Part five of a series on beer in Asia, and a continuation of Where the empty bottles outside tell you what’s inside.
Taking the odd left, a few steps down I found myself doing a double-take: a sausage shop named Stuff’d was advertising “hand made sausages & homebrew’d beer” on its sign! What was this paradise I had stumbled onto in China–two breweries within a block of one another? Madness! (Clearly I was foreshadowing the deep–if happy–culture shock when I relocated to the US later in the year.)
Stepping into Stuff’d (which, if I recall from my friends who spent time in the UK, is a pretty vulgar bit of innuendo over there), I looked confused enough that the barkeep sitting at his laptop got up to help out. He’s Swedish, and the American sitting down the bar have joined with the Brit who owns Stuff’d (that explains the name?) and started brewing in the first place to get Arrow Factory Brewing up and running. So named for the hutong where it sits, which having been named many things through the centuries at one point derived its moniker from an arrow factory. This brings to mind the early microbrewers in the 70s and 80s in the US, cashing in on a sense of history and tradition to market new ideas (e.g. New Amsterdam or New Albion), but basing it in a consciously local institution.
Of course, given the aforementioned legal nuances that prevent food preparation on site (although, when their beer was much more “homebrewed,” it was actually put together in a back room of kitchen), and with growth, Arrow Factory Brewing just opened a 120 hectoliter (102 bbl) brewery outside the city and are beginning to brew and distribute on a much larger scale. Asked if this was now a full time job, the American who has been here eight years said, “well, hopefully.” By the time I stepped into Stuff’d I was already pushing the time a bit, but the Swede passed a couple tastes of their Bitter End Rye Pale Ale (6.3%) and Guan Xi Pale Ale (5.5%). Both were properly bitter and very notably aromatic. The other two offerings were a porter and stout. John (the Brit) mentioned that they’d be introducing bottling and sampler flights in the next months or so, but it’s still something very few people are doing at this moment.
In fact, the only craft brewery John knew of in Beijing that was bottling was Great Leap Brewing, probably the best known and oldest of Beijing’s relatively small scene. But that’s for another night. I made my way back to the cash machine and headed back into the depths of the hutong alleys I’d never be able to navigate if someone hadn’t shown me first. But if I learned anything in Beijing, it’s that wandering those depths can lead to some most excellent surprises.
More to come…