“Not sure what I'd do without Jing-A. Great service, cool crowd, and no shortage of cute guys. Love it!”
A review on TripAdvisor of one of Beijing’s newest craft beer taprooms – 京A Taproom (pron: Jing-A, 京 being the Chinese character meaning ‘Capital’) – peeked my curiosity, (though not, I hasten to add, for the cute guys!).
Located in ‘1949 The Hidden City, Sanlitun’ in the one part of Beijing that I really can’t stand, however, made me think twice about wanting to visit there. Sanlitun, IMHO, is full of overpriced and underperforming bars and restaurants which cater to stupid tourists who leave their brains at home when they go to discover the world.
But a new taproom with a reputation for good craft beers deserves to be tried out, at least once I think. So an incredibly cold night with a howling wind adding an extra -8 wind-chill factor sees your favourite blogger putting personal issues aside for the good of the blogosphere as a whole.
The taproom looks a bit like a warehouse, with wooden tables, brick walls, and a polished, modern weathered-metal bar. Incandescent yellow light bulbs are strung out on black wires, while hand-painted beer menus in Chinese and English hang on either side of the bar. There’s even a famous Mao quote painted between the two beer menus.
Jing-A’s owners, originally from Connecticut and Toronto, have a range of American-style beers on offer, which are ‘localised’ to reflect the host country. The drinks menu features a few core beers, such as their award-winning Flying Fist IPA and their popular Worker’s Pale Ale, as well as something called Mandarin Wheat.
Airpocalypse Double IPA is particularly popular because of a clever marketing strategy: On bad air-quality days – something for which Beijing is famous - the beer gets discounted the worse the pollution becomes.
Also on offer are guest beers and collaborations with other Beijing craft breweries which adds a nice touch. Beers infused with fresh pomegranates, Tibetan barley, chili spice, ginger, chestnuts, pumpkin and cinnamon all add interesting additions to what’s on offer.
As with most of the other craft beer taprooms, samplers are available so you don’t feel obliged to part with so many hard-earned RMB for something you might not actually enjoy. A tray of four samples will set you back 80RMB, and reactions from our little gathering ranged from “yummy – I will definitely go for that again” to “Brian, you’re welcome to finish mine” – which applied to about half the eight samples we ordered. (We all liked the IPAs but found the Vanilla stout, Red ale and Mandarin wheat beer all somewhat lacking in substance.)
No taproom would be complete without some tasty nibbles to complement the quaffing sessions; and Jing-A provides bar snacks and menu items, which – this being Sanlitun – work out a little pricey. The Red Ale battered cod fish with potato wedges left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed, not just by the small quantity, but by the blandness of it all. But its litre stein of sweet potato fries was a lot more satisfying….
… though its Mala Popcorn Chicken – fried chicken with Sichuan peppercorns, fried peppers and peanuts, served with chilli sauce and aioli dip – sounded a lot better than it actually tasted.
Summing up Jing-A, the general opinion is that it’s both clean and spacious, and a lot better laid out than the other taprooms in Beijing (with the possible exception of Panda Brew).
But as one dissatisfied customer pointed out, “I know it’s Sanlitun, but you can't go in there without your wallet being gang-raped.” And another major gripe amongst web reviewers: “A good bar that's really starting to be undermined by its staff (or lack of)”.
So I guess it’s all about Jing-A being “something of a curate’s egg”. If your wallet is shy by nature, it might be kinder to pay heed to the glitzy sign reading "BEER" which lights up a back corner. Yes, my advice is: forget the overpriced nibbles and stick with the slightly less-overpriced beverages. It’s really all about the beer!