Craft Beer in China

Popular craft beer instagrammer @drinkdrankblog shares his guide to finding Craft Beer in China.

A week or so ago I announced on instagram that I’d be doing a bit of a collaboration – and here it is. I’ve teamed up with popular craft beer instagrammer @drinkdrankblog to bring you an “all you need to know” guide about craft beer in China. The face behind the instagram account is actually Jon! When we booked our trip with Trailfinders he had made it very clear that if I was going to choose where we ate, he was going to choose where we drank. Read on to find out how we got on searching for craft beer in China – over to you Jon!

Heading East

Before I travelled, I had no idea about craft beer in China. As an unapologetic beer geek I often search for local beers, breweries and bars before I visit a new city or country; to try and get a feel for the local beer scene and draw up my hit-list of where I want to go and what I want to drink.

Yes, I am the sort of person that will meticulously plan drinking quality beer into my holiday – you can’t leave anything to chance. Especially when it comes to beer.

However, it’s fair to say that information on Chinese craft beer is scarce in the western world. There are a number of reasons for this – the language barrier is an issue, but I think it’s mainly because most Chinese craft beer stays in China. The Chinese may export a lot of stuff; but beer hasn’t made that list, yet. Tsingtao aside.

My hopes were partially dashed by a video from the ever informative Craft Beer Channel which although highlighted a couple of good looking bars, mainly highlighted Chinese drinking culture and the prevalence of macro lager. But after a prolonged internet search I had the names of some craft beer bars in the cities we were visiting and I travelled to China with hope that I could find some great ales in the far east.

Craft Beer in China - a guide to finding small batch locally brewed beer in China, Beijing, Shanghai and Xian

I’m pleased to report that I was not disappointed. China has a small but growing craft beer scene in its major cities; which is fuelled by a number of quality local breweries. Don’t expect to see American or European imports; the Chinese craft beer scene is entirely home grown.

You have to remember that China is a massive, massive country. No craft brewery can dominate the national market in a way that, for example, Brewdog can here in the UK. Instead, each city is served by its own local breweries that create and sell their own beers in their locality – most often in their own taprooms and brewpubs. The result is that there are different beers to sample in each city you visit, and each brewery can control where and how you consume their beer. These guys understand that a quality venue is as important as quality beer.

So, here’s my roundup of the bars we visited and the beers we drank. Hopefully it’ll provide an insight into a different culture; and maybe even tempt you to plan your own trip.

Shanghai

Boxing Cat Brewery


There are a few different Boxing Cat pubs dotted around Shanghai; we visited the Sinan Mansions branch, located in a quiet street near the quaint French Quarter of the City. We visited in the afternoon and it was fairly quiet and laid back. Boxing Cat was founded by an American and this is reflected in both the beers and the food offer; think burgers and fries. They were even having a Super Bowl party, even if it started at 6.30am.

Boxing Cat had a great selection of beers in popular styles; lagers, pale ales, porters, and the beer menu was seasonal. I opted for the Black Eye PA, a (you guessed it) black IPA that was packed full of citra hops and brewed with lupulin powder – a powerful hop extract that makes a beer extra punchy. I followed up with the Barell Aged Donkey Punch Porter; which was rich, roasty and vanilla-like. The menu also said it had a lotus-flavour, which really carried through. I’ve never had anything like it.

Xian

Xian Brewery at Near Wall Bar

Near Wall Bar is a trendy brewpub home to the small, but perfectly formed, Xian Brewery. Located on a quiet street near the city walls and away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, we visited at night and it was full of young couples eating dinner, groups of friends playing board games, and people gathering for live music.

Xian Brewery seemed to have a focus on classic European styles. I went for a flight and which came with a Kolsh and two great witbiers, as well as a Citra IPA, a milk stout and a coffee stout. They also sold homemade pizza, which is difficult to come by in China!

Craft Beer in China - a guide to finding small batch locally brewed beer in China, Beijing, Shanghai and Xian

Beijing

Slowboat Brewery Taproom

The Slowboat Brewery Taproom is a big deal in Beijing. Over 3 floors, in the cool Sanlitun district, they are always rotating in new beers with between 12-20 beers on tap at any one time! Rumour has it this is the biggest selection of draft beer anywhere in Beijing! They also often have experimental “specials” so keep an eye out for them! When we visited I went for the Zombie Pirate Pale Ale. At just 4.8% and 45 IBUs it was refreshing and drinkable. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try anything else (the OH insisted we head to dinner…) but I was impressed with the whole set up and it was clearly a popular bar.. If we are back in Beijing at any point I’ll definitely go back.

Jing A Taproom

One of my best nights in China was at the Jing A taproom in Beijing. Their beers were superb and the atmosphere was great. I started with the Airpocalypse DIPA; named in reference to Beijing’s smog. It was so dank and piney and hoppy and really exceeded my expectations. You can see from the colour they didn’t hold back on the malt either! I think it was my favorite Chinese beer. Bonus points for the cork beermats too. Cheers! #beer #craftbeer #china #beijing #beerporn #craftbeerporn #beersnob #beergeek #beernerd #craftnotcrap #craftbeernotcrapbeer #instabeer #brewpix #beersofinstagram #beerstagram #beertography #hophead #yum #IPA #DIPA #beers #ale #pints #craftbeervigilantes #begforsara #ukcbf #FANATICBEER #cheers

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This was my favourite place out of all of the craft beer bars we visited. Jing A has an extensive beer list, which includes some very modern styles with a local twist. I couldn’t resist the super-hoppy Airpocalypse Double IPA, which was a dank and piney monster of a beer, and the Black Velvet Vanilla Stout, which was roasty and sweet. We had a great time working our way through their brews, though I have to admit that I got carried away on our visit and opted for the 14% Imperial Koji Saison brewed with Norwegian brewers Nøgne Ø. If you’re not familiar with it, saison is a funky farmhouse beer style which is fruity, spicy and dry. Brewed with rice and fermented with a mix of saison and sake yeasts, it was one of the strongest and weirdest beers I’ve ever had and it totally finished me off. I also had tasters of the mandarin wheat and jasmine tea berliner weisse and both were very tasty.

Craft Beer in China - a guide to finding small batch locally brewed beer in China, Beijing, Shanghai and Xian

Great Leap Brewery

Great Leap is a very popular craft brewer in Beijing, with multiple bars across the city. We visited for a quick drink just before Chinese New Year and the place was packed. There were 20 taps with plenty of American-style IPAs and pale ales. I went for the Count Eulenburg India Pale Lager, which was malty, hoppy and very drinkable. If you fancy something a bit softer, they also sell a craft ginger soda which was super refreshing.

Other useful information:

In British pubs you can choose what size beer you want. Pint, half pint, perhaps a schooner. This isn’t always the case in China. In one bar I asked for a half pint, and was told that this particular beer was only sold in pints. Others were only sold in halves. The same rule applied in a few places.

Tipping in China is very rare, so don’t do it unless you’ve received exceptional service. You really don’t need to.

All the bars we drank in had table service and you we were shown to a table by a member of staff. Even if a bar is set out like a casual British pub, the “sit where you want, order at the bar when you’re ready” rule doesn’t apply here.

Read more!

Check out this helpful guide for all you need to know about drinking craft beer in China including some of the best Chinese microbreweries

4 comments

  1. I never knew that China had such a craft beer scene. My husband has always wanted to go to china and this is going to make him was to go even more.

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