IPAs, golden ales and treacley stouts abound, but the sheer volume of brews on offer can make picking which one to chug a bit tricky. Fear not, aspiring drunks! With our handy guide to the beers that you should probably be picking at all of the main players, you can pretend to know what you're doing
get to enjoy something delicious.
Great Leap Brewing
With three branches scattered
around the city and some top food options, Great Leap
is a staple for a reason. They specialise in broadly American-style brews with nods, via ingredients and beer names, to the Chinese context of their operation, and offer a plethora of great beers (as well as literal pints of spirit-mixers... be careful, kittens!).
Perhaps their premier pint is the Honey Ma Gold, an amber-hued, drinkable ale cut through with – as one might rightly expect – a honeyed sweetness that makes it far too easy to get carried away. Sichuan peppercorns add a floral complexity to its aftertaste and Honey Ma isn't overtly hoppy, which is a pleasant surprise in a city overflowing with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink IPA hopmonsters,
Although it's only brewed twice a year, to bookmark the winter season, Liu the Brave Stout is delicious, with a near-black colour and a dense, borderline moreish finish. For the uninitiated, stouts use roasted malts and barley to achieve a smooth, assertive flavour with a fairly thick mouthfeel. We'd leave the Mocha and Masala varieties; they complicate what is already a rich and intriguing beer.
We also love the Chesty Puller American IPA, a medium-bodied (and award-winning, natch) India Pale Ale made with imported hops for a citrus-pine-extravaganza of a finish and a sneakily-high alcohol content. It's sprightly and vibrant, not excessively hoppy (please see above!) and far too easy to drink. Hic.
's more traditional brews, available in their swank new Sanlitun
location and at their cosy hutong taproom
in Zhangzizhonglu, are carefully realised and cover most of what even the most dedicated craft beer nut might want to tip down their gullet.
A particular favourite is the Sea Anchor Imperial Vanilla Stout – with a heady alcohol content of 8 percent, you'll be glad it comes in an elegant, petite glass and not as a honking great pint. We could describe it as Guinness for snobs, but that would be doing this velvety little number a disservice. With an almost viscous mouthfeel, ruby-goth colour and a whisp of complex sweetness, owing to the Madagascan vanilla pods thrown into the vats during brewing, Sea Anchor is damn delicious.
The peppery playfulness and bouncy carbonation of the Eight Six Golden Lager makes it an enjoyable brew, with a taste that tends to linger, like the reliable friend who helps you clean up after parties, in the mouth between sips.
There's two Arrow Factory
taprooms in our fair city – one next to the river in Liangmaqiao
, complete with Instagram-perfect roof terrace, and one hidden away down Jianchang Hutong
– and they're both pretty great, with an appealing unfinished aesthetic and the best sausage selection in town outside of the Gongti meat markets (ooh er missus).
We recommend (with reservations including but not limited to the fact that it made a friend of a friend fall off her barstool and then throw her sunglasses at a cab driver) the lethal but lovable Seeing Double IPA. Seeing Double is certainly far too easy to drink for a nearly 8 percent beer, and thus we would like to suggest some alternative and perhaps more explicit names for this beast of a brew. Perhaps Feeling Nauseous, or Causing Chaos? it comes in pints, for heaven's sake! Regardless, it's a classy and straightforward IPA, with robust, bitter hopping and a deceptively kind finish.
For something a little more casually sessionable, both the Guanxi Pale Ale and Country Ale are solid choices and present the perfect method of getting day drunk on a Sunday without hating yourself come Monday morning. Sprightly, robust Guanxi wears its fruity topnotes with a badge of pride, resulting in a refined ale with an intriguing but not obtrusive flavour profile. Meanwhile, the fairly-low alcohol Country Ale is a more mellow prospect, bringing to mind jolly farmers and illicit encounters next to haystacks and all the other greetings card trappings of the rural idyll. It's a typically English, fairly flat and traditional bitter, with a hint of earthiness and an attractive haze.
We love the Jing A
team for their eccentricity and willingness to take risks; they're definitely got a sense of humour (which means that some of their concoctions might not appeal to the traditionalist) and fully embrace their status as a determinedly Beijing brewery. In addition, their taproom is freakin' beautiful
and has a proper beer garden
The floral, almost perfumed scent of their Full Moon Farmhouse Ale might betray too overtly the beer's osmanthus heart for some palates, but we love this autumnal saison (a fizzy, sweet-and-sour beer) because of it. It's a translucent Belgian-style beer with a balanced, layered approach that develops and builds with every gulp.
For hop-a-holics, the dry-hopped Flying Fist IPA is every bit as boisterous as its violent moniker might suggest. This orange-hued ingenue might be the same fake-tan colour as one of the gals on The Only Way Is Essex, but it's far more considered than its creosote doppelgangers, even as it smacks you round the chops with its full-bodied and hard-hitting blend of malts.
We also like a sneaky glass of Airpocalypse Double IPA, and not just because of the sympathies it offers to our clogged-up pores and smog-filled lungs. Unfiltered, in visual tribute to the opaque skies we all know and love, this gloomy and challenging beer claims to have an IBU hop count that is 'beyond index' for a bottled representation of the city – and why not? The city's going to kill us all someday! It's more conceptual than quaffable, certainly, but Airpocalypse is a fun enough gimmick for us to get behind.