For the most part, house beers and wines are still an afterthought. Trust the Lucas Group (Chin Chin, Baby Pizza, Kong, Hawker Hall) to turn that idea on its head.

The company launched its in-house beer, Shiki, mid last year. Unlike other house products, it’s not made to cater to the cheapest customers or boost profit margins (though surely that’s part of it, too). This is a range of well-made beers brewed specifically for pairing with Asian food. They could hold their own on any list.

Today, for the first time, the lager and pale ale became available outside the Lucas Group’s restaurants. All eight Blackhearts & Sparrows stores have stock; and the Fitzroy, Fitzroy North and Richmond stores are hosting free tastings from 5.30pm to 7pm tonight.

“We just wanted to get the beer out there to more people,” says Joe Williams, the company’s group bar manager. “But we don’t want to get too big too soon.” If the Lucas Group partners with other retailers down the track, they’ll also be small and privately owned. “It ties in with our ‘Forever Independent’ philosophy we have at Hawker Hall and our other venues,” Williams says. The word Shiki is Japanese for “formula”. The chunky bottle alludes to pharmaceutical packaging, evoking the idea of a product made with laboratory-like precision. The cap is stamped with a flowery mon – a sort of Japanese coat-of-arms that employs rotational symmetry, much like the three-point Mitsubishi logo.

Both the lager and pale ale retail for $20 a six-pack and $74 a slab. They’re made at Hawkers, in Reservoir, using recipes from respected brewer Costa Nikias (of La Sirène).

The lager is a typical German style, using pilsner malt and Hallertau hops. “It’s a really good anytime beer and goes with a lot of food,” Williams says. “The pale’s a little bit heavier, with a hoppier character [from passionfruit-y Galaxy hops] and more bitterness. It tends to match really well with sweeter, richer curries.”

Shiki lager and Shiki pale ale are available at all Blackhearts & Sparrows stores from today. Free tastings will be held at Fitzroy, Fitzroy North and Richmond from 5.30pm to 7pm.

Fitzroy
123 Smith Street, Fitzroy

Fitzroy North
119 Scotchmer Street, Fitzroy North

Richmond
202 Swan Street, Richmond

Brunswick
379 Sydney Road, Brunswick

Brunswick East
131 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

St Kilda
186 Carlisle Street, St Kilda

Kensington
516 Macaulay Road, Kensington

Windsor
88 Punt Road, Windsor