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.