How to Drink Well In Beijing
The scene surrounding craft beer in Beijing isn’t quite as active as it is in your average US city, but it’s growing like crazy! Welcome to the Ultimate Beijing Craft Beer Guide! This post will continue to grow alongside the Beijing craft beer scene, so be sure to check back 🙂
Best Beijing Breweries
1. 京A Brewing Company
京A, pronounced “Jing A”, is my top choice for craft beer in Beijing! Their Full Moon Farmhouse Ale struck a chord with me for being such a well balanced saison and from then on I was hooked on this brewery.
A lot of beer infusions on the market tend to have subtle flavors, to the point where sometimes I feel like the flavor comes entirely from my imagination. 京A is one of the few breweries I trust when it comes to tasting weird sounding beers. Sichuan peppercorn beer, anyone?
They’ve got a list of flagship beers that are always available, and a rotating seasonal list as well. The taproom itself is industrial and spacious (unless you’re there on a Friday night). Edison bulbs put it over the edge into a realm of incomprehensible hip-ness.
2. Slow Boat Brewery
I fell in love with Slow Boat Brewery the very first time I got lost in the hutongs trying to find it. The original Slow Boat taproom is a tiny, crowded place. Every single bartender and member of the kitchen staff had a great attitude, but you could tell they grew out of that place years ago. Now they’ve got a massive three-story complex in Sanlitun, arguably the most affluent area of the city, so they’re selling more beer than ever.
The brewery was founded by two American guys, so I suppose it’s not surprising that they’ve got an award-winning burger on the menu. Slow Boat in Sanlitun offers up even more burger and fry options as well as fried chicken and vegetarian items.
Let’s get to the fun part – the beers! Overall I think the brews at Slow Boat aren’t quite mind-blowing, but they are consistently delicious. Slow Boat is most famous for their Monkey’s Fist IPA, but they’ve got an ass-kicking Imperial Stout, and they’re always experimenting. All their beers are sold at reasonable prices, and they’ve got tons of specials to lower the cost even more.
3. Great Leap Brewing
I feel pretty comfortable saying Great Leap Brewing is at the top of the craft beer scene in Beijing, and as a result they boast three busy locations. The original place is a quiet, calm pub in the hutongs with plenty of outdoor tree-covered seating. They’ve also got two huge modern locations – one in Dongcheng and one in Chaoyang – both of which are consistently busy. The Dongcheng location does classic burgers while the Chaoyang location crafts New York style pizzas.
I can see why Great Leap is #1 for craft beer in the city. You can go to any of the three locations and get the same great, consistent, high-quality beer, plus they’ve always got a plethora of options for hop-loving folks. Personally, I had trouble finding a beer I really loved at Great Leap. As someone who is not a fan of IPAs or pale ales, I would walk into this place hoping they’d have a new seasonal on tap that I would fall in love with. The Iron Buddha Blonde is probably my favorite “frequently on tap” option since they brew it with more oolong tea than hops.
Great Leap Brewing #6 Hutong Location (Best Vibe)
4. Arrow Factory Brewing
The story of Arrow Factory Brewing begins with two guys from Europe and a sausage restaurant in the hutongs. What began as a way to provide high-quality beers to their customers turned into a full-fledged craft brewery. Honestly, The hutong location is hip to the point of making me feel like I’m not cool enough to be there, but they have a second location in Zuojiazhuang right on Liang Ma He that feels much more welcoming. Actually, it feels surprisingly reminiscent of a classic sports bar.
Since this pub started as a restaurant, their food options are, in my opinion, unparalleled by any other craft brewery in the city but I definitely think they experiment more with their food than their beer. Personally, I can’t remember a single brew off the top of my head. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the founders, Will Yorke, who introduced me to a VERY strong stout they were in the process of brewing. Outside of that pleasant experience, the only great drink I had was their whiskey sour, which incorporates frothed up wheat beer in place of egg whites. Don’t get me wrong, their beers are high quality, but none of them stick out in my mind. However, I think if you’re a fan of UK style ales, you’ll thoroughly enjoy a flight at Arrow Factory.
Microbrew Pick: Tiny Feat. Bubble Lab
In the video above I accidentally called this place “Bubble Lab”, but that’s simply the name of the brewery whose beers are featured at this location called “Tiny”. On a late night walk back from Great Leap Brewing #45, my husband and I stumbled upon this place and fell in love with it. The few brews I’ve had here are honestly were some of my favorite beers in Beijing (second to 京A, of course). Come to find out, Bubble Lab is actually a Wuhan-based brewery that provides the beers to this location. Regardless of where these beers are brewed, I highly recommend stopping into Tiny for a few pints.
Walking into any Beijing craft brew pub, you can expect to see an equal-ish mix of foreigners and affluent Chinese. Craft beer is a luxury product in China, and as a result, most everyone at these breweries is at a certain level of wealth. Beijing expats are a huge portion of their customer base, so most craft breweries feel very Western, industrial, and modern. You can communicate adequately in English or Mandarin at any of the above places.
The typical price for a pint of craft beer in Beijing is around 35 to 45 RMB ($5-6.50 USD), and I’ve seen specials as low as 25 RMB ($3.50 USD). Limited brews can be as expensive as 80 RMB ($11.50 USD) per glass.
Tips On Finding Microbreweries
1. Attend Expat Festivals
The biggest expat publications in Beijing, The Beijinger and TimeOutBeijing, host and advertise tons of festivals around the city! If the theme of the festival is related to beer or food and you’re dying to find some good new craft beer, this is how to do it! I went to The Beijinger 2016 Pizza Fest where I got to taste beers I’d never seen before, and from this one event I discovered more breweries! To name a few: Steamrhino Brewing, Panda Brew Pub, Lexington Brewery, and a few others.
Also, don’t miss the Beijing Craft Beer Festival, typically hosted by Great Leap Brewing! Sadly it was cancelled last minute when I was living in the city, but there should be another one in fall of 2017 🙂
2. Drinking Buddies Beer Club
This is something else I discovered at the 2016 Pizza Festival! Drinking Buddies distributes small-batch, hard-to-find beers, but they’ve also got a brand new concept for Beijing – craft beer subscription boxes. Beijing residents can become members of the Drinking Buddies Beer Club, and upon doing so will “receive 6 unique craft beers every month from independent breweries around the world.”
Drinking Buddies had a tent at the Pizza Festival full of beers I had never seen or tasted before. That’s pretty rare for someone who seeks out craft beer around the world. It’s because they’re adamant about featuring only independent, small batch and rare brewers.
Did you discover craft beer in Beijing that wasn’t mentioned in this blog post? Be sure to comment it below, because I’d love to keep this guide growing!
Talk to you soon,
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- Beijing Travel Guide
- What Is China Really Like?