DIY booze in Beijing: Will Capital Spirits inspire a distillation trend?

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Two weeks ago, Bill Isler and Simon Dang of Beijing bar scene newcomer Capital Spirits gave me a crash course on distillation and showed that making hooch can be cheap — the kit costs less than rmb500 — and easy — it took an hour to transform a few liters of anemic Yanjing into a toasty 40 percent-plus spirit a.k.a. as YJ45. (Note: Before deciding to open a baijiu-themed bar, the four partners at this place had considered a more general spirits focus, and thus have been making their own at home for some time.)

Just as we’ve witnessed Beijing bar people experiment with creative cocktails, infusions, home-brew and so on over the years, my guess is we’ll see them start creating their own hand-crafted artisanal boutique house spirits. Hopefully they make the booze without all that fancy-pants language but with some kind of quality control.

If that comes to fruition, expect lots of “locally themed” products, like gins carrying the flavors of goji, star anise and peppercorn, or flossed Guangzhou pork and sun-dried eight treasures tea, or good old chuanr seasoning. I also predict a rise in the number of friends seeking “mules” to carry juniper berries to Beijing. We’ll see…

By the way, the guys at Drei Kronen 1308 occasionally make “beer schnapps” — they don’t sell the stuff but simply make it for personal use — that is incredibly smooth for something that tops out at 60 percent alcohol….

Sips & bites: Gung Ho, Wine Gallery, James Joyce, Jing A


Look for the Sanlitun branch of Gung Ho to officially reopen to the public this weekend and thus complete its conversion to a 40-seat restaurant. During the past week, Gung Ho has held taste tests of an ambitious menu created by New Zealand chef Gus Hayden, one that covers everything from pizzas to pork belly, from battered fish to stuffed peppers. In terms of drink options, expect cocktails, a half-dozen wines and four beers on tap plus a few dozen by bottle. And expect the Lido outlet to soon relaunch with a similar approach.

Wine importer and distributor ASC will close its flagship store, The Wine Gallery, in Swire Village North on September 30. A company spokesperson cited the upcoming end of the rental lease as the reason and added there are plans to reopen elsewhere next year. The Wine Gallery opened in January of 2011 and has served as a retail outlet, education center, event space and private club.

Xindong Road strollers will have noticed plenty of changes at Irish bar The James Joyce. About a third of the space has been taken over by a tailor’s shop while the other two-thirds is under heavy construction. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual next door at Heaven Supermarket.

Jing A is getting serious, like that friend who goes from a series of one-night stands into a short-term relationship. Known for their one-day events, the guys behind the beers plan to settle down in September for four straight months and open a tap room, with all their labels, in Sanlitun. That means Flying Fist and Workers Pale and a Mongolian vodka-infused brew called Jingis Kahn. The beers will also continue to be available at The Big Smoke. (By the way, I have no stake in this company. I know the Jing A logo looks like the one I use for my blog, but I am not involved in any way, shape, or form, nor do I condone the inclusion of watermelon in beer.)


Snack stop: Bao House opens in Sanlitun North

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I popped into Bao House a few weeks ago after spotting it during our inaugural ArgenChina Wine Tour of Sanlitun. Bao House is on the north side of The Opposite House and, while mobile, will pretty much stay put and serve bao, mantou and drinks.

I tried the ‘Baofather‘ wagyu-mushroom-truffle baozi and it hit both the spot and the wallet: three for rmb48. The ‘Beijing‘ baozi, with pork and spring onion, was also tasty and is wallet-friendly at three for rmb18. Bonus points for presentation, service and atmosphere.

Even better, Bao House has four wine options at less than rmb200 per bottle. Yep, I could seeing sharing baozi and a few bottles here.

Word was the fillings-to-wrap ratio will go up and I imagine we will see more baozi options. Surely these guys are working on an East-West ‘Bao Wai” creation, plus “Kung Bao Ji Ding”, “Bao Lin Temple” and other variations…

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Sips & bites: Pinotage, La Cava, George’s, The Box, Mao Mao Chong

My blog took an unannounced vacation from the server the past two weeks. Here is info I posted on social media in the meantime.



The Sanlitun branch of South African restaurant / bar Pinotage has moved from Soho to the top floor of the Royal Smushi House space. The venue includes a long marble bar, a dining room that looks like it can seat about 40 people (I believe there are a few tables on the first floor, too) and a covered deck with nice views of the trees above and the city’s hustle and bustle below. I stopped by last week and many food favorites remain, including the biltong carpaccio, roasted bone marrow, and ostrich burger. So, too, does the weekday happy hour, with rmb15 glasses of wine from 5 PM to 7 PM.


Speaking of wine, Sanlitun Soho shop La Cava da Loca has drawn good crowds the past two weekends. This Chilean shop sells wine by the glass on Fridays and Saturdays, starting at rmb20. The Calcu rose is a nice way to start on a hot day while the Calcu Cabernet Franc has received a good deal of praise. There is often a weekly special, with the most recent being a Pinot Noir (rmb30).

Also of note, hungry patrons can now order in crepes, sandwiches, fries and more from nearby Moment Cafe. And La Cava has made an exception to its Chilean wine-only policy and is carrying six Le Ponty wines from France.

George's Bar Fourth Birthday Party Beijing China (5)

George’s recently marked its fourth anniversary with excellent jazz, tasty martinis and way, way, way too many free shots. It also served as a First Cafe reunion as two of the first friends I made in Beijing when I arrived in 2004 — Agent Red Wolf and O-Zone — were in attendance. Make that three as George’s owner – George Zhou –worked at First Cafe back then.

Gulou area bar The Box also recently celebrated its fourth birthday — with burger and booze deals. As noted here, owner Paca Lee has big plans both for this place and for the former El Nido restaurant.

And single malt fans might want to book a spot at Mao Mao Chong for September 7 as it will hold a Glenfarclas tasting with visiting bartender / booze expert Matthew Radalj. The lineup includes Glenfarclas 10, 12, 15, 17, 21 and 105 barrel. The tasting is from 3 PM to 5 PM, costs rmb350 and includes snacks. RSVP via maomaochongstore (at)

Two Guys say bye: Aussie pie shop closes in Sanlitun

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Two Guys and a Pie last week said bye. Why? The rent went too high. Sigh.

Sad to see this shop close but at least the final weeks featured good times, including a Slow’ Lovin Aussie pie topped with mash potatoes, peas, gravy and Home Plate pulled pork (see photo above), a Two Guys-Janes & Hooch switcheroo, use of the sausages rolls in our inaugural ArgenChina wine tour, pre-wedding drinks on the deck with Deep Dish and a farewell barbecue organized by Solaro – complete with Caesars.

Goodbye, Two Guys. You were a key part of last year’s Maovember project and a regular source of good eats, bad music and endless comedy — intentional and unintentional. You will be missed.

Note: You can still get Two Guys pies via delivery, at events such as school fairs, and at Beijing venues such as Janes & Hooch, Sweet Tooth Bakery, Unconditional Love and Deli de Luxe.

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A Somewhat Steady China Hand on the Local Bar Scene