By Kevin Revolinski, Special to Tribune Newspapers
8:19 PM EDT, September 26, 2013
Traveling in China, you can expect to find great dumplings, homemade noodles and — craft beer? The days of Tsingtao or bust are over. Craft breweries have been popping up almost under the radar across China, and it's not just the local expats who are frequenting them.
Tucked into Shanghai's historical French Concession in a remodeled garden house is Boxing Cat Brewery. The six taps range from Standing 8 Pilsner to King Louie Imperial Stout, and if you closed your eyes you'd think you were in Grand Rapids, Mich., or Portland, Ore.
Up in Beijing, you can find a couple more in hutongs, the narrow alleys lined with traditional courtyard houses. Great Leap Brewery lies a short walk from Nanluoguxiang, one of the more popular of the capital's hutongs. It's a trick to find at night but worth the effort. A couple years ago it seemed more of a home-brew showcase known by fellow expats, but it now runs 12 taps of fine-quality ales and lagers that shouldn't be missed. Patrons sip suds in the courtyard and order in from restaurants just down the alley. Slow Boat Brewery is another hutong haunt quickly building a fan base.
The presence of expats is no surprise, given the lack of variety in mass-market brews, but the locals are starting to appreciate good beer, too, thanks in part to increased outbound tourism.
"Chinese customers were exposed to craft beer while traveling abroad," said Michael Jordan, brewer for Boxing Cat. "New Chinese customers are looking for different lifestyle choices and having a sense of individuality."
But Chinese beer aficionados, such as Zhou Tao, known as Jackie, of Jackie's Beer Nest, long have been on a mission for good beer. "In the last two years, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Nanjing have all started craft beer organizations with regular home-brewing events and tastings," said Jackie, who also plans his own brewery. "More and more (Chinese) clients ask me: 'Can you give me a tripel? An IPA? A Trappist?'"
The craft beer scene in China offers many traditional styles but also some unique brews with local flavors: The Belgian-influenced Chengdu Beer makes a beer with Sichuan peppers; Great Leap brews with Chinese teas or date honey. And the production amounts are increasing: Boxing Cat operates two brew pubs, as will Great Leap soon. Slow Boat and others are on tap in multiple bars and restaurants.
Is China becoming a craft beer destination? So it would seem. And I say gan bei (cheers) to that.
China's craft beer
Boxing Cat Brewery, 519-521 Fuxing Middle Road, Huangpu, Shanghai; boxingcatbrewery.com
Chengdu Beer, Chengdu, chengdubeer.com
Great Leap Brewery, Doujiao Hutong No. 6, Dongcheng District, Beijing; greatleapbrewing.com
Jackie's Beer Nest, 76 Zhaozhou Lu, near Xizang Nan Lu, Shanghai; beernest.com
Slow Boat Brewing, Dongcheng Qu, Dongsi ba tiao 56 hao, Beijing, slowboatbrewery.com
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