carl setzer great leap brewery photo

Honey Ma for McFly: The ‘must tries’ of Carl Setzer of Great Leap Brewery

Sticking peppercorns in beer sounds like something you would do to a buddy who left a drink unattended to go take a leak. But Great Leap Brewery makes that combo and more work in its brew Honey Ma Gold, one of the items owner Carl Setzer chooses below in part 39 of the Must Tries Series, where people in the biz gives us their menu picks. Also of note, Great Leap will hold a Beers for Books event this Saturday, from 4 PM to midnight, with rmb15 from every beer — and every pie delivered from Hutong Pizza — going to The Library Project. Get more details here.

carl setzer great leap brewery photo
Vat’s up? (Pic: Great Leap Brewery)

If someone shows up at Great Leap with time to try just one beer before leaving Beijing forever, what would you recommend as the “must try” brew?

It really depends on the person. We usually start by asking what kinds of beers they usually enjoy and go from there. But if it was literally a Marty McFly situation and the Iranian terrorists are closing in and he needs a beer to help him survive the trip back in time, I would roll the dice and recommend the Honey Ma Gold, brewed with Sichuan peppercorns and date honey. It is our most popular beer and represents our entire company culture. We started Great Leap to make beers that were distinct for Chinese palates, using local ingredients, so if they were going to leave Beijing forever, that would be where I would steer them.

What if someone wants to have a three- or four-pint session but stick with the same beer? What is the “must try” brew for him or her?

If people are looking for a good session beer we usually recommend the Pale Ale #6 or the East City Porter. They are light on your wallet at 25 rmb a glass and are designed to be drunk en masse. It of course depends on your goal though as some guys want to get ripped on a three or four beer night. For those we recommend the Aggressor, the HopGod 120 or any of our Liu the Brave spiced stouts. These beers are a bit bigger, a bit more flavorful, but also higher in alcohol content.

What is the “must try” beer for your fellow brewmasters, for people who really know their stuff?

The first time the Beijing Brewmaster’s table was held at Great Leap, we as a company were only four months old. I knew Andreas Roerhl and Tobias Palmer from conferences, but never expected them to care about our small craft brewery, so when my phone rang and Andy said he was bringing nine German brewmasters from all over northeast China, I considered making an excuse and going home, but my wife told me to grow a pair.

They came at 7 PM, stayed until 1 AM and made me an official member of their table. Now when Andy comes with Wolfgang from Paulaner, they like to try the beers that are brewed often, but have unique attributes like the Iron Buddha Blonde, made with oolong tea, or the Cinnamon Rock Ale, made with local rock candy sugar and Vietnamese cinnamon.

But when Mike Jordan of Boxing Cat Brewery, Leon Mickelson of The Brew @ Kerry Parkside, and Teddy Gowan of Dr. Beer come up from Shanghai for our China Craft Brewer’s Association meetings they like to try the beers that take the most time, like the Three Door Tripel or the Imperial Pumpkin. Last year when I had them all in town at once, before the Beijing Craft Beer Festival, we tapped the Russian Imperial Stout that we aged in a fresh oak barrel c/o Jim Boyce for my birthday [More on that barrel here - Ed] It’s stuff like that that interest other brewmasters and also makes being a brewmaster fun. “What’s the craziest shit you are doing right now? OK, I’ll have a glass of that.”

On to other venues. What are three “must try” drinks or foods elsewhere in Beijing?

I’m pretty boring when it comes to going out. I have a couple of things that I enjoy, but only get to try a couple times a year. One is the DK 1308 Oktoberfest and Christmas beers. Anyone that says that Germans don’t make craft beer is an ill-informed boob. Those are some of the best beers in Beijing and I wish Andy would do them all year, but you know, he’s Bavarian, so if he did they would throw him into brewer’s jail.

The other thing that I think is a can’t miss for Beijing is 1976 BBQ chicken wings in Danshanzi, northeast from Lido. Its a hole-in-the-wall place, but the chicken wings are amazing and they have the coldest Yanjing bottles in the city. Never had a bad experience there.

One thing that I never have enough time to do, but would do all the time if I could afford it, is hang out at The Drive-Thru beer and bottle shop. Those guys know their shit and have some of the best selections in the city.

California Grapes International CAGR store sanlitun sohoo beijing china (1)

Sips & bites: Is California Grapes closed, Cantina Agave about to open and Blue Frog sold?

California Grapes International CAGR store sanlitun sohoo beijing chinaCalifornia Grapes in Sanlitun Soho is looking awfully desolate. That photo from last night shows a place that is being cleaned out for renovations or the victim of a massive party where the patrons took home all the booze and furniture or the city’s latest closing. Hmm, I wonder which one it is? The shop, set up by Frank Yglesias, is a tough sell due to its location, its focus on one wine region and possibly maybe issues surrounding the publicly traded company California Grapes International — see more on that here. Sad since I had some good times here while it lasted due to the prices, live music and interesting cast of characters that frequented the place.

I1359568033-001Expect Mexican joint Cantina Agave to open on the third floor of Swire Sanlitun Village South about a week after Chinese New Year. Owner Raffe Ibrahamian is putting the finishing touches on the place, which will have a spacious rooftop with bar, seating for about 60 inside and a salsa station with a minimum of eight options plus jalapeno peppers and other toppings. And lots of cocktails and tequilas, including flights. The menus are printed, the kitchen set up, it’s just a matter of finishing the design and getting the tacos flowing.

Meanwhile, neighbor Blue Frog has taken on an investor although founder Bob Boyce will remain as CEO for the foreseeable future to keep things hopping as usual. A more immediate issue is that the original Beijing branch in Sanlitun will undergo some revamping before summer. If the situation here is like that of its fellow third floor Village South neighbors, that revamping will likely involve the upper floor, which is now a no-no for those renewing or signing new leases — see the now one-story spaces that house newcomers Greyhound Cafe and Cantina Agave as examples. That would not be a drag for Blue Frog, which was among the few places that managed to open before the Olympics and helped put the Village on the map.

friend bar heaven supermarket beer lineup beijing china-001

Sanlitun Friend: 50+ beers, sports and a stairway to Heaven

friend bar heaven supermarket stairway-002
Apparently, he saw a bright light up there. And Steve Irwin.

Stopped in last weekend at Friend — in the former Heaven Supermarket space — where one patron could not help but climb the stairway to (the former Heaven) roof. Not advised for the mildly inebriated or those who want to stay on the friendlier side of the owner. Also of note:

  • The drinks menu has more than 50 beers. We went with Maredsous 6 at rmb35 per bottle. You can also opt for spirits and wines.
  • The food includes Mexican eats from Heaven along with pizza and other pub grub. Two Guys and a Pie is across from the street.
  • Friend is a cozy size with bar seating, sofa seating and a mess of chairs in the middle that looks like it came from a hotel function room and will hopefully be replaced with high tables. The upgraded toilet includes a squatter and sink.
  • The place has two TV and one projection screens, with NHL an option. One patron said, “If they play the AFL, I’ll hang out here.”
  • Foes of loud dice games beware. We even ended up in one. Tip: Calling seven threes when there are only five dice is a sure way to lose.

A light crowd on this night, with two tables of Chinese customers and a trio from The Philippines at the bar, but it is early days and this seems like it will become a decent place to grab a drink and watch some sports. It might not become your bar equivalent of a BFF but will do as a fair-weather buddy.

See also: Hey, Friend: New bar in old Heaven Supermarket

friend bar heaven supermarket maredsous beijing china-001
Nothing says Belgian ice hockey like Maredsous 6.
friend bar heaven supermarket beer lineup beijing china-001
More than 50 brews to choose at Friend.
two guys and a pie shiny gold shoes beijing china

Shiny shoes, pasties and The Man from Ironbark: Ten notes about Two Guys and a Pie

Kicks and giggles with toppings of pie and beer describes my Friday night stop at Two Guys and a Pie for an early start to Australia Day. Besides being a popular snack stop, this place is usually good for laughs – some intentional, some not — due to owners Andrew Papas and Matt Wong and a steady diverse stream of pie-loving patrons. Ten things observed / learned.

two guys and a pie shiny gold shoes beijing china

ONE: Wearing gold and green meant free toppings on this night. The shoes above clinched it for one woman, who in the course of ten minutes told us she lived in Korea and Pakistan before China, that she, her mom and her grandmother went to the same university and, after an escalating smart ass war with the owners, that, “Oh, now I remember, Australia Day is when you guys switched from being a prison to a country, right?” Ouch.

TWO: Singing an Australian song also meant free toppings. Two customers chose “Down Under” by Men at Work. We stopped them after the first verse.

THREE: Far more impressive was a guy who recited the lengthy Banjo Patterson poem “The Man from Ironbark” with only three breaths – one at the start, one at the end, one in between when he stopped for pie.

FOUR: Andrew is experimenting with pasties in order to happify Brit customers. I tried one with beef, peas and root vegetables. Good but I still prefer the sausage rolls and pies. I posted the pic below on Weibo and someone said it looks like a “giant dumpling”. Exactly.

pasties two guy and a pie beijing chinaFIVE: He also plans a Gangnam-style creation called The Psy Pie, possibly with stewed chicken, spinach and red pepper paste. A bulgogi pie might be good.

SIX: Turning to music, the owners are highly competitive when it come to whose speakers sound better. Andrew claims his are better (they aren’t) while Matt says his are superior (they are). More important is what is coming out of those speakers. Whoever came up with a Friday night playlist symbolized by Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red” must have two loose dingos in his bottom paddock.

SEVEN: Delivered: Three bottles of Bundaberg OP rum. Also cleans clogged pipes and repels zombies.

6d53e95djw1e16219o4tfjEIGHT: I wish the guys would add Coopers Pale Ale to the menu. Cascade. Meh. Crown. Meh. Coopers Pale Ale. Yeh

NINE: Look for tables out front come warmer weather, possibly live music, and some new pies (besides the Psy Pie).

TEN: A pair of woman approached the store but only one would enter. The other says she is refusing until the place has a chicken and mushroom pie. “When are you getting chicken and mushroom”, she said. “You must add chicken and mushroom. Chicken and mushroom is good. You really need a chicken and mushroom pie. Chicken and mushroom. Chicken. Mushroom. Chroom.” They also said, “You better not put that on your blog.”

Shiny shoes, pasties & The Man from Ironbark: Ten notes about Two Guys and a Pie. [Some very fun evenings in this spot]

Bailey in the middle just for the halibut.

Oysters, crab cakes & Sauvignon Blanc: Must tries by Alisha Bailey of Starfish

Crab cakes. Belon oysters. St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc. Just a few picks by Alisha Bailey of Starfish in part 38 of the Must Tries Series, which asks people in the biz for their fave menu items. Bailey also gives some love to Mao Mao Chong, Sichuan Ren (四川仁) and Invincible Ramen — see below. And is starting an oyster club — see here. And kudos again to Bailey in the above-and-beyond category for the Clamato oyster shots last June and handling some ever-so-slightly tipsy Canadians last July.

Bailey in the middle just for the halibut.
Bailey in the middle just for the halibut.

The “must try” oyster

‘Must try’ oyster at Starfish? This is so hard… like choosing a favorite child. They are all so beautiful and unique. I don’t want to make the other ones jealous, but I guess if you were to only have one oyster at Starfish, it’d have to be our ‘house oyster‘, the Yaquina Bay oyster from Yaquina Bay, Oregon. It’s a lovely example of a typical Pacific oyster (crassostrea gigas), creamy with a little brine and just the faintest hint of melon and cucumber on the finish. It’s very delicate and is probably the easiest oyster to pair with wines, and depending on which wine it is paired with, can taste of pears, peach, cucumber, melons, or even minerals. I am fully aware that I sound a bit douchey when I talk about oysters, by the way, but I just can’t help myself. (Regular size oysters are rmb35 each, rmb168 for a half-dozen, rmb280 for a dozen. Large ones, about 10 to 14 centimeters, are rmb68.)

I’d like to point out that the Yaquina Bay oyster is not my personal favorite, though. I like the crazy briny, metallic, iodine-y oysters like the bad-ass Belons (ostrea edulis). We used to stock these regularly because they are such an interesting oyster but no one really got down with it so we don’t import it anymore, which makes me sad. I am trying to get people back into them, though, if only so that I can get my Belon fix. For now, though, the American east coast oysters (crassostrea virginica) tend to have that lovely brininess and deeply savory flavor I crave.

The ‘must try’ dish

Our kick-ass crab cakes! We use five different parts of the crab to give it varying textures and tastes. Plus, it’s almost all crab meat with very little ‘filler’. I dream of putting a poached egg on top of it with homemade hollandaise and turning it into crab cake benedict for our upcoming brunch menu. Stay tuned. It’s coming soon! Starfish’s crab cakes are rmb76.

The “must try” wines

On its own: St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc (rmb98 per glass, rmb450 per bottle) because its zesty grapefruit, kiwi, and guava flavors do what a great wine (and a great oyster) can do, which is transport me to another place. Very useful when Beijing is getting me down.

With oysters, something mineral, stoney, and very dry because the way it elevates certain foods is still surprising and delightful to me. Billi Billi Pinot Grigio (rmb340 per bottle), which is so unlike any other Pinot Grigio I’ve ever had, and Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner (rmb330 per bottle), because it’s one of my favorite grape varieties and it’s funny to say. I know I’m cheating by giving more than one, but like with oysters, I can’t choose a favorite. I’m an equal opportunity drinker.

Three other “must tries” in Beijing

The Bloody Mao at Mao Mao Chong. Stephanie knows just how I like it and makes it perfectly for me every single time.

The mushroom broth at this hot pot place in Shuangjing called Sichuan Ren (四川仁). Really simple, but the mushroom flavor is so potent. It’s like… every yummy mushroom ever foraged jumped into a pot and sacrificed themselves just for you.

The soft boiled egg that comes with all the ramen dishes at Invincible Ramen (the one on Xiaoyun Lu is better than the Sanlitun branch, in my opinion) is the most perfectly cooked egg ever. How do they get so much flavor into half an egg? Do they inject it with something? Can they inject me with it?!