From a stall in a street market to the city’s first craft beer brewery, Funny Eye Brewing hopes to entertain the city and beyond with local flavours.
From chillaxing at happy hour after work to gatherings with family and friends to enjoying “me time” at home, what you cannot be deprived of is probably beer. But what is on your beer list? Tsingtao, Budweiser, Heineken or Asahi? Or some exquisite craft beer brands? Now you can add a new name to the list — Funny Eye Brewing, the city’s first craft beer brand.
Earlier this year the local brand, set up by 2048 (Macau) Co. Ltd in 2018, has even taken a step further — investing about MOP3 million (US$375,000) to launch a production plant in the city, which is believed to be the first craft beer brewery in Macau, for business expansion.
The idea of setting up a local brewery is due to the passion of Crystal Kwok, chief marketing officer of the company, and the other two co-founders towards the craft beer culture. Compared with mass produced beers like beverages of Tsingtao and Budweiser, craft brewing usually refers to independent breweries with a smaller size of production and a particular focus on selected ingredients, a variety of new flavours and traditional artisanal brewing techniques.
“Craft beer has been popular in nearby Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China and Japan for some years. When I came across with this in 2016 I immediately fell in love with it, but found out not many people here were aware of it and there was no local craft beer brand,” Ms Kwok says. Hence, Funny Eye Brewing is not only her first attempt at entrepreneurship — as she only graduated from the University of Macau (UM) last year — but also as an avenue to advocate the craft beer culture in the gambling enclave.
Rooted in Macau
Launching the brand when she was still a student three years ago, Ms Kwok and her two partners had little start-up capital in the beginning, which left them limited choices to run the business but to sell their own brewed beers at a street stall in a weekend night market at one of the local old neighbourhoods, Hong Kung Night Market. A year later they moved from the street stall to a 15-seat restaurant and bar at Rua de Tomás Vieira near Kiang Wu Hospital, enlightening customers with their concoctions.
Focusing on selling craft beers on their own in the earlier stage, Funny Eye Brewing has only started to cater their products to local cafes, restaurants and bars since May 2020. “Beforehand we worked with a brewery in Hong Kong that provided part of their facilities for us to brew our beers,” Ms Kwok explains. Though the capacity of the current facilities in Hong Kong is enough for their business at the moment — as the company provides beers for about 20 local cafes and bars as of now — the local brewery wants to have higher productivity in order to further explore the local market. “Having our own beer plant is also our dream: when we first started we planned to open one in three years,” she says.
Not only do they want their own beer plant but also a local brewery albeit with higher operating costs. Macau Beer, a local commercial beer brand created in 1996 here and purchased by Japanese Kirin Brewery Co Ltd in 2002, now sees all its production process happen in nearby Zhuhai for lower costs and larger space. Explaining why Funny Eye Brewing insists on running a local plant, Ms Kwok simply states: “As we are a Macau brand, we hope [our products] are made in Macau regardless of our size.”
More than production
The company finally laid eyes on an industrial unit in the district of Areia Preta. “We now sell about 2,000-3,000 cans of beer a month but the capacity of our brewery could be 100,000 cans a month,” the chief marketing officer details. “So our plant won’t be run at max capacity in the beginning stage until we tap into other markets.”
The plant is also more than just a venue for the production process, which lasts for about a month from milling, mashing and lautering to fermenting and packaging. “We plan to use the brewery as a platform for more people to know about craft beer,” she says. “Besides production, the place could also feature artwork by local artists or film showcases in the future so that more local residents know about craft beers, which could be integrated into their life.”
Getting a temporary manufacturing license this February, the brewery is now running in a trial stage, and the first batch of beers from the new plant is expected to grace the market in June with the redesign of the product package. There will be a total of six flavours for the new batch with ingredients from Australia and Mainland China, including IPA (India pale ale), osmanthus-flavoured, rose-flavoured and lychee black tea-flavoured beers.
This is not the first time for Funny Eye Brewing to create craft beers with unconventional flavours, as the brand has been best known since its days at the Hong Kung Night Market for integrating the flavours of Chinese tea and beer. Addressing the integration of these flavours, Ms Kwok says this was indeed inspired by Macau, which boasts a rich mix of Chinese and western cultures like the combination of Chinese tea and beer. It also echoes the philosophy of their business.
“The name of our brand is Funny Eye, which means we always look for interesting things like creating new beer flavours,” she says. “We have these six flavours for the launch [in June] but we might change all the flavours next year. Change is part of our brand identity.”
These could also help them to be competitive against other mass-produced and craft beer brands albeit at a higher price. “The manufacturing cost of our beers is like MOP10 [a can] while the cost for others might be only MOP2-3 [a can],” she adds.
Running the business for about three years, Ms Kwok acknowledges the local market has been more welcoming and aware of the craft beer culture, also propelled by the Covid-19 pandemic. “As local residents could not go anywhere with the travel restrictions, more people have tried to seek out what are the new offerings in the city and have come across with our brand,” the chief marketing officer says, adding they would also participate in more local exhibitions and trade shows and collaborate with other parties for more art and cultural events to promote the local brewery. “For example, we have started talks with some local hotels this year for collaboration in organising events, but it is still in the stage of discussions,” she illustrates.
The age between 25 and 40 is now the main consuming group of their beers. “They have considerable spending power and look for more quality choices in life,” the co-founder adds.
Tapping other markets
Official figures show the city imported MOP146.94 million of beers, including mass-produced beers, craft beers and draught beers, in 2020, down by 21.2 per cent from the previous year amid the pandemic. On the other hand, the exports of beers, including re-exports, from the city in 2020 only amounted to over MOP93,800.
This set of trade statistics might change in the future alongside the development of Funny Eye Brewing. With an enhanced productivity, the brand hopes to further gain shares in the market by catering to more cafes, restaurants and bars. “We won’t provide our products to supermarkets or other retail stores at the moment. Those cafes and restaurants want our beers because they are unique and not commonplace,” Ms Kwok says. “And we are not a big brand that they have to get our beers.”
The local brewery will first stabilise its customer base here before exploring other markets, like Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. “We hope to try the mainland market through live streaming on e-commerce platforms, but all these will happen at least a year later after we’ve gained a foothold here,” she says. “What we have learned from our entrepreneurship experience so far is that we have to proceed and advance step by step.”
With limited capital in the earlier stage, Funny Eye Brewing participated in various entrepreneurship contests in the hopes of winning prizes. “We’ve won hundreds of thousands dollars from different contests over the years, and we only had enough money to launch the beer plan together with the loans from the government’s SME Aid Scheme and Young Entrepreneurs Aid Scheme,” she states.
As both she and her two partners are UM graduates, the brewery has also been a member of Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UM and government-backed Macau Young Entrepreneur Incubation Centre. Talking about how these platforms help in nurturing their business, she illustrates: “The most important thing is they have helped us expand our personal network. As Macau is a small market, networking is of paramount importance.”
With their own brewery now, they do not plan to stop here. “Though the capacity of 100,000 cans [a month] is more than enough for the Macau market, our plant is only a mini brewery,” she says. “If we are tapping other markets, we hope to have an additional new plant in the mainland [for production] three years later.”