Young Master Ales is at it again. The Hong Kong-based microbrewery, known for its constant rotation of quirky brews that spin off on bits and pieces of Chinese culture, has partnered with 18 Grams Specialty Coffee to produce a rich, sultry coffee oatmeal stout known as “Add Oil.”
Young Master’s founder, Rohit Dugar, and 18 Grams’ Training Manager Kammie Hui (a Certified Sensory Judge, World Barista Championship 2013-14) met on the beer judging circuit several years ago, and this March decided to combine forces and bring together their shared passion for brews of both kinds. What started off initially as just a bit of a fun project on the side has turned into a serious accolade: in just over a month since it was first poured, the brew has already picked up a bronze medal under the specialty beer category at the 2016 Australian International Beer Awards.
To the uninitiated, Add Oil could quite possibly be one of the most unappealing monikers to ever grace an alcoholic beverage. But to a typical Hong Konger, seeing the name chalked up on the board at a local boozer could easily elicit a bemused eyebrow raise or a knowing smirk. The reason is simple: it’s a short-but-sweet phrase that’s used as a form of casual encouragement and, to me at least, seems like the perfect title to represent a product borne from the efforts of two homegrown brands. It’s particularly poignant considering that both are somehow managing to stay afloat in Hong Kong’s notoriously unkind property market—one that tends to extinguish many an entrepreneurial dream.
When I posed my theory to Hui, she laughed in agreement, and suggested something else, too. “When Rohit first told me the name, I actually found it hilarious. It was super local, and I probably thought it was something to do with 689 [the nickname for Hong Kong’s widely despised Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying] because of the political unrest that was happening at the time. I saw it as a subtle form of encouragement for Hong Kong.” I suppose you could say it’s our particular brand of liquid courage; at the end of the day, Add Oil is a mighty delicious creation.
When the pair first started working out the details of the beer, they decided that it would first and foremost be bold, rather than a lighter IPA style using a brighter coffee, such as a single origin from Kenya. Hui worked on creating an intense blend that would serve to highlight the inherent caramel and chocolate notes in Young Master’s base of oatmeal stout. In the end, Hui opted for a mixture of Brazilian, Colombian, Mexican, and Indian coffees, and roasted them a little bit darker than they would normally in the hopes that the coffee flavor would cut through the brew.
“The beans I used for the blend were chosen for their balanced character and bolder expressions,” says Hui. “I usually find Brazilian beans pretty peanutty but the one I chose, an unwashed natural process bean, had a more buttery profile. The Colombian adds notes of dark cherry and chocolate, and has a lingering flavor. Mexico is all about the chocolate, and the Indian beans add more boldness and intensity.”
The malted barley is roasted directly with the coffee, in a move Dugar says is a way of marrying the flavors together from the very beginning. Most coffee stouts are made by using a coffee extraction technique and adding it to the beer at some stage during production. “We took it to another level by beginning the crossover at the ingredient level,” he explains. The resulting coffee malt is incorporated directly into the brew using the double mash technique, and he drives the coffee flavors further by mixing in a tincture of the beans as well as a cold brew of the beans after the beer has fermented.
And the final result? When you’re necking down a freshly pulled pint of the stuff, which clocks in at 7% ABV, the boundaries between coffee and beer intertwine and blur—the texture of the beer has the silkiness of a nitro cold brew, its malty stout sweetness echoing the rich roasted flavors from the blend of coffee beans. An assertive acidity—like a deep, juicy blackberry—hits you at the end, enhanced by the stout’s ever so slight carbonation. The bottled version—there are only 200 bottles circulating, each hand-numbered—tastes just a little bit more caramelized, with a tanginess and bitterness at the back of the throat that is more apparent in the room temperature version I sampled with Hui.
In Hong Kong, there are only a few kegs left of Add Oil at The Ale Project bar in Mongkok, but at 18 Grams’ Coffee Roastery Lab in Wan Chai, there are still a number of bottles available for brew nerds to sample, retailing at a hefty $15USD each. But there’s some good news—owing to its popularity, Dugar may make another version of Add Oil later in the year. As for Hui, she’s already thinking about how she might approach the same project again, but with different flavor profiles; something more refreshing, with hints of red fruit and berries.
To which we say: add oil, guys. Just not literally.
Charmaine Mok is the Digital Editor-in-Chief at Hong Kong Tatler. This is Charmaine Mok’s first feature for Sprudge.