A few weeks ago, we got a sneak peak at Great Leap Brewery, a small microbrewery amidst the hutongs of Gulou that is brewing superb ales and porters made from local ingredients. With Great Leap Brewery now officially open for drinking Thursday through Sunday, we journeyed back last night to talk to co-owner Carl Setzer about why microbrewing culture has been slow to take off in Beijing and what Great Leap's best brew is thus far.
So, are you officially open for business?
Well, we’ve been brewing and been open but we now have regular hours. We're open every Thursday through Sunday, 3pm till late. We also do brewing for private parties. We also have growler hours when we're brewing and people can come by with the growler bottles that can be purchased at Ikea or elsewhere. Soon, we'll even have a door and a sign to make the place a little easier to identify.
What kind of crowd do you expect to attract to Great Leap Brewery?
We want to be a place where people who are enthusiastic about beer and those who are just looking for an alternative place to drink and relax. It's cold out, but we also have an outdoor fire pitch for people who want to come and enjoy the atmosphere.
How long have you been brewing here in Beijing?
We started brewing all grain batches in January of this year. We've previously done some tastings and some events in 798.
What are the biggest challenges to brewing in China?
One of biggest challneges is sourcing materials in China that are of consistent quality—malts, hops, yeasts. If you pattern your beers after European and American styles here, you’ll find biggest obstacles is access to good quality materials. Fortunately, we have found domestic malt companies with good quality, and domestic hops are actually growing faster than the wine industry here. Chinese hops are very good quality. However, there is a very limitied market for non-industrial brewers. When we go to vendor conventions, we'll see the Paulaner and 1308 type people—all German-style lager brewing, but we haven’t met that many who do ales. And we've met very few who do that on a regular basis.
Is there a tradition for microbrewing in Beijing?
It was difficult to find background info on microbrewery as a culture in China. Brewing in house at German beer halls isn’t really microbrewing. So, we’ve gotten most of our information from vendors who are here. There was a Hong Kong business man here in the '80s who had a four-story bar and microbrewery and did creative brewing, but he eventually had business troubles outside of China that took away his investment capital. Since distribution of Yanjing and Tsingtao has gotten people in the habit of thinking beer is one kind of thing. it seems that real nano, micro or artisan brewing has been on hold for the last six or seven years. That’s the story we’ve been told from product vendors and people in community.
Which of your brews is your favorite?
Because we're sourcing almost all local ingredients, we have had to invent the recipes on our own. But I told you that we had a second try at our oatmeal porter, and we just tapped it yesterday. We thought the results were quite stunning. Of course, I think any brewer will tell you his latest is his favorite because it gets him thinking about what he could do next: this is awesome but I iknow how to make it better. And I taste that in every brew we’ve done so far.
What else should Great Leap imbimbers be sure to try?
The Pale Ale #6 (¥25/330ml glass) is simple and solid. More adventurous is the "honey ma" (honey and Sichuan peppercorn, ¥30/330ml glass). It has a lot of different flavors you don’t get in the States. It's different and exciting
What: Great Leap Brewery
Where:6 Doujiao Hutong, 6豆角胡同