Yardley Brothers Launches 1st Truly Wild Ale Brewed in Hong Kong

Yardley Brothers has just launched Hong Kong’s first-ever commercially brewed koëlschip spontaneously fermented ale. Koëlschip, launched at the Grand Opening Party on January 27 for the Brewery’s new 4,000-litre brewhouse, was fermented by wild yeasts and microflora collected naturally outdoors on Lamma Island on January 1, 2021.

With a long dedication to mixed fermentation, sour beers and barrel-aging, including Hong Kong’s largest barrel programme, it was natural for Yardley Brothers to experiment with a Koëlschip style fermentation process. Founder Luke Yardley says, “It has long been a dream of mine to truly harness the flavours and tastes of the region’s own natural cultures. But the weather in Hong Kong makes true spontaneous fermentation for beer challenging. I’m truly excited by the outcome here and can’t wait to see where else we can go with this exploration.” Alongside the 2020 S.E.A. Sour, which won the Gold Medal for Experimental Beer at the Asia Beer Championships and was fermented with local cultivated fungi, this is part of an ongoing examination of producing beers with a true representation of Hong Kong and regional terroir.

On 1st January 2021, with a predicted low temperature of 7℃, Luke invited a group of craft beer enthusiasts to join him overnight on Lamma Island, where they cast out wort–the liquid made from malt and water that is the first step in the beer brewing process–in a handmade Koëlschip, under the shade of Eucalyptus and Bouganvillea trees. The wort, made from Maris Otter barley and Oats, in a shallow flat open-topped brewing vessel spontaneously collected yeasts and other microflora from the environment around it. This process is much like the production of a sourdough starter culture, with which the tens of thousands of people who took up baking during the COVID pandemic will no doubt be familiar.  Before yeast was understood, English brewers may have in fact referred to the evidence of yeast in the fermentation process as “godisgoode” and this beer demonstrates exactly that.

After a successful night outdoors, the liquid was put into a single new oak barrel, where it sat for just over three years to go through natural fermentation and ageing processes. Tastes were periodically drawn from the barrel by the brewery team throughout to determine the right time to bottle. It was tasting perfect towards the end of 2023 and the brewery team chose to blend it with an American Brett Saison aged in French Oak which further brings out the complexities of the wild yeasts.

On the nose, this beer brings bright stone fruit and light acetic notes, hinting at the complexity of the profile. It pours a brilliant rich gold, with a small cream-coloured rocky head. In the mouth, apricot is prominent up front, with residual juicy sweetness, some low floral honeylike notes, hints of higher acidity, and creamy caramel and light butterscotch. The barrels bring a subtle oak character and a rich and round finish. This beer truly reflects Hong Kong’s natural cultures and ancient brewing practices, which are still practiced throughout much of the world today, notably in Belgian-style lambics.

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