Header photo credit: Wear As
A watch is allowed to be called “Swiss made” if a certain percentage of the work is done in Switzerland. Some of the watch production might be done elsewhere, in a cheaper location, and then be brought back to Switzerland for assembly. It’s not perfect, but it is a regulated and respected denomination, and if a product is “Swiss made”, it usually commands a premium.
What about “Made in Hong Kong”?
We’re not talking about the controversy last year when there was some frantic relabelling owing to some US-China spats. We mean the sense of pride connected to something that’s made locally. Do we afford “Made in Hong Kong” a similar consideration to “Swiss made”? Why or why not?
Take, for example, the brewing or distillation of alcohol. According to the HK criteria for the “Made in Hong Kong” designation, the principal process for spirits and beer must be “fermentation and brewing” from “malt, maize grit and hop” or “grape, grape must, cereals, etc”. So if they are not brewed or distilled here, they are not made in Hong Kong.
A number of HK-inspired gins have hit the market in recent times, and they are the catalyst for this article because they are not made here. Note that none of these gins are pretending to be made in Hong Kong, and they are generally clear about where they are distilled – but they are all very much presenting a strong HK connection.
Bauhinia Gin is from the Hong Kong Gin Company and uses the HK national flower as one of its botanicals. The flower is also proudly displayed on the bottle, in a style inspired by the street signs of Hong Kong. This gin is distilled by Thames Distillers in London.
Gweilo Gin is made under the brand of Hong Kong’s largest craft beer brand, Gweilo. This gin uses a famous beer hop as one of its botanicals. According to their website, it’s made in partnership with The London Distillery Company, which went into administration early last year and whose brands now belong to the British Honey Company.
“Distilled in Great Britain with the spirit of Hong Kong”, Fok Hing Gin (Edition 852) is made with botanicals sourced originally from a Sheung Wan dried produce shop (we now suppose they are purchased wholesale in Hong Kong), and they are then flown to the United Kingdom for use at their distillery in Northampton.
Perfume Trees Gin began with two Hong Kongers setting out to “capture the essence of Hong Kong”. This gin is award-winning, has a gorgeous bottle and design and you can read about all the botanicals and where they are from on the website. Four of the botanicals are locally sourced. When clicking through to the purchase page, you can then see the gin itself is “created in Hong Kong, distilled in Netherlands”.
Each of these beautiful gins is a premium product, and they are proudly available all over Hong Kong. From what we know, they are all excellent quality. They just weren’t made here.
You might remember Handover Gin, which by all accounts did begin distilling here but resorted to illegally importing and relabelling New Zealand gin at some point, which did nothing good for the HK brand.
Obviously, there are a number of hurdles to jump in order to distil gin here in Hong Kong. One would assume it is more economical to distil at someone else’s existing distillery in London using their expertise, but using your own recipe and under your own branding. It’s common practice to do this contract type of arrangement in many different industries.
There are probably lots of regulatory roadblocks, and the expense of setting up and holding distillery space in one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the world means this makes sense from a business perspective.
N.I.P and Two Moons are both “Made in Hong Kong”
However, right now there are two HK distilleries – Two Moons Distillery and N.I.P Distilling – that are distilling their gins here, and they have both won awards for their inaugural spirit. Two Moons’ Signature Dry Gin just claimed double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and N.I.P Rare Dry Gin also won gold, named the Best Hong Kong Contemporary Gin at the World Gin Awards 2021. The hurdles are not insurmountable and do not result in an inferior product.
So how important is the location of production, really, when given multiple excellent choices?
What makes a HK product?
We think a HK product is a combination of:
- the people behind the product,
- the ingredients,
- the techniques and
- the community.
Why is community important in this context? We believe it’s a better and more complete indicator than simply where a product made.
If a product is produced in Hong Kong, it provides an economic value – more so than an import. There is local employment, local skills at work. It is a commitment to Hong Kong, even though it might be harder and more expensive to do – an addition to the HK bag of tricks, which lately seems to have sprung a leak. There is a sense of pride attached to all that. There are local tours, events and sharing of experiences and stories. This is how being “Made in Hong Kong” is so important to the community.
Two Moons recently unveiled a new 10L copper still that was designed and crafted in collaboration with Ping Kee Copper Ware and Copper Brothers. Ping Kee is a modest business of two brothers, both around 80 years old, who have been hand-hammering copperware in Yau Ma Tei since before most of us were born. It’s a beautiful connection of two industries and a feel-good story that is difficult to put an economic value on.
Two Moons’ family photo with the newborn copper still
The people, the ingredients and the techniques – these are all important too. They are like branches on the HK product tree. Fuk Hing Gin and Perfume Trees both source a number of their ingredients from Hong Kong and fly them over to different countries, which is meaningful, if a bit carbon intensive. There’s a community aspect to sourcing and purchasing local ingredients too.
The HK product tree (photo credit: @painting.daffodils)
Ensuring that the crafting of your product stays within your reach, keeping skills in-house, inviting others to learn and even be a part of your story and staying connected to those around you, all in Hong Kong – this is the root of the tree. You can’t have a HK tree without some good roots.
Today, beer brewed in Hong Kong is made with ingredients from elsewhere – barley, wheat, hops and even yeast from all over the world. All these ingredients are flown in, and then the beer is made here with HK water. Is this beer more Hong Kong than a gin made in London with HK ingredients? It’s not a terribly useful question, but in most cases we would say it is.
Is a HK–brewed beer made with international ingredients more “local” than a gin distilled in London with HK ingredients?
You may disagree on the high value we put on the “Made in Hong Kong” label. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to manufacture here. But no one should disagree that it is a very important consideration, especially when purchasing a product inspired by the spirit of Hong Kong.
What’s the problem with how things are done now? In the grand scheme of things, there is no big problem, but we believe this home-grown segment is under-appreciated. There are some high-quality foods and drinks being produced here in Hong Kong, and we want to celebrate them loud and proud. We also want it to be easy to recognise these products.
Let’s use a logo (a nice one – not ours!) and put it on every gin, beer, kombucha, chocolate, nut butter, candy and <insert your favourite F&B item here> that is produced in the 852 to distinguish and support them, because being “Made in Hong Kong” is not always the easy choice.
Don’t be a stranger – tell us what you think.
Here at Foodie, we love to highlight some of the lesser-known products being made in Hong Kong by start-ups and small companies. Please send us an email if you have or know of something that could use some Foodie love.
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