Lucas Lio, a beer brewer and an alumnus of University of Macau(UM), started his beer brewing business inside a kitchen at his residential college seven years ago. After going through a journey marked by youth, sweat, innovation, passion, friendship and human kindness, Lio today owns an established business with proper production facilities inside an industrial building. Let’s find out more about his story.

College as Incubation Centre

Known as ‘Fei Kei’ (‘Aeroplane’ in Cantonese) among his teachers and friends, Lio is a person who prefers actions to words. However, if the topic of conversation revolves around brewing, he is more than happy to share his views. His entrepreneurial story began in 2014, when he was admitted to the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at UM and became a member of the university’s Cheng Yu Tung College (CYTC).

When Lio was a second-year student, Dr Tang Yu Ming, a resident fellow at CYTC, discovered the student’s strong interest in beer history, culture, and brewing techniques. Through Dr Tang’s introduction, Lio began learning brewing from a craft brewer in Hong Kong, which further sparked his passion for the craft. In view of this, William Lee, then associate master of CYTC, allowed Lio to use the kitchen of his room to experiment with making different kinds of beer. ‘We brewed hundreds of beer samples at the college, which served as an incubation centre for our brewing business in the early days,’ says Lio.

As a young entrepreneur who started his business in college, Lio has many unique business ideas and often says he is not an office job person. Dr Tang, who is not only Lio’s mentor, but also his friend and business partner, says: ‘Lio’s success is not only a result of his interest in craft beer, but also his persistence. He always gets back up after falling and is not afraid of failure. This quality is very important for those who want to succeed in the business world.’

Meeting Like-Minded Partners

At CYTC, Lio met a group of like-minded friends who would become his business partners, including Crystal Kuok and Alison Tam. ‘The college was very supportive of entrepreneurship and always encouraged us to join competitions,’ says Lio. ‘In our fourth year, we joined a business incubation programme at UM’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, hoping to turn our ideas into businesses.’ Later on, the trio founded 2048 Brewery (the former name of Lio’s company) with seed capital of $30,000. They rented a production facility in Hong Kong to make beer in small batches. On weekends, they would sell their beer from a wooden cart at the Hong Kung Night Market. ‘We all worked very hard. Even in bad weather, we would go to the night market to sell beer, hoping to promote our Macao craft beer brand,’ says Lio.

Brand Philosophy

The three partners in this local beer brand have different responsibilities: Kuok and Tam are responsible for business operation and marketing, while Lio is in charge of developing and refining beer flavours. ‘Craft beer is made with only four basic ingredients: water, hops, barley, and yeast. The temperature, fermentation time, and the quality of barley and hops must be carefully controlled during the production process,’ says Lio, who believes that the artisanal product embodies the creativity of its brewer and a good craft beer brand can convey the culture of a city. ‘Macao is a city where Chinese and Western cultures meet, so I want to incorporate cultural concepts into our beer. For example, we mix tea from the East with beer from the West to create a rich flavour in our products,’ says Lio.

In 2020, the entrepreneurial team’s beer stall at the night market had to close because of the epidemic and Lio and his partners had to come up with a new way to sell their beer. Fortunately, a friend allowed them to rent his cafe at night, which propelled them to set up a new shop named Funny Eye Space and change their brand name to Funny Eye Brewing. ‘Having fun in meeting interesting people, drinking interesting beer and doing interesting things, that’s our philosophy,’ says Lio.

Raising MOP 3 Million to Start a Brewery

Lio’s beer production line in Hong Kong was also affected by the epidemic and had to reduce its volume of production. As the epidemic progressed, the cross-border transport between Hong Kong and Macao eventually came to a halt. Unable to travel to Hong Kong to develop new types of beer, Lio began to think about setting up his own brewery in Macao.

Although the idea was conceived in an unfavourable economic climate, with the help of his business partners and friends Lio managed to raise MOP 3 million and officially launched his new brewery in an industrial building in Areia Preta in April 2021. As the first craft brewery in Macao, the facility can produce up to 100,000 bottles of beer per month, which are then sold at distribution outlets around the city. ‘Macao is a small town, so craft beer is a good business to be in as it doesn’t require a lot of space or support,’ says Lio. ‘Young people should have the courage to pursue their dreams, even if all they can rely on is a wooden cart. If we don’t give it try, how can we know if our plan will succeed or not?’

Improving Craft Beer Quality via Industry-Academia Collaboration

According to Lio, when the team first started their business, they received support not only from their residential college, but also from the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), which used its research capacity and strength in industry-academic collaboration to enhance their products. As Lio recalls, once he had completed a set of beer samples in the kitchen at his college, he would take it to the laboratory of Tam Kin Yip, associate professor in FHS and college fellow at CYTC, for chemical analysis. With the help of Prof Tam, Lio managed to isolate and extract elements that would give his beer a stronger tea flavour. Prof Tam also used chemical methods to reduce the purines in his beer to make the product healthier. Their collaboration continues to this day.

ʻTea-flavoured beer is our first signature product. Growing up in Macao, we all know how much people enjoy tea. So I decided to infuse flavours like tieguanyin, chrysanthemum pu’er, jasmine, and rose into our beer,’ says Lio. In addition to flavours from tea, Lio has also successfully infused the taste of passion fruit, lychee, and coffee into his products. ‘Our customers are very demanding so we always develop new beer flavours based on their preferences and suggestions,’ he says.

Lio’s business would not take off without the support of his residential college. To thank his college, Lio is planning to work with Prof Wong Seng Fat, interim master of CYTC, to produce a Da Hong Pao flower tea as a memorable product. ‘Students with entrepreneurial ideas in residential colleges can take advantage of means of industry-academia collaboration within the university to gain access to entrepreneurial and scientific support,’ says Prof Wong. ‘Lio made a lot of efforts to integrate tea culture and beer, and this has laid a strong foundation for his unique business model.’

Looking ahead, Lio hopes to expand his business to mainland China by setting up outlets in other parts of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, once his company has gained a foothold in the Macao market.

Source: ISSUE 113 April My UM