While I only made the tail end of the recent Beijing Beer Geeks Festival, and even that required arriving all sweaty direct from the airport, I made both days of the Beijing Craft Beer Festival the following weekend.
I enjoyed the festival not only for the brew, food and music, but also because I ran into so many friends, mainly because there were so many people. Carl Setzer of Great Leap, one of the key organizers behind the event, estimated attendance at over 6500*. That seems pretty high to me. Then again, I was busy drinking and eating, not counting, so I’ll just go with “a lot”.
The ~350-ml pours limited the number of beers people tried, some vendors ran out of stocks, and it would have been nice to have more Beijing-based brewers join but overall event management was excellent and most people I met left both tipsy and happy.
What follows is the opinion of one imbiber, based on memory, except for notes I took at the Homebrewer’s Association tent.
(* My guess is the average person spent at least rmb150, which is roughly three to four beers at rmb30 each plus food. Multiply that by 6500 and you get a cool rmb1 million. I realize there are logistics, labor and other costs but that would still be a nice haul for an event with the dual benefit of promoting the participants.)
Le Blé d’Or: I had a wheat beer by this veteran operation from Taipei that takes its cue from traditional German brewing methods and, based on the outfit above, traditional German clothing. A nice refreshing brew, with some citrus aromas, to start the night. Weiley Lu from The Loop said this one had a mild almond taste. I guess that makes it ideal when you are short of snacks.
Boxing Cat: I drank something called Sumerian something-something. A lovely beer. Dark, smooth and tasty, with coffee and chocolate flavors. This was my second beer of Friday night and I looked forward to circling back to try others at this tent. But Boxing Cat ran out early. And ran out early Saturday, too. Boxing Cat, you won the fight against my taste buds, 2-1.
Jing A: I heard more complaints about this tent than any other, all due to its raspberry stout made with Shanghai operation The Brew. “There isn’t enough raspberry!” came the common refrain. Then again, several hardcore beer fans told me they loved this one. You can’t please everyone. Given the weather, I liked the fresh Flying Fist IPA — that seemed to be a crowd-pleaser — and the refined flavor of the Single Hop beer.
Great Leap: I hoped to introduce a visiting friend / wine maker / relative craft beer newbie to Honey Ma Gold but we found it sold out so we instead went for No. 6 Pale Ale, Danshan Wheat and Hop God 120, all good beers in my book. She leaned toward pale ale, finding Hop God too bitter, and thus out of balance. I was familiar with the latter from this Beers for Books event, found the hops fits the body and, looking back, consider it among my favorites of the festival. Again, you can’t please everyone!
Slow Boat: I haven’t had any beers from this operation for a while and have previously found some flat and even at times metallic. But I enjoyed the Monkey Fist IPA, finding it lightly fruity and more refreshing and balanced than most Slow Boat beers I have tried.
Arrow Factory: This is where things got blurry as I visited the tent late on both Friday and Saturday nights. I can say I finished both beers! I plan to make a stop at Will Yorke‘s place soon to try more.
Homebrewers Association: We ended up here on Friday and found things disorganized. The beer menus were pinned to the bottom of the table, which meant only people at the front of the line could see them. And several times the people at the front got their beers and then stayed put and chatted with the guys working the tables, everyone seemingly oblivious that others were waiting to get a few cups.
We opted for the rmb50 sampler. It took a while to get someone to suggest some beers to start with. Then more whiles waving and shouting “hellos” to get successive pours. The people running this table were coming and going, eating and drinking, but they didn’t seem to have much time to interact except to push score sheets at us several times and suggest we fill them out.
I don’t say any of this to be mean. I say it because I expected this tent to be a highlight since I honestly wanted to try the beers, see what these aficionados were up to and ask questions. Anyway, here is my take.
Chamomile Wheat: Our first brew, we alternatively thought it smelled like pot, chamomile (duh) and a spring meadow. I also found a slight menthol sensation on my lips and some bitterness at the end. Overall, an interesting beer.
Next up: a dunkel: it had nice chocolate aromas and flavors but did not really pair well with the bitter finish. Then a mango kolsch, light on fruit, a bit heavy on the hops and appropriate for the summer weather, and a Scottish Ale, for which I only wrote down “floral”.
Last came a Honey IPA. It had slight confectionery / bubblegum-like smell. And also taste, said a fellow imbiber. This is the only beer of the night I didn’t finish.
I skipped Two Guys and a Pie (which ran out early on Saturday!), Tavalin Bagels and Great Leap, since all three are close to my home. And despite the rave reviews of the kebabs at 4corners and The Taco Bar, I checked the lines a half-dozen times on Saturday and found my hunger outweighed my ability to wait.
Thus, I spent a disproportionate amount of time at the Fairmont tent. Two thumbs up to Andreas Block for providing a quality sausage in a sour dough bun (rmb20), with the option of mayo, mustard and ketchup. Best thing I ate all weekend. The potato salad was pretty good, too.
I also had a spicy sandwich at Traitor Zhou’s. This item removed the plaque from my teeth and vaporized about 20 percent of my taste buds. I loved it.
I tried to get sausages from Stuff’d on Saturday but they were sold out. Another reason — on top of the beer — to get over to Will Yorke’s establishment.
The summary? The good: the mix of food and beer vendors, the vibe and overall event management. The bad: some vendors running out of stocks far too early. The glugly: I’m learning toward that Sumerian something-something from Boxing Cat. I think I need to re-try everything to be sure.
Some photos from the event: