According to legend, Ben Franklin once said, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Perhaps Ben was right, but as beer lovers banished to a land of bland Chinese suds, we often wonder if we've somehow incurred the wrath of the Almighty. While Chinese beer is easy on the wallet, it leaves a gaping hole that we once filled with our favorite local microbrews.
Unfortunately, as one local restaurateur put it, "Most Chinese people like their beer weak and in a bottle." Even so, Beijing briefly became an aficionado's refuge when it caught the worldwide microbrew fever of the 1990s. Most establishments, however, were short lived and only a handful survived the decade. Still, for the intrepid brewophile, Beijing offers several craft brews worth seeking.
As the granddaddy of Beijing microbrew, Paulaner has been on the scene since 1992. While untold numbers of breweries have risen and fallen, Paulaner has persevered due to its careful selection of brewrs, as well as the advantageous positioning of its parent company, the Kempinski Hotel. Paulaner Beijing also works in close conjunction with it's Munich namesake to maintain product quality and the trademark flavor. However, a taste of Bavaria doesn't come at local prices. In addition to its laudable lager and stellar stout, Paulaner produces several seasonal brews: May Bock in late spring, as well as a special Oktoberfest elixir. There is no happy hour, but there are occasional promotions during the October festivities as well as during Christmas and New Year's.
Toper Beer House
Owner Adam Wu says that when he formed the concept for Toper, he aimed for a classy atmosphere that would contrast with the nearby Sanlitun bar strip. He succeeded in creating a pub that would make a good setting for a film noir classic. Wu, an advertising mogul by day, says he has no illusions about a growing market share among the Chinese community and admits his best customers will be from the expatriate crowd. The two brews cooked up by Klaus Zhang (see below) have become nearly legendary in the Chinese brewing community, and a mere ¥25 buys 300 ml of either Toper's light or dark brew. Regulars get their own designated mugs, and the daily happy hour brings a buy-two-get-one-free special.
Shuttinger & Tamm
A Korean restaurant might be the last place you would expect to look when chasing a great microbrew, but you can always count on Beijing to deliver the unexpected. Located near Jenny Lou's in Lido, Shuttinger & Tamm sports an impressive battery of copper brewing tanks and several nice pool tables. While the decoration has all typical trappings of a microbrewery, the atmosphere is also delightfully quirky. Shuttinger & Tamm draws a culturally diverse crowd, and though the booze is always free flowing, the pub still manages to maintain a family friendly atmosphere that is free of pretension. On tap are the standard two German inspired brews found in Beijing: a slightly sweet light and a mildly wheaty dark. There is also a menu featuring typical pub fare, though the food isn't on par with the beer. While patrons can order booze in the standard denominations, several tables come equipped with a built in, cooled yard glass with tap. You can fill it up with two liters of the light beer for 110 kuai and then race your friends to the last drop.
(That's Shanghai December 27, 2007)