It’s fair to say that the alcohol industry the world over has been going through a craft beer revolution of late. The Middle Kingdom is of course just as thirsty for quality beer, and there are a number of excellent China-based craft beer breweries. Eddy O’Neil sank a pint with some of the best.
It’s impossible to talk about craft beer in China without mentioning Jing A. The Beijing brewers, who take their name from car license plates in the nation’s capital, have achieved a lot in a relatively short time.
It all started one cold January day in 2012, when two expats, Alex Acker and Kris Li, decided to try their hands at home brewing. Their friends loved the result, and it wasn’t long before Alex and Kris went from being hobbyists with some pots and buckets to renting out kitchens and hosting pop-up events. From there, Jing A didn’t look back.
Today you can find their beer in 18 cities across China. For the best selection, however, you should go to the source and check out their 1949 Taproom in Beijing.
There you’ll find a full range of Jing A beers. There’s Dongbei IPA, which at 7.6% is a hop-bomb that goes down way easier than it has any right to. There’s the Belgian-style Mandarin Wheat, a session beer, Worker’s Pale Ale for the working man/woman, and the Black Velvet Vanilla stout for those that like their beer dark and rich. I’m a sucker for a good IPA, so my personal favorite is their seriously hopping Flying Fist IPA.
It’s totally worth braving the Beijing smog for a pint of Jing A. With so many bars around China now stocking the brewery’s beers, however, luckily we don’t have to.
Boxing Cat started out in Shanghai in 2007 when three friends, Gary Heyne, Lee Tseng and Kelly Lee, had the simple idea to microbrew their own beer at home as they’d seen others do back in the US. Sadly, Gary passed away in 2010, but the team was later joined by Michael Jordan (no, not that Michael Jordan), a master brewer hailing from the epicenter of craft beer that is the Pacific Northwest of America. Since then, Boxing Cat has grown from a rank outsider to one of the undisputed champions of craft beer in China.
The proof of the pint is in the drinking, and Boxing Cat does not disappoint. You can find the brewery occupying 8 out of the 10 top places in China on RateBeer.com, and they’ve also started to gain international recognition.
“From my humble perspective, I believe we stand out because of our persistent attention to detail and ownership,” said Tim Belanger, Sales Director at Boxing Cat. “Of course, that starts with brew master Michael Jordan, who has helped elevate Chinese craft beer to the international stage. Most recently, our Ringside Red was the first Chinese beer to receive a medal at the World Beer Cup,” Tim grins.
Ringside Red may have won the most accolades, but Tim’s personal top tipple is another beer. “My current and all time favorite beer is Contender Extra Pale Ale. This beer is just so approachable - easy drinking, great aroma, incredible taste - that it fits so many different drinking occasions for me. I can have it after a long day at work with colleagues, I can enjoy it after playing pickup with the guys or on a hot summer’s day or with my better half on the patio.”
If you fancy stepping into the ring to take on the Contender or a Ringside Red, there’s no shortage of venues to enjoy them. There are over 100 locations across China stocking Boxing Cat. beers
Strand Beer will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first China-brewed craft beer I tried, and the Guangzhou based brewery still ranks as one of my favorites in the region. Founder, David Strand spoke of how the brewery came about and which beers he likes best.
“There wasn’t any local craft beer in the market when I was brewing,” says David. “I started brewing at home and gradually grew, renting a small space in our neighborhood and putting together a nano-brewery. That’s when we decided to open The Strand Beer Café in Guangzhou.”
I remember when I first met David a few years ago. Confusing the image of a brewer with that of a bar manager, I expected someone loud and gregarious. The person I met, however, was quiet, clearly meticulous and entirely dedicated to the intricacies of brewing. It is an approach that is reflected in Strand Beer's business model.
“Our philosophy is slow and steady, and we have been slowly and steadily growing. We’re looking forward to starting our barrel aging program this year, with our first batch ready early next spring,” explains David. “My personal favorite is our Strand Pale Ale, a sessionable beer at 4.9% ABV. It has a nice balance between malt and hops. We have a few other customer favorites, like our Wuyang IPA with its piney and citrusy zest.”
Other Strand Beers worth a sip include Sorachi Ace Rice Lager, American Farmhouse and the Honey Porter. There are seasonal delights too, including Pumpkin Spice Ale, Yangmei Roselle Blond, Rye IPA, Pomelo Wit, Double Dragon IPA and Wuyang Dark IPA.
To sample the above, look no further than the Strand Beer Café in Guangzhou. If you can’t make it to Guangzhou, however, you can also find David’s beer routinely on tap at Murray’s Irish Pub and Liberty’s in Dongguan. As Strand Beer continues to grow, expect to find them in more and more of your usual China craft beer haunts.
Bionic Brew has come a long way. As Chi Chen, the brewery’s Marketing Director, puts it, “The original Bionic was hidden down an alley near Rose Café [Shenzhen]. It didn’t have a logo, a sign, a business card, or any identifying marks whatsoever. You knew about Bionic or you didn’t. It was our little secret and we liked it that way.”
Nowadays, however, Bionic Brew is recognized as a flag bearer for quality craft beer in Southern China, in no small part thanks to the annual Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival the team organizes (Nov. 10 & 11 this year, if you were wondering).
“Our story is one of a scrappy underdog and a tenacious maker, forcing change from all angles as we create an environment and table where all are welcome,” says Chi, getting deep. “We’re curious, unique, unpolished, and we’re not afraid to fail.”
Bionic brews all types of beers for their diverse bunch of customers, but only a core of four are distributed in and around Shenzhen. You’ve got Bionic Ale, an American pale ale with a light amber hue and a malty, citrusy taste. There’s the Crickside, a Germanic Golden Ale with a slightly grained textured, a perfect starter beer that will set you up nicely for your second pint. For hopheads like myself, there’s the Metropolis IPA. It clocks in at 6.6% and boasts a bold and extremely tropical taste. And if you’re not a big beer drinker, there’s always the Field Day Cider. According to Chi, it’s “reminiscent of the Country Fair treat. With an aroma of butter caramel and a refreshing Granny Smith apple bite, this cider is highly addictive.”
If that doesn’t make you thirsty, I don’t know what will.
“Taps started in an abandoned beachside villa in northern Shenzhen,” explains Founder and CEO Daniel Dumbrill, conjuring the cozy image of a bunch of friends watching the waves and sharing their passion for good beer. “The second floor was renovated into the ultimate home-brewing space. Some of Taps’ first recipes were designed in that secret bunker,” he shares.
It sounds a million miles away from the hip and bustling bar that Taps recently opened in Coco Park, but it is in fact just the other side of the city. It’s a testament to just how much Daniel and the rest of the Taps team have achieved.
Although the Coco Park bar is one of the coolest watering holes in Shenzhen, the beachside Taps Nanshan is still the incubator for the beer recipes. As Daniel puts it, “It’s in Nanshan where we brew in small batches and continually experiment with new flavors and ingredients. Taps Nanshan is the playground of the entire organization.”
With more than a dozen Taps beers available at any one time, David finds it hard to pick a favorite. When pushed, he reluctantly imparts his soft spots. “If I had to choose only one, it would have to be the End of Days IPA. However, in the name of variety, my additional go-to beers would be the Pivotal Point Wit and the Golden Ale. These three represent a wide spread of flavors that offer something for any mood.”
Modest to a fault however, Daniel is hesitant to sing Taps’ praises above the rest of China’s brewers. “We enjoy exploring the craft beers made by others. The flavors and experience behind a craft beer is often an expression of the brewery and the people behind it. Therefore, Taps would never suggest to only drink Taps beer in the face of multiple options. Explore! That’s a big part of the fun when it comes to craft beer!”
Cheers to that, Daniel.
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Keywords: craft breweries china craft beer china
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