With a brief to sniff out the Chinese brewing scene for my daughter’s beer blog I felt it incumbent upon me to do some proper research, when my eye happened to fall on an advertisement for a craft beer fair to be held over two days in Beijing’s Galaxy Soho.
Galaxy Soho, I should explain, has been likened, perhaps a bit unfairly, to a pair of breasts perking up from inside the second ring road, a few minutes walk westbound from Chaoyangmen subway Station on lines 2/6. As such, it is a well known landmark.
“There is no entrance fee. You can come in for free. Yay!” says the blurb. And with an invitation like that, how could one resist? “Beers will be served in 360mL cups and will cost 35 RMB,” it adds helpfully.
It turns out 16 breweries are in attendance at the 4th edition of the Beijing Craft Beer Festival. Many I have never heard of:
Boxing Cat from Shanghai; Chengdu Harvest; Strong Ale World of Qingdao; Bad Monkey of Dali; Master Gao from Nanjing; Le Blé D'Or of Taiwan; 18 Beer of Wuhan; Devolution from Dalian and Guangtou from Shanghai are all on the billing. Local stalwarts of the northern capital are Arrow Factory, Panda Brew, Slow Boat, Jing A and N Beer.
N Beer? Hmmm that’s a new one on me.
Apparently the last festival saw over 4,600 litres of beer poured. And as an added extra this year, the rules have been changed: “All draught all the time. No bottles of any kind allowed at this year’s festival.”
One of the marketers goes over the top, somewhat, on his urgings: “June's summer heat is here, and it's time to sweat and get drunk again,” we are told. Hmmm. There always has to be one doesn’t there. Puerile idiot!
Time Out magazine gives its usual well-researched backgrounder when it comes to enthusing over the event; and it somehow manages to squeeze an extra day into the first day’s activities…
Flags showing off the logos of the participants make a colourful addition to the overall ambience of the place.
Though the show is all about craft brewing, there is a stand dedicated to Beijing’s very own Homebrewing Society – an organization “dedicated to spreading the knowledge, culture, and appreciation of real beer in China”, which started three years ago. (Members are treated to a monthly gathering, with presentations on a brewing topic, a tasting of the “style-of-the-month”, and a good atmosphere to network and share experiences with fellow home-brewers.)
It looks like the puerile idiot above has been ticked off somewhat. Later marketings counsel “One piece of advice for a day of drinking at a giant beer party: eat some freakin’ food. There’s going to be a few knock-you-on-your-ass brews at this festival, and if you neglect the urgings of your stomach, they will indeed put you out early. EAT FOOD.”
And as if to add weight to their urgings: Some specialty beers, or beers with a particularly high ABV will be served as half-pours. That is for two reasons.
1. We want to allow everyone to try specialty beers.
2. We don’t want people getting too wasted and acting like fools or puking.
There will be well over 50 beers available at the festival. You can drink as many as you like. Have fun drinking!
Wuhan’s 18 Beer tries to get into the spirit of the event by proclaiming “No Beer No Joy”. But with their apparent low level of takers, at least while I’m there, maybe that should read “No Customers No Joy”?
Guang Tou Craft Brew from Shanghai makes it clear that it’s not really interested in potential expat customers (of which there are quite a few here today). No one speaks a word of English; and expats are visible by their absence at this particular booth.
Slow Boat – the brewery that started me off on the real ale scene in China – is featuring a Sea Monster Sea Weed Pale Ale (5.4% ABV, 24 IBUs, 8 SRM). Reading on, a little, we are given the complete back story to this brew…
Shen, the anamorphous dragon-like sea monster sat in a plush leather chair in his agent's, Sam Weinstein’s office. He was there looking to revamp his image. It was sometime during his existential crisis-- come to Buddha moment, if you will-- probably initiated after his rift with long time friend and mentor, Chthulhlu. After eons of terrorizing, boats, gnashing the bones of sailors and drinking their blood, he wanted to change his ways, and just as important, his image.
"What's your angle?" Weinstein asked.
Sam blinked. "Are you serious."
"As a heart attack."
"Alright then." He tapped his chin for a minute. "I've got the perfect angle for you. Seaweed and beer. More specifically Slow Boat Brewery. Show the boating community you want to work with them, and promote something vegan at the same time."
"I love it." Shen exclaimed.
And thus was born the cross dimensional collaboration. Delicate and tender pale ale, with strips of dried seaweed were introduced into the boil, a light salt and umami finish for the beer. Crisp, medium body in the middle, and golden in color, this beer is sure to please any beer lover whether they be human or some immortal demon.
As much as I would like to try this umami-flavoured beer, I am no immortal demon (even though others might disagree with your favourite blogger) and I head instead to the tent belonging to N-Beer, a Beijing brewery I had never heard of until now.
“No Beer No Friends” is the catch phrase it uses, in a slight twist from 18-Beer’s slogan.
I’m glad to see that their signage boasts a web site and I determine to look it up later to get some background on this brewery…
But unfortunately the web site consists of a simple notice: "牛啤堂精酿网站正在建设中，详情请在下午3点后电话010-83288823." Or to put it another way - Under construction, Call +86-13683308384 for more details regarding NBeerPub and NB Craft Brewing Co.
I look instead at their menu of beers. The first item catches my eye. Rasyberry? I ask the bartender.
Yes, rasyberry! We add them to the final brew, he adds, as if this will make it clear to the idiot standing in front of him. It is the same as number 5 – Beijinger Weisse, but with rasyberries added!
I feel it would be adding insult to injury if this idiot were to point out that ‘Beijing’ has metamorphosed into ‘Berlin’ after a simple addition of rasyberries.
But lest I get even more confused, the tap for this brew is clearly labelled Rasyberry Beijinger Weisse though I note the IBU markings have miraculously changed by 0.2%; but at least they are consistent in labelling it NB Carft Brewing Co.!
But let no man label me a pedant (let alone an immortal demon). N-Beer’s Rasyberry Beijing/Berlin brew is rather scrummy! Not too sweet; has a slight bite; and is very refreshing on this sultry evening.
I “borrow” a beer mat or three for my Chinese tegestology collection and move on…
Mindful of the warning to eat some freakin’ food, I look around me. Great Leap is serving up its signature cheeseburgers. “You know all about this masterpiece. Beef, cheese, pickles and fancy sauce on a sesame bun. Simple and delicious. Our team of five-star burger chefs is set to serve single-patty versions of THE CHEESEBURGER this weekend so that you have room for more beer.”
Vai Milano, meanwhile, is serving up five varieties of gelato: vanilla, chocolate, Stracciatella (the Italian version of chocolate chip), mango and strawberry sorbet.
An outfit called Andy’s Sausages is offering up… sausages.
While a little business that calls itself PIZZA+ has a queue stretching back to infinity. “Pizza and beer are made for each other. See, once people realized that foraging sucks and they learned how to ferment things (civilization basically started because people wanted to get drunk, look it up), they needed a source of food that lasted as long as their beer. As anyone who has been 18 knows, pizza is even better on day 2 (and 3-5, but then it plateaus). Problem solved. Civilization started, and now we have beer festivals.” I walk to infinity, but get served after only a four minute wait.
With the necessary carbs lining my stomach, I make the acquaintance of China’s very first real ale brewery, set up, I am surprised to note, in Dali – that’s in the bottom left hand corner of China in Yunnan province, for those who are geographically challenged.
It’s been going since 2010, and while waiting to meet the Managing Director, I order some American Pale Ale which turns out to be pleasant, though perhaps not the most amazing brew I have ever tasted.
I quickly swipe a couple of beer mats for my collection…
Bad Monkey Beer boasts its own web site, though it’s only later that I have the chance to experience the zany humour inherent on the front (index) page. It was posted up in February 2015, but in the intervening 16 months, not a lot has been added to the site, with blank pages and dead links throughout.
I meet Managing Director Carl Oakley (he’s the one you can see below) who originally hails from Harrow in north London; but he’s too busy holding forth in about three other conversations to be able to tell me much about Bad Monkey.
Not far away is the Master Gao tent. They’re from Nanjing and they obviously brew for a Chinese palette. With their Yin Bi wheat beer coming in with an IBU of just 10 and other brews creeping up into the low 20s, the only exception is their Mad Ting beverage, coming in with an IBU of 45. It’s a bit underwhelming in my opinion, and I certainly wouldn’t make a special visit to Nanjing to try more; though if I was in that city I might be tempted to give one of their other beers a go.
I ask the bar girl if can take a picture of her chest for my blog pictures, but maybe something gets lost in translation and she gets a fit of the giggles and backs off somewhat rapidly!
But Master Gao’s beer mats make an excellent addition to my tegestological collection, and she waves me goodbye after recovering her composure.
Each day at the festival features live musicians and during my visit, classical cellist Heike Kagler and Dan Taylor – a guitarist from a local group, the Harridans, strut their stuff, coming out with a “Celtic influenced blues set”, whatever that might mean.
It’s been a pleasant evening. No one is visibly wasted, acting like fools or puking. Instead there is a happy atmosphere both from punters and brewers alike.
Now all I need do is to find N-Beer’s taproom for my next instalment of Beijing’s real ale scene…