Brewing up craft ales
F&B operator Woolly Pig and local craft brewer, Gweilo have debuted Grain, the only restaurant/bar in Hong Kong to brew its own beer onsite. Helen Dalley meets co-founder Chris Woodyard
Grain makes its own beers on the premises. Tell us about that
Yeah, the centrepiece of our hybrid venue is Gweilo Brewlab, a research & development brewing facility that enables customers to test newly-developed brews before they are released globally. From our 24 taps, there are six core beers – Gweilo Lager, Pale Ale, Session IPA, Hazy IPA, Citrus Crusher and American IPA – alongside regular limited batch and collaboration releases. Grain is also home to a workshop & beer tasting space where guests can find out more about the process of making craft beer.
What’s selling well so far?
The Gweilo core beers of pilsner and pale ale are the most popular, but customers are keen to sample brews from all the taps, which showcase ales from other local breweries like Young Master. Our on-tap cocktails, particularly the pineapple mojito, and the Gweilo gin and tonic, have also proved a big hit.
Grain is the only dining venue with a brewery on site. Tell us about the food
We really wanted to involve beer in the food menu, not just beer batter, and feature all the brewing ingredients into the food, like our pork and beer malt sausages and “GFC”, which incorporates Gweilo IPA and buttermilk into a marinade for the fried Japanese chicken thighs.
We’ve never gone down this angle with beer before – we’ve done it with wine – so it’s been a big learning curve. Grain’s head chef, Matthew Ziemski, previously helmed the kitchen at another of our restaurants, Big Sur. His CV was really well matched to this undertaking as he’s worked in UK gastropubs and experimental kitchens like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Before, this was a night time hangout and now we’re positioning it as an all-day venue. In a venue of this size, with space for up to 150 guests, we need to give people reasons to come here and try different things, so they can do brunch one week, then a Sunday roast the next.
Grain will host beer workshops. Tell us about those
We’ll not only educate guests about the brewing process but also get customers involved by asking them for ideas on new beer recipes and flavour combinations. If we decide to use their suggestion, we’ll invite them back to try the new brew.
How would you characterise the craft beer market in Hong Kong?
I was starting to think it was slowing down as some venues haven’t been performing so well as there’s more of a price-conscious focus right now. I was worried about this being a problem so I’m really pleased to see how Grain has taken off.
What bought you to Hong Kong?
I’ve been a chef all my life and worked all over the world, opening my first restaurant in Sydney in 2000. My wife said there was a job in Hong Kong at W Hotel as culinary director. I thought my days of travelling were over but I was happy to hit the road again although I didn’t come to Hong Kong with the intention of settling here long term.
What do you like about being a restaurateur in Hong Kong?
We set up Woolly Pig in 2010 and found it’s a lot easier to find backing in Hong Kong [than other locations] which is good as the hardest part of starting a restaurant is financing it. So many people here are investing and want to diversify. Plus Hong Kongers eat out all the time! In Sydney or London, it might be once or twice a week, but Hong Kong people eat out more than they eat in. That creates a different style of venue. Here, there are more restaurants focused on filling the gap, and just more of a diverse restaurant scene as there’s enough people eating out here [to accommodate that].
Are there be plans to roll out the Grain concept elsewhere in Hong Kong or in other locations?
I’m not ready to do so, but Gweilo has the opposite answer! It was set up with the view that we could open something like Grain in the UK or perhaps Sydney, but we’re certainly not thinking of that right at the moment. We could have offshoots of Grain in Hong Kong. There’s no point having a second brewery here, but there could be another couple of concepts that we could roll out related to Grain in smaller venues. grain.com.hk