried it just the same. It did not pair well with the wontons.
Behind our Fierce friend pictured is a Future Infinity IPA ($68/200ml) from Polly’s Brew Co in Wales. It’s labelled as an IPA, but it was more NEIPA style, again with a fresh, tropical fruit aroma and a full, juicy mouthfeel. It was perfect for sipping alongside the mala wontons. Our mouths were all tingling and spiced up, then soothed and fruity and finally the beer aftertaste mellowed us back on the spice flavour train.
Stoutmate, a century egg and coffee porter pairing
The Stoutmate beer pairing is a talking point. A century egg ($28) is recommended to be served with a stout, in this case Café Racer Coffee Porter ($58/200ml) from Fierce x Devil’s Peak (South Africa). Century eggs become extremely alkaline during the preservation process, and beer is always acidic. Century eggs are also very sulphuric owing to the hydrogen sulphide they contain. So what does this do to the taste of the beer?
The coffee porter was one of our favourite beers of the day, with a roasted coffee-malt flavour and a slight sweetness. We tasted and savoured it, before eating the entire half of the egg at once (we don’t recommend doing this – it was quite overwhelming – a quarter or even less of the egg would be sufficient). Afterwards, we could barely taste the malt component of the beer; it became almost like lightly sweetened coffee.
This is beer science, which is like normal science except you’re drinking beer. I’m sure science class would have been a lot more fun doing it this way.
We had to try the KICK ASS wings ($72) before we left, and we’re so glad we did. The wings were juicy on the inside, but the light coating remained perfectly crisp on the outside. They were drizzled with a sweet honey mustard sauce. In honesty, we would have preferred this sauce on the side (you could request this). Actually, we recently tried a barley syrup that would have been perfect for these guys, or a hot sauce would work too. Get a mala vinaigrette sauce going and we’re moving in!
On our next visit to The Madhouse, we plan on hitting up the Instagram-worthy Hello CAN! nachos ($138). We didn’t get them this time, because how special can nachos be? But we now have regrets.
Also on the menu are three different Grandpa’s special braised meat dishes, with the recipes from Ha Suk’s grandfather. These are a favourite of many Madhouse regulars for enjoying with their beers, but they were unfortunately not available when we were there.
The Madhouse Mongkok will hold a brew-off between HK Brewcraft and hEROES to celebrate the eighth birthday of HK Brewcraft. HK Brewcraft is challenging hEROES for control of the Si L Dan IPA recipe; they think they can do a better version than the original. You can taste-test and choose which version is the best! Both Si L Dan versions will be available for tasting and voting on from 12pm till late on Saturday, 15 May.
RELATED: The latest HK craft brew news
The Madhouse Mongkok remains one of our favourite taprooms in Hong Kong. The atmosphere, staff (especially Ha Suk, but everyone was efficient and friendly) and the reasonably priced beers are all top notch. The food is interesting – not the same as you would find at taprooms all over the world. The Madhouse now has a branch in Causeway Bay too, with the same selection of beers, but the food menu and atmosphere are different.
We’re keen to come back to try Grandpa’s braised dishes when they are available again. These are the kind of special experiences that make memories, just like the century egg pairing (we’ll never forget that one).
The Madhouse Mongkok is currently open until midnight, with a fully vaccinated Ha Suk being the only one on duty after 10pm. Go say hi from us!
Mapped: HK taprooms
A taproom usually has food, but the focus is always on the super-fresh beers that are poured directly from the kegs.
Fun fact: drinking fresh local beer on tap is the most environmentally friendly way to drink beer because the keg gets returned to the brewery for sanitisation and reuse.
There are more taprooms in Hong Kong than we have mapped here (many more). As we find them, we will add them. One day we may even get to all of them.
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.