James Waters turns the spotlight onto the people making things happen …
Welcome to my new semi- regular series of articles I’m affectionately calling “Brewers Spotlight.” For this series, I will be taking the time to talk to the people that are truly responsible for that beer that’s in your hands.
I’m not interested in listening to your marketing lines or some dry drivel from a CEO or Founder, my aim is to get into the minds of the people whom have conscientiously selected to be in the brewing industry and have throughout their careers, accepted the responsibilities, along with the struggles, that come with the brewers life.
We all know brewers are a breed of their own. Over my career I have seen brewers enter into this industry in many ways. Sometimes, they come straight from an accredited brewing school, others are often home-brewers that think they know what they’re doing, without giving a thought to the functionality of a brewing facility or best practices in managing a brewery.
Then there are others, like me, who just so happened to fall into the industry from a relatable background.
If you’re a brewer, you already know brewers often joke around with each other, “They don’t teach you that in brewing school!” Surprisingly, there is more truth in that cliche than most think. Like many specialized disciplines, there is a huge difference between reading about how things work in books, while practicing in labs, and what to actually do on a day-to-day basis in a real life brewery.
For example, no one’s going to teach you what to do when your boiler just chooses not to turn on properly at 5:30 AM. It takes a certain kind of person with initiative and enough common sense to be able to mitigate the issue and make the most of what remains of the workday, instead of throwing their hands up in defeat.
A colleague of mine once told me, “You’re not a true brewer until you’ve had a failed relationship because of your job.” This sentiment really spoke to me at the time and also created a clear way to measure how passionate I really felt about my career in brewing.
Indeed, brewing is still a career in which most employees are underpaid and under appreciated – in fact the only thing we seem to be over subscribed in is our consumption of beer! But after all, it’s that magical elixir that draws certain people to a life of gum boots and mash paddles.
These are the brewers I want to talk to – the ones who are doing more than just the next hazy, the ones who are putting in the sweat equity to better the industry as a whole, clearly exhibiting a true passion for their careers.
Therefore, for my first interview with a professional brewer, I decided to choose someone I knew personally, someone I am proud of watching accomplish so much in such a short period of time.
Jason Li Ming Chit was my first intern who worked for me in the summer of 2017 at Moonzen Brewery. Since then, within two short years, he has gone on to start the first CBD-infused beer brand in Hong Kong with his friend, Chueng Ka Ming, under the name Oh!CBD Beer.
After a short stint at Young Master Ales, Li swept the show at this year’s Asia Beer Championship, hosted by the Asia Brewers Network, as the head brewer at Deadman Brewery, including “Small Brewery of the Year.”
I took a day to sit down with Jason over some Deadman beers right before Christmas to see what has driven him and allowed him to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.
JAMES: Jason, thank you for being my first interview! I want to congratulate you on all your awards at this years Asia Beer Championship. But what I want to first is how did you get to this point in only two years? What started your journey into the “brewers life”
JASON: I was studying chemical engineering at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. We took a school trip to a macro brewery in mainland China (at the time I didn’t even pay attention to the name) and as engineers think, I thought to myself ‘Wow I can do this’. After that trip I just googled beer in Hong Kong and Moonzen was the first to come up.
JAMES: So in the summer of 2017 you came on as an intern for me at Moonzen . What was your first thoughts?
JASON: I still didn’t know anything about craft beer I was just amazed at looking at something like a craft beer brewery scaled down from a giant factory size and how does it function. Then I started tasting the beers and had that epiphany that beer doesn’t have to be watered down macro lagers.
JAMES: What are some of the most important lessons you took with you from that internship?
JASON: I definitely think sanitization and sterilization is the most important lesson I took from that. As a chemical engineer student I didn’t think about that beer is a food product but I watched the meticulous attention to details in CIPs and lab work and record keeping and also most craft breweries don’t pasteurise their products so cleaning is number one.
I also figured out fast that I didn’t want to sit behind a computer for the rest of my life and brewing beer gives me that physical daily workout I like while using my University skills to think smart and adapt to any situation.
JAMES: After your internship what was your next move?
JASON: While I was finishing my degree I started homebrewing 1 gallon batches as much as I possibly could. Making the same beer over and over again so I knew I was getting the brewing process as clean and perfect as I could. I also jumped into the beer scene in Hong Kong and started to try as many different styles of beer I possibly could and to decipher what is good and what is bad.
JAMES: So in January of 2020 you and your friend Cheung Ka Ming started Oh! CBD Beer. Hong Kong’s first CBD infused beer. How did this come about and what was the defining moment?
JASON: After graduation I took a job with Young Master Ales on the packaging line and already worked my way up to senior brewer by this time. I was still homebrewing all the time and Ka Ming had told me that CBD was becoming legal here. We started to experiment with recipes and quickly moved on the business plan and launched in January 2020 brewing the beers through Black Kite Brewery.
I wanted to do more then just make a beer with CBD in it as a marketing ploy, I wanted to create something that can showcase the health benefits of CBD (authors note: The scientific studies on CBD are fairly new and not complete).
JAMES: Then in terms of beer what were you designing and brewing that is setting yourself apart?
JASON: After reading some research papers on CBD I discovered that the terpenes in spices and hops enhance the properties and effects of CBD. So through trial and error we came up with two solid IPAs and experimented with other adjuncts like cacao and sage to work with the CBD.
JAMES: So after a successful launching of your own label you also made another giant move. Tell me about that?
JASON: In July of 2020 I accepted the role as head brewer for Deadman Brewery. With Covid in full swing business was not the best at the time, but it gave me the opportunity to get familiar with the brewery, reformulate some recipes and design some new ones and have complete control on my brewing process and help the business continue on its path of growth.
JAMES: So you worked quickly to get beers ready for the Asia Beer Championships? What was going on in your head at this time?
JASON: I got a grasp of the brewery pretty fast, with the bottling line being what took me some time to learn, making sure I package the beer the best I can. And with the submission date being pushed back for a bit that gave me time to design some new beers and submit the freshest beer I could.
To my surprise five Deadman beers had won awards, two gold, two silver and one bronze, but it was truly a surprise and an honour to be named small sized brewery of the year and chairmans choice.
JAMES: Lets talk a little about those beers. Tell me your process of choosing the styles that you did.
JASON: Well, like I mentioned before the submission date had been pushed back a bit and our inventory was getting low so I was just starting to brew my new versions of the recipes along with a couple of my own and we planned on submitting as many beers as possible. I really think sending all of my submissions within the week of packaging worked to my advantage.
JAMES: Are there any other beers you wished you had entered?
JASON: YES!!! I wish the time allowed me to enter my 10% imperial stout we call Holy Moly and a summer saison with fresh lemon zest and dry hopped with Cashmere. We decided at the very last minute both beers were just too young.
JAMES: Since you are still young in your brewing career what does the future look like to you?
JASON: Well I am going to continue on my path here at Deadman Brewery, and when traveling can begin again, I want to travel to Germany. Crisp and clean lagers have begun to be my favorite beers to drink and brew. But a long term project I am working with my alma matter is working with final year university students and attempt to isolate some wild yeast that grows around the University.
My next target is to design a credited/non-credited lecture with the University on basics in fermentation then maybe some day it will grow into its own department.
JAMES: Jason, again thank you for being my first interview and looking forward to see what the future holds for you.
JASON: Thank you for asking me to do this.
Jason’s Deadman Brewery beers are available at selected craft beer outlets around Hong Kong and from their taproom in San Po Kong (Flat B, 2/F. Lee Chung Industrial Building, 7 Tsat Po Street, San Po Kong).