In 2017, London’s Beavertown Brewery held its first Beavertown Extravaganza, calling the craft beer festival a “showcase of the finest brewing talent the world has to offer.” Earlier this year, Manchester’s Cloudwater Brewery threw its first Friends & Family & Beer Festival, a two-day “celebration of independent values” featuring breweries with which Cloudwater had previously collaborated. In May, Copenhagen’s Mikkeller hosts its eighth-annual Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen, inviting “the best breweries in the world to come and serve a minimum of eight of their rarest and craziest beers.” The Tokyo spinoff returns in September for its second run with 40 breweries and 320+ beers.
A few weeks ago, Wellington’s Garage Project crushed its sold-out Hāpi Beer Festival & Symposium, a one-day non-profit event held to “showcase international hop-forward beer from [its] brewing mates across the globe,” while also promoting and supporting the brewery’s work with Hāpi Research. In the US, Firestone Walker Brewing Co and Hill Farmstead Brewery are among the breweries that have hosted their own thematic beer festival for years now.
There are many more examples.
Brewery-hosted beer festivals, in other words, are not necessarily a novel concept. However, in today’s increasingly competitive beer world, it’s clear that more breweries see the marketing potential of organizing their own branded events—and when we use the word “marketing” here, we attach no negative or cynical connotations to it whatsoever. Sure, it’s good times when you bring together, promote, and kick back beers with mates from like-minded breweries, but there’s (usually) more to it than that.
Look at the breweries we’ve cited: Garage Project, a brewery that champions its Kiwi pride (among other things), hosts a beer festival themed in part around New Zealand hops; at Friends & Family & Beer, Cloudwater spotlights its fierce independence and collaborative nature; famously experimental Mikkeller asks breweries to bring their “craziest and rarest” beers; prolific farmhouse brewery Hill Farmstead showcases, yep, farmhouse ales at its signature annual event.
When a brewery does it right, its festival in some way does more than just offer good beer from great breweries—it frames the whole thing through a narrative that embodies its brand or ethos. That is the difference between, say, a generalist event like Beerfest Asia or Beertopia, where the brewery is often reduced to just a costly booth among many other costly booths. We don’t expect such festivals to go away, but we do anticipate more breweries across the Asia-Pacific region to in the coming years follow the established lead of peers in the US and Europe.
That brings us to Hong Kong, where one of Asia’s leading craft breweries, Young Master Brewery, hosts on May 25 and 26 the second-annual Young Master Invitational Beer Festival. Twenty-two breweries from 14 countries will participate in the two-day event, which like many beer festivals is ticketed in sessions—but, here, the four three-hour blocks get an on-brand twist.
In our May 2017 profile of Young Master Brewery, founder Rohit Dugar had this to say about the brewery’s role as one of Hong Kong’s first craft breweries:
“For us, because we were the only ones when we started, there was this necessity that we are the ones that need to play an educational role, so we need to do a set of classic styles, but we also need to do a set of more innovative, different styles because we want people to realize that beer can be many different things.”
With that goal in mind, fast forward to this year’s Young Master Invitational, where each session is differentiated by theme: hoppy, session and strength (low vs. high ABV), sours, and freestyle (“creative, category-defying beers”). This format not only helps make a hefty volume of beers and breweries more approachable to festival-goers—many of whom will not be hardcore beer enthusiasts—but also reinforces Young Master’s focus on beer education, diversity, and innovation.
Brewery-curated festivals like the Young Master Invitational make sense for all parties: the host, the invited breweries, and the attendees. Here’s to soon seeing even more of them across the region.
The Young Master Beer Invitational takes place May 25 & 26 in Hong Kong at House 1881. Tickets are HKD$380 per session, $650 per day, or $1100 for the whole shebang and on sale now. We wish we could make it.
Photos courtesy of Young Master Brewery