Anyone seeking a slice of Macao charm and heritage will want to make a beeline to the city’s UNESCO historical centre, where landmarks like Senado Square, Monte Fort and the Ruins of St Paul’s can be found. Behind the ruins, a series of cobbled streets flanked by cafés, bars, restaurants and eateries lead to an extra special spot: Funny Eye Tasting Room, home to one of the city’s few locally brewed craft beer companies.
Three local young entrepreneurs in their 20s – Alison Tam, Crystal Kwok and Lucas Lio – opened the Funny Eye Tasting Room in 2019, followed by a craft beer brewery in June this year. Casual, cosy and convivial, the Tasting Room shares a 15-seat space with the owners of Triangle Coffee Roaster. Guests can enjoy coffee from noon to 8 pm, before the cafe switches to craft beer in the evenings until 2 am. It’s an ideal spot to take a break from sightseeing, catch up with old friends and taste the six made-in-Macao craft beer flavours crafted by Funny Eye Brewery.
Pouring new ideas
The founders met while living in the same residential college at the University of Macau (UM). Kwok and Tam lived together as roommates, while Lio lived one floor above.
They started dabbling in craft beer while studying. In 2018, their instructor, UM resident fellow Dr Tang Yu Ming, introduced the trio to his former students – Ken Lo, Mark Mak and Ball Mak – who happened to be the directors of Mak’s Brewery in Hong Kong.
Mak’s team-taught Lio, who would go on to become Funny Eye’s brewmaster, how to make beer. Together with his instructor and the Mak’s Beer directors, Lio opened a bottle shop called My Beer in the Bairro Horta da Mitra neighbourhood that same year. They sold over 100 brands of craft beer, making it one of the most comprehensive bottle shops in the city.
Soon after, Lio teamed up with Kwok and Tam to start brewing their own beer. The three students saved up MOP 30,000, bought ingredients from Taobao, handmade a wooden cart and set up a stall at the Hong Kung Night Market to sell their libations.
At first, customers found the ale to be too bitter, so the trio went back to the drawing board, concocting flavours that would better reflect Macao and suit local palates. They returned to the night market soon after, this time, selling their first tea-flavoured beer series – and it was a hit.
Chief Marketing Officer Crystal Kwok, 25, says the city’s East-meets-West culture inspired the brewers to explore new flavour combinations. “As brewing a ‘Macao’ beer was our goal, we adjusted the taste to suit local preferences,” she explains. “We decided to add floral and tea flavours – jasmine, chrysanthemum, pu’er [fermented black tea] and rose. The response to our tea series was positive; many customers found it intriguing.”
Since then, the trio has launched six varieties of craft beer: Lychee Black Tea Pale Ale, Osmanthus Pilsener, Rose Ale, Passion Fruit Cider, Lucky Cat IPA, and Funny Dog Pale Ale.
Before the pandemic, Mak’s in Hong Kong brewed Funny Eye’s beer, and the three Macao entrepreneurs often travelled back and forth between the two cities. Once operations and supplies were running smoothly, they set up the Funny Eye Tasting Room in the Historic Centre of Macao in June 2019 to share their creations with local beer enthusiasts and travellers.
“When we set up a [tasting room] at Triangle, it felt like we had found our footing,” recalls Kwok. “During the first three months, business was good – many friends came to support us. In March and April 2020, we welcomed a lot of new customers. Since locals could not travel due to Covid-19, they started looking for fun things to do locally.”
But the pandemic also had a negative impact: it shook up business operations and caused supply issues. Suddenly, the trio could not visit Hong Kong yet they needed to increase production capacity with demand on the rise. As a solution, they took the plunge and set up their own brewery in Macao.
“We had to take our chances, just like we did in 2018 [at the Hong Kung Night Market],” says Kwok. “We spent almost half a year looking for a location since rents were high and we needed a longer-term contract due to our brewing gear.”
The Funny Eye founders finally came across the perfect location: an industrial building on Avenida de Venceslau de Morais. With an investment of MOP 3 million from earlier profits, support from the government’s small- and medium-sized enterprises aid scheme and prize money from entrepreneurial competitions (such as the Macao Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition), the company established Funny Eye Brewery in June this year.
Chief Executive Officer Alison Tam says the new brewery will enable the company to expand dramatically, increasing production capacity ten-fold, from 10,000 to 100,000 cans a month.
“Now, we produce around 10,000 cans a month for around 50 restaurants and bars,” she says, adding that they have to ‘knock on doors’ metaphorically since craft beer is still a nascent industry in Macao.
“But many local [restaurant and bar] owners are willing to give young people like us opportunities. We’d love to create a new series of bottled beers and sell it in supermarkets.”
In addition to working with grocery stores, bottle shops, and bars in Macao, the trio also has its sights set on expanding internationally, starting with the Greater Bay Area.
A homage to Macao
Everything Funny Eye does comes back to its “Made in Macao” ethos. For instance, they worked with a local designer to create the brand’s logo: a trippy eye gazing at a star. They hired Kenneth Ho of WWAVE Design, who was “passionate” about the logo concept, which aims to inspire people to explore new pathways and reach for the stars.
“When we started our business, some friends and family members didn’t support us. They thought there was no market for craft beer because nobody had done it,” explains Kwok. “They encouraged us to look for jobs as civil servants or work at hotels. We hope to encourage people to find some sparkle in their lives instead of [settling]. That’s why our name is Funny Eye, and our logo is an eye gazing at a star.”
For Kwok, craft beer is not just a refreshment or a way to bring people together. It’s also a vessel for sharing the city’s culture with the world. “We hope we can communicate more about Macao’s local subcultures – graffiti, coffee and music – through [craft beer].”
In the cosy Funny Eye Tasting Room, visitors will be immersed in these subcultures and experience first-hand what makes Macao so special. The cobbled streets, narrow lanes, East-meets-West architecture, convivial residents – and now, high-quality beer – all come together to create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
Keeping with their experimental and collaborative nature, the trio also serves up other regional brews alongside their own creations. For instance, visitors can try the Wan Kwai Porter or Longan Pale Ale from Mak’s Brewery in Hong Kong, as well as three beer cocktails. The Funny Eye Tasting Room also serves up a variety of Macao-inspired gastropub snacks, such as hash browns with crab, beef cubes with cheese sauce, fried chicken cartilage, and crispy popcorn chicken with sweet and sour sauce.
Whether relaxing after a day of sightseeing or simply enjoying a taste of Macao in the UNESCO historical centre, visitors will discover a truly local experience at the Funny Eye Tasting Room.
Keen to learn more about Macao over a craft beer in the historic centre? Swing by after visiting the iconic Ruins of St Paul’s or make a reservation here. Opening hours: 8 pm to 2 am daily.