Food & Drink
Harcourt by Karen Kwok

“It’s a drinkable science”: Owners of Harcourt bar in Altrincham share their passion for the craft beer industry

The British love of beer is well-known worldwide. However, the passion these two Hongkongers in Manchester have for the craft beer industry might surprise you.

Brian Hung and Priscilla So are the owners of Harcourt, a craft beer bar in Altrincham.

Additionally, Brian serves as the Barrel Program Manager at Cloudwater Brew Co, a craft beer brewery in Manchester city centre.

Brian’s passion is palpable from the outset of our interview. Within the first half hour, he shared detailed insights into the craft beer brewing process.

Brian first tried craft beer at 18 years old and immediately fell in love with it.

He said: “I was curious about the process. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

“Brewing is a science, and it’s a drinkable science. It’s a pretty good deal, right?

“It’s a magical and interesting process. You create something that really affects the beer. It’s so fun.”

For him, being a craft beer brewer extends beyond the brewing itself.

“Being a brewer isn’t just about brewing and creating malt. It involves management, including stock management and quality checking.

“These are all part of a brewer’s duties.”

Discussing the qualities of a craft beer brewer, he emphasised the importance of attention to detail and curiosity: “You need to know what’s happening and what’s going wrong.

“Curiosity is a way to improve your beer. Knowledge of craft beers is inexhaustible. Curiosity pushes you to learn more. If you lose your curiosity, you won’t improve.”

Priscilla So and Brian Hung previously worked in the craft beer industry in Hong Kong and Korea.

Owning a bar was one of their dreams – and it became a reality when they moved to the UK after the BNO visa scheme was launched in 2021.

Harcourt, a craft beer bar providing Hong Kong style street food, opened in Altrincham in January 2023.

Priscilla said: “We think Hong Kong food pairs quite well with craft beer, especially given the diversity in craft beer.

“At the same time, we hope to use food to attract people to learn more about craft beers.”

Priscilla described their heritage as an advantage in the UK’s craft beer industry.

“It’s quite rare to have an Asian face in this industry. But it also makes us stand out more.

“Our background draws a lot of attention, which helps us promote craft beer.

“Especially as a woman, people sometimes show more respect when they are surprised by my knowledge of craft beers.”

According to Mazars, a international audit, tax and advisory firm, the number of UK breweries going insolvent has significantly increased, rising from 38 in 2022 to 69 in 2023.

Mazars reports that a significant number of bankruptcies involve smaller scales of breweries, which have been adversely affected by market saturation, increased interest rates, and surging inflation.

Amidst the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, some consumers are opting out of purchasing premium beers from smaller craft breweries in an effort to manage their spending.

It showed the sticky situation of the craft beer industry. When asked about the future of craft beer, both Brian and Priscilla expressed pessimism.

Brian said: “I don’t think craft beers can compete with commercial beers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t survive. I believe craft beers will remain small, but we hope they can localise.”

Priscilla noted that breaking down stereotypes is a significant challenge – she mentioned that customers often say the beer doesn’t taste like beer or that its flavour is strange.

“It’s very sad when people dismiss craft beer just because it doesn’t meet their expectations.

“Additionally, the cost of craft beer is higher than commercial beer. Why would people buy something they’re unfamiliar with at a higher price?

“It’s challenging to spark curiosity about craft beers when the barrier to entry is so high.”

Every month, they invite a brewery to host a tasting session at their bar, offering six beers to the customers and introduce the story behind the drink. 

Brian said: “Having the brewery talk about the story behind the beers is the best way to promote craft beers.

“People can understand more about what goes into craft beer. They’ll see why it’s worth so much.”

Frontline education about craft beer is another initiative they are focusing on: Priscilla introduces customers to the taste, background, and brewing process of each drink she serves.

She said: “Sometimes, people don’t know what they actually like.  I help them discover and recommend styles they might enjoy. 

“You never know the impact you have when you introduce a drink to a guest. 

“Some people remember what I recommended and order the same thing next time.”

Their menu features 14 craft beer styles, with no commercial beers included.

Priscilla explained: “Why don’t we add some commercial beers to the menu, which are more well-known and profitable? 

“We aim to break down the stereotype that beer is only lager. 

“That’s why we offer different styles of craft beer – to showcase a wide range of variety.”

Brian emphasised: “I would say that keeping our bar alive is the most direct way to promote craft beers.”

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