Brian's Blogs

Arrow Brewery – Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

If SlowBoat represents the face of American craft beers in Beijing, then it’s the Arrow brewery that fights one of the British corners in the Chinese capital. Set up three years ago by a Brit – Will Yorke – with Swedish-born Thomas Gaestadius, the tap room can be found in Jianchang Hutong within a short walk of BJ’s tourism landmark, Yonghegong Lama Temple. (Cross the road, walk past the Confucius museum and turn right at the mini police station.

Daylight shows that Arrow is housed within a scruffy complex in a not-quite-so-scruffy hutong (alleyway) with an attached restaurant called Stuff’d. But you can order beer in the restaurant just as you can order food in the tap room, so I guess this is the nearest you can get to a lounge/public bar arrangement.

It is clear that the owners have done their best to give the place a smile factor – and SF #1 is either a very long black pig or two short ones sticking its/their nose/s through the wall. Why is it that everyone passing by seems to be drawn by a seemingly magnetic force into giving the pig’s rump a resounding smack?

The inside of the tap room continues the art-scruff look (is paint really so expensive in China?) Lest you should need directions, there’s a sign pointing to “Cold Beer Warm Hearts” (which reminds me of a sign I saw on an island in the Philippines – where the daytime temperatures are always in the mid 30s – “Beer as cold as the heart of your ex-Girlfriend!”).

But in fact this taproom made up the original brewing space before expansion allowed the brewing to be moved to a new venue to the north of the diplomatic quarter, again with its own attached restaurant. They now brew 1,000 to 2,000 litres per week, also supplying craft beer to other restaurants in town. So a visit to the new facility is also now on my agenda… watch this space!

Arrow microbrewery is now growing organically, with most of its profits reinvested in expanding capacity to capitalize on China's new thirst for craft beers. Only five years ago, China's craft beer scene was virtually nonexistent, with only 20 microbreweries operating across the entire country. That number increased to around 200 in 2015, according to industry sources.

China's overall beer market is worth an estimated 543.3 billion yuan – the world's largest by volume at 47.5 billion litres, according to Mintel Research. Craft beer, however, remains a niche product, accounting for less than 1 percent of the Chinese beer market, meaning that it is still a barely tapped business opportunity.

There are slightly fewer brews on offer here than at the SlowBoat, but the range is probably wider, and to help the customers (well, those in the know anyway) each bev has its alcoholic strength posted together with, probably more importantly, its IBU number to indicate its bitterness quotient, ranging from “Seeing Double IBA” with an IBU of 77 to “Hefeweizen” at a mere 13.

The Smile Factors continue with some of the naming: “The Bitter End – Till death do us party – Rye PA”; “Two birds – Helles – You lucky Bastard”; “Man with the golden hop – Country Ale – You only live once”; “A whiter shade of pale – Hefeweizen – Tom on the beach”; “Blonde on blonde – Belgian Ale – Double trouble”; “Pilgrim’s Progress – Amber Ale – The answer to your prayers”… well, you get the idea!

They might have skimped on the decoration here, but no cuts have been made on anything to do with the beer…

Most of the drinks won’t give you much change from a 50-kwai note (~£5) but a more savvy way to try out the variety on offer is to order a sampler of six beers that costs 65¥. The barman will write down the names of the samples so you know what to order next time.

On quiet(er) nights there are usually specials on offer …

… and the clientele is made up of around 50% Chinese and 50% laowais (literally old outsiders, or foreign devils).

It’s good to see that the Chinese are being taught such useful words as “loo” (is that tough on the visiting Americans? Perhaps not! LOL)

Tegestologists, meanwhile, can add to their collection from a pile of mats strategically placed near the door; though why no one appears interested in using them for the purpose they were intended beats me.

Arrow is definitely a 6 out of 10 in my book, and worthy of another visit next time I’m in the area… or perhaps to their newer taproom? Ahh, decisions, decisions!

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