I had a spirited discussion with an American turned Australian in Sydney last night debating whether wine or beer pairs best with food. We each landed a few punches, but we came to a delicate truce; wine and beer clearly both have their moments. Scratch that – this is my blog, beer won.
To paraphrase God (Garrett Oliver) in the bible (The Brewmaster’s Table), beer has a few unfair advantages when it comes to the art of the pairing. Balancing hop bitterness, palette cleansing carbonation, and a beautiful yellow-brown rainbow of malt roasts provides beer with incredible range and versatility to pair with food.
"Wine is wonderful. But let's be honest – it can't do everything. Real beer can do everything. Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Cajun, Middle Eastern food, and barbecue, are far better with real beer than wine. Even with traditionally wine-friendly foods, beer often shows superior versatility and flavor compatibility. The range of flavors and aromas in beer is vast – it's deep and wide and tall, and it easily surpasses that of wine." - Garret Oliver, A Brewmaster's Table
To put it in Superman terms: wine has a kryptonite, but it’s really tough to stump beer. And nowhere are beer’s pairing strengths more on display than with the dumpling. Hop bitterness cuts through the fat of crispy fried dough, while refreshing, effervescent carbonation lifts heavy oils right off your tongue, resetting your palette and readying it for that next rich bite (I blame beer for making it so difficult to STOP eating dumplings). My fellow amuse boozers and I love the pairing so much that creating unique craft beer and dumpling combinations is a concept we’re playing with as the next evolution of our supper club.
If beer is dumpling's soulmate, Hong Kong is where they’d honeymoon. You can’t throw a dumpling in Hong Kong without hitting another place to eat dumplings. From time-honored, traditional white tablecloth dim-sum to hole-in-the-wall dumplings to-go in a subway station, you can dumpling anywhere at any budget. The Hong Kong craft beer scene is also really taking off, though perhaps a little too quickly. While I found plenty of quality brews in Hong Kong when I knew where to look, I also walked into a few places that had clearly hopped on to the fad, writing checks their beer couldn’t cash. I’m excited to come back to Hong Kong in a few years to see how the market matures.
To keep my Amuse Booze pairing muscles limber, I’ve matched three of my favorite Hong Kong dumplings from the trip with three unique Hong Kong craft beers. I might even convince Sonya to help me recreate a few of these in the Spring, so stay tuned. Now let's make it rain Michelin star dumplings & craft brews.
1. Din Tai Fung Xiao Long Bao & Young Master Ale's Yellow Mare Black Stallion / 驪黃牝牡
To the uninitiated, xiao long bao is a soup dumpling. As in, soup inside of dumpling: a juicy pork and ginger drop of heaven cradled by broth inside a delicate dough home artfully erected by the elusive DTF wizards. After being introduced to DTF xiao long bao in their Seattle location by my foodie friend and soulmate Hannah, I knew I needed to trace this dumpling to the source and visit the mothership in Hong Kong. Let's just say I was not disappointed.
My favorite source of knowledge when exploring craft beer in a new city is the local watering hole. At The Globe and The Roundhouse, my two favorite Hong Kong beer bars, I instantly gravitated toward Young Master Ales on the tap list. Any brewery in SE Asia with a cask ale, a gose, and a barrel-aged rye on tap at the same bar is going to get my attention. I sampled a few of their beers and fell in love; their beers were unique, complex, and most importantly, delicious.
My mom and I decided to make the ten minute trek by car to Young Master from Wan Chai the very next day. When we arrived, we were greeted and taken through a flight by Ashley and Ronda, two ladies that were incredibly passionate and knowledgable about beer. We enjoyed them so much that we stayed well over the hour that we had allotted, and tasted every beer on tap (at least once). We learned that since 2013 Young Master has helped to define and refine the craft beer scene in Hong Kong, bringing Hong Kong it's first barrel program and commercially available sour beer. Ronda is working towards a BJCP (beer judge) certification and starting up a group for female craft beer enthusiasts in Hong Kong (rad!). I liked everything about the brewery from the beers to the ambience to the people, and I was such a fangirl that I even left with a sweet Young Master zip-up that I've been rocking here in Oz.
Oh yeah, I'm supposed to talk about a beer. My favorite brew of the day was Yellow Mare Black Stallion / 驪黃牝牡. It was labeled an "imperial pilsner" – two words I had never heard together before. This lager was delicate but potent, and loaded with American hops (my first whiff of mosaic in 2017). Even though it was incredibly flavorful, I would never have guessed the ABV was over 6% (7.1% in fact); it went down real smooth.
Xia long bao is a delicate flower; there’s a reason Tsing Tao & Kirin pair so well with it – the beer makes the soup broth shine. I want to mess with this classic pairing only slightly. The Yellow Mare is crisp and drinkable but packs a punch (7.1% ABV, 150+ IBU). It's flavorful for a pils but still restrained, and won't overpower that melt-in-your-mouth fantastic soup dumpling. DTF doesn't carry craft beer (yet), but a girl can dream.
2. Cheung Hing Kee Truffle Dumpling & Black Kite Oh Bacon! Raucbier
Cheung Hing Kee is a hole-in-the-wall street restaurant that specializes in shengjianbao, Shanghainese pan-fried soup dumplings. Pilsner is to stout, what xiao long bao is to shengjianbao. They're pork soup dumplings on steroids, with a thick, juicy skin and a crispy fried underbelly. These dumplings require motor dexterity and full attention. I was fully covered with pork broth after our dumpling session, in a state of savory, finger-licking dumpling nirvana. Cheung Hing Kee also has a truffle dumpling option that is fantastic if you don't have to, you know, move for the next few hours. Break one open and you can see the black truffle in the filling. Beautiful. An order of four of these Michelin star dumplings will run you $3.60 USD, about the price of Happy Meal at Macca's (sorry I'm an Aussie now).
Just around the corner and up 11 floors (!) up from Young Master is Black Kite Brewing. Dan and Dave are the founders, brewers, and owners of Black Kite, named for the birds of prey that can be seen all over the city. The brewery doesn't have an official tasting room per se, but if you send them an email they'll give you a tour of the brewery and let you taste some beers straight from the brite tank. Turns out they are quite enjoyable to drink beers with, so they've chosen the right profession. Dan and Dave have perfected the Oh Bacon!, a raucbier made with Beachwood smoked malt. It's big and bacony, yet surprisingly light and curshable – my kind of beer. As we were leaving we were asked, "Do you want a bacon beer roadie?" and that's when I knew I wanted us to be best friends.
Bacon and truffles...what's not to like? The earthy, smoky quality of the smoked malt will highlight the black truffle, while the malty backbone of the beer will play beautifully off the pork. The beer is big enough to stand up to that thick charred dumpling skin, but not so heavy that it'll put you in a coma. Bonus: this is a pairing you could actually enjoy in real life! Go pick up a bottle of Oh Bacon! from Black Kite and an order of truffle dumplings to-go from the window at Cheung Hing Kee. BAM! A decadent, boozy, Michelin star meal for under 10 bucks. Even if this one doesn’t quite work, you just had beer, bacon, and truffles, so…you’re welcome.
3. Tim Ho Wan Cha Siu Bao and Young Master Ale's Cha Chan Teng Gose / 鹹檸酸啤
I never met a BBQ pork bun I didn't like, but all dumplings I eat will be compared to this one. Tim Ho Wan is known as the cheapest one Michelin starred restaurant in the world (I guess because Cheung Hing Kee isn't technically a restaurant?). They're famous for their cha siu bao, or crispy BBQ pork bun. It's got deliciously sweet BBQ pork hiding inside a golden, lightly crunchy bun cave. And we really had to work to try this bad boy. My mom and I got a bit lost on our way to Tim Ho Wan, and doubled back a few times before we finally found it. Keep in mind I'm in a wheelchair at this point, so we had to navigate all kinds of sidewalks, roads, elevators, and escalators before finally making it to the basement level restaurant located in a transit station. Annnnd it was closed. Since it was so late we ended up just heading back and sitting in silence shame-eating microwavable dinners from 7-11. The next night we tried again and were victorious. Those sweet BBQ pork buns were all the sweeter for the blood, sweat, and tears we put in to the journey.
I'm saying it, I think Young Master's Cha Chan Teng Gose / 鹹檸酸啤 is the best gose I've ever had. I love when you taste a beer that's brewed in a unique local style or with locally available ingredients. You won't find that beer anywhere else, and that's what it's all about. Young Master's gose is brewed with house-made preserved lime. In Hong Kong salted lime is traditionally served in lemon sodas at cha chan tengs (translates literally to "tea restaurants", ie restaurants where you are served tea upon arrival). You can really taste it in the beer. It's light and refreshing, with a delightful savory saltiness.
I mean, c'mon, sweet and sour pork, this one writes itself. The saltiness of the beer is the perfect compliment to the sweet, candy barbecue pork. The light, effervescent gose plays well with the sweet and crunchy bun, while teasing out some of the more delicate notes in the pork (see I'm getting good at this). My mom can't take more than a few sips of tart beer, so I'm aware this might not be everyone's cup of tea. A solid alternate would be a nice porter or stout. Garrett Oliver waxes poetic about how toasty, carmelized malts can be a flavor hook to make sweet meats like BBQ sing. Moonzen is another up and coming Hong Kong brewery that has a porter with honey and espresso notes that just might do the trick.
Thanks for indulging my craft beer and dumpling fantasy! Even if you can't necessarily try these pairings in real life (and therefor can't prove me wrong), enjoy my dumpling and craft beer bucket list for the next time you hit up Hong Kong:
Hong Kong Dumpling and Beer Bucket List