Craft beer, like the brews from Jing A Brewing Taproom, have exploded in popularity. (Photo: Courtesy of Jing A Brewing Taproom)
Gone are the days when Beijing’s beer drinkers had few imbibing options aside from generic local lagers such as Qingdao and pricey international imports from Europe or the United States. A string of sophisticated microbreweries with stylish pubs is encouraging citizens of the Chinese capital to drink local.
Innovative craft beers, many spotlighting regional flavors and ingredients, are all the rage and can be sampled at these on-point watering holes.
Jing A Brewing Taproom
When Kris and Alex, two North American expats who found themselves missing the hop-heavy beers of their homelands, launched this venture with an American-style IPA in 2012, they had no idea what a smash hit it would be.
At the time, craft suds were still something of a novelty, and success was far from guaranteed. Today, Jing A Brewing‘s all-natural brews like Black Velvet Vanilla Stout, with chocolate, coffee, and heady vanilla beans from Papua New Guinea, have legions of fans around town.
Their taproom features a dozen of their beers on draft at any given time, as well as guest appearances from other beloved brewers, and the occasional cider.
The dining menu runs the gambit from almost-wholesome offerings such as a kale and roasted pumpkin salad with beer vinaigrette to gleeful guilty pleasures like “mala” popcorn jazzed up with tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns and nuggets of fried chicken. Order the decadent poutine, which comes drenched in gravy and gooey cheese curds.
Great Leap Brewing
This iconic brewery draws on Chinese traditions and ingredients like tieguanyin tea to produce one-of-a-kind homebrews. Founders Carl and Liu Fang launched their first branch back in 2010 in a tiny hutong courtyard.
The eclectic range of specialty beers includes everything from the potent 11.5 percent Barrel Aged Beer Dictator IPA, which takes on a caramel aroma while aging in Arran malt whiskey barrels for six months, to Leaping the Dog, a collaboration with Melbourne’s Moon Dog brewery made with Hallertau Blanc hops and champagne yeast.
While the original Great Leap Brewing location does not serve food beyond the ubiquitous bowls of spicy peanuts, guests can order from the surrounding eateries. Great Leap Brewpub #12 and #45, however, offer more extensive menus with items such as bacon cheeseburgers and New York–style thin-crust pizza.
Slow Boat Brewery
Nestled away in a historic hutong, this cozy microbrewery boasts 17 different types of craft suds, all of which it produces on-site in Beijing without the use of chemicals, preservatives or unwanted artificial additives.
Offerings range from the mellow, easy-to-drink Captain’s Pale Ale, with faint notes of citrus and a malty sweetness, to the silky, full-bodied Sea Anchor Imperial Vanilla, made with premium Madagascar vanilla pods and containing a whopping 8 percent alcohol.
Luckily, Slow Boat Brewery has plenty of good, greasy pub fare to soak up some of the boozier brews. The classic “Fryburger,” which comes dripping with molten American cheese and garlicky mayo, is legendary, but the fried tofu patty topped with Sriracha-laced aioli makes for a surprisingly satisfying vegetarian alternative.
Stop by for brunch to indulge in guilty pleasures like a tower of maple syrup-slathered French toast with sausage and an all-you-can-drink beer special.