Beer and I have a relationship that stretches back many years, one which I work very hard to maintain. I’m a craft beer kinda guy and live for hoppy beers like India Pale Ales. I had been told that the microbrew movement that had swept the U.S. for the last decade had yet to reach Chinese shores and the pickings overall were pretty slim. I was concerned that my beer choices in Shanghai would be limited to mass-brewed Chinese beers like Snow, REEB, Tsingtao, Diamond Blue, and Hardin, or, god forbid, Budweiser. Most of these beers are thin and watery for my taste and unlike a lot of American craft beer tend to have low alcohol counts. The Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of most Chinese beers are generally just south of 4%, leading folks to consume many more of them.
When I’m drinking beer, I generally know where I want it to take me and I do not like to drink a bunch of beers to get there. Back in my Atwater Block Brewery days, it was not unheard of for our Brewmaster Hazen to come out of the brewery at 10 a.m. carrying a tray full of Pilsner glasses containing his latest grain and hops concoction. He would set the tray down in front my partner Mark Rieth and I, and with great pride ask us to taste. We would and it was usually awesome. I would always ask about the ABV and Hazen would say it was something crazy like 6.5% or 7.1%. Giddy with that information, we would promptly drain the beer and stagger back to work. And that’s how a beer should roll.
So imagine my excitement when the first draft beer I had after moving to China was an IPA with an ABV of 5.2% (not perfect, but hey, it’s China). It was a craft beer brewed at a microbrewery aptly call The Brew (thecookthemeetthebrew.com) at the Kerry Parkside Hotel, our first stop for a couple of nights when we arrived in Shanghai. It wasn’t as hoppy as I normally like my IPAs to be, but it was crisp and clean with a citrusy finish and I drank it like a man just in from the desert. The Brew is a gorgeous, modern, American-style microbrewery that serves good food from an odd, somewhat eclectic brewpub menu. The brewing facility and storage tanks look topnotch and are located behind the bar, enclosed in glass so you can see the whole operation. I’ve taken the family many times and consider it my beer “local.”
Whoever told me the craft beer movement had not happened in Shanghai was right…and wrong. Historically, beer has been brewed in China in some fashion or another for more than 9,000 years. Modern beer brewing did not come to China until the end of the 19th century, brought to the country by a variety of invaders, particularly the Russians and Germans. For the last decade Tsingao has been the best-selling beer in China, produced in the city of Qingdao (formerly Tsingtao in English) which holds a huge beer festival every summer that is starting to put China on the international beer map. Even so, as recently as 2008, there were no microbreweries, or even imported craft beer, available in China.
Then, later that year, some expat Americans opened a Microbrewery in Shanghai called The Boxing Cat Brewery (boxingcatbrewery.com) and the rest, as they say, is history. Earlier this year, Boxing Cat opened a second brewery in the French Concession area of Puxi (near Sinan Mansions). And it seems now that every time I turn around there is another microbrewery opening or new craft beer being sold in Shanghai. There is the Shanghai Brewery (shanghaibrewery.com), The Bund Brewery (thebundbrewery.com.cn), and Dr. Beer (no website, located at 83 Fumin Lu, Puxi), all nice, Western-style microbreweries that serve beer and food and are generally family friendly.
I’ve only been in Shanghai for three months and have already been to two big beer festivals — the Kerry Beer Festival and the 2012 Shanghai International Beer Festival. Both were a blast and featured lots of international craft beer including Rogue, Saranac, North Coast Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery, Kentucky Ale, and Brew Dog, among others. Most of these labels have only recently become available in China as American and other Western craft beer producers make an active push into the fast-growing Chinese beer market. I cannot tell you how happy that makes me.
And it just gets better. As if pulled out of my “in my wildest dreams this would happen” file, Cheers-In comes into my life. Cheers-In (cheers-in.com) calls itself an imported beer boutique, offering imported beer from more than 30 countries. Founded by four beer-addled French guys, Cheers-In offers the largest selection of beer in Shanghai, either for take out, or to drink in the shop. But best of all? They deliver beer to your home, either by the six-pack, or individual bottles, if you want to taste a variety of different beers. So now I have a beer pantry here and it brings a tear to my eye when I gaze upon it. It’s just a start, and I don’t have all the choices you get in the states, but as more and more expats pour into Shanghai, bringing their Western craft beer sensibilities, the selection can only grow. Craft beer is quickly becoming a movement in China, and you can count on me to consume my share to help it along.