Craft beer in Shanghai

In terms of per capita consumption, China is not one of the world’s leading beer drinking countries; a search on the internet shows it as being in 40th place. However, further internet searches reveal that China is the world’s leading brewer of beer and consumer of beer by volume and that the world’s largest selling beer is Snow beer, a joint venture between SAB Miller and China Resources Enterprise, described on one web-site as “ a pale Budweiser-like beer”. I haven’t tried Snow beer but on a previous holiday in China did drink a few bottles of another bestselling brand, Tsing Tao, which was certainly Budweiser-like.

Readers may be interested to know that it is now possible to obtain a 72 hour transit visa, a visa on arrival, if you are flying into one of the four main airports in mainland China, including Shanghai, from one country and then flying out to another country within 72 hours.

Shanghai is a great city to visit with the historic Bund, the incredible number of skyscrapers in Pudong, a museum with brilliant displays of bronzes, jades and porcelain, an efficient and good value metro and the Maglev train but does it offer the discerning beer drinker anything more than “pale Budweiser-like beers”? The answer is – a most definite yes!

The Brew

To find The Brew take line 7 of the metro to Huama Road station, from which it’s about a five minute walk to the large hotel Kerry. The bar is on the ground floor of the hotel and is easy to find. It was quiet in the late afternoon but was busy by 19.30. Service is friendly and attentive. Prices are not cheap, 98 Yuan for a platter of six different beers – see the photo – and 68 Yuan for a pint.

The first beer I tried was their Skinny Green, a 4.5% organic lager, which won a gold medal at the 2013 Asia beer festival. I found it to be crisp and dry with a pine needle aroma. A decent beer but not one I would return to that often. This was followed by their Pils, stronger with more body at 4.9%, and a gold medal winner at the 2013 Japan Asia Beer Cup. I suspect that the hops used are from New Zealand and it was stronger tasting and sweeter beer than the Skinny Green with a good, long and dry aftertaste. A beer that I’d be happy to drink on a regular basis.

My next beer was the White Ant, a 4.5% Belgian style wheat beer with coriander notes, and a gold medal winner at the Asia Beerfest in 2013. A tasty beer which certainly complemented the Peking Duck dish I was eating. My favourite beer, and yet another gold medal winner – this time at the 2013 Japan Asia beer cup in 2013 – was the 5.2% IPA. I’m an admirer of the beers brewed by the Loddon brewery and the bittersweet flavour with an excellent hoppy after taste reminded me of Loddon’s Bamboozle and Forbury Lion. A pint that I would definitely drink on a regular basis, funds permitting, if I lived in Shanghai.

I was less impressed with the seasonal beer, ABV not known, which was a dark beer with a fruit cake aroma, a Chinese winter warmer? and a sharp aftertaste. For me, the ABV was too high and the beer lacked balance. The final beer, at 5.00%, was the Dugitte Vanilla Stout. A decent creamy stout, with a soft mouth feel, but again not a beer I would drink on a regular basis.

In summary; a pleasant bar, handily located near to a metro station, with friendly service and some very good beers, although the two dark beers were a little disappointing.

The Boxing Cat Brewery

This brewery, established in 2008, has two locations and the one I visited at 82 West Fuxing road is easily accessible from the Shanghai Library and Changsu Road metro stations. The ground floor does have two large screen televisions, showing American sports programmes, but I was able to sit in a corner with soft lighting, and near a real wood fire, which was rather cosy. Prices were similar to the Brew and it was also possible to order a platter of six beers to sample, five of which I would be more than happy to drink on a regular basis.

The Standing 8 Pilsner at 4.9% had a crisp taste, a good level of carbonation and a lingering rather sweet aftertaste. The Contender Extra Pale Ale, also 4.9%, had a hoppy nose and citrusy flavours; a beer similar in taste to the excellent Windsor Knot from the Windsor & Eton brewery, and I suspect that it is brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops.

The Roshambo Session IPA, weighing in at 5.3%, is a dry, hoppy beer which might not be regarded as a “session” beer strength wise by most British drinkers but certainly, pun intended, packed a punch. The 5.8% Ginger Baker Beatdown is an excellent beer; the ginger taste is not too pronounced and there is a very pleasant and warming after-taste.

I thought that the Black EyePa, a hefty 6.7%, was a little disappointing with a sharp aftertaste and too much alcohol on the nose. By comparison, the even stronger Winter Warmer, at 7.1%, was rich and spicy – possibly cloves – with a warm aftertaste and, to my taste, better balanced than the Black EyePa.

Neither of the upcoming beers shown on the board, Imperial Brown Ale and Imperial Stout, were tapped during the time I spent warming myself by the fire which, given the need to navigate myself back to Changsu Road station, may have been a blessing in disguise!

All in all, an excellent brew pub with a range of interesting beers and friendly English speaking staff which, on the evening I visited, had a number of local visitors as well as plenty of expats and tourists.

John Bush - February 2014