Don’t let the unmarked façade put you off – just follow the punters through the imposing iron door into bearded brewman Carl Setzer’s Gongti flagship microbrewery. With their new outpost, Setzer and his wife, Liu Fang, have re-imagined the gastropub experience for a Beijing audience – think long wooden benches, propeller-like ceiling fans, soft lighting and dozens of perky, uniformed waiters. We love the simplicity and charm of the duo’s original, tiny Doujiao Hutong haunt, but has Great Leap Brewing
’s (GLB) big-budget expansion paid off?
The answer is yes – probably. This really is a re-imagining of what a Beijing taproom can be. It’s lost a lot of the charm of the original but mostly made up for it through the advantages of its massive scale. The novelty of chatting with the proprietors about how they make their brews, for example, is lost in this high-decibel, high-turnover pub.
But that doesn’t detract from the fine taste of the beers – the hoppy Honey Ma Gold (35RMB), with its nose full of Sichuan peppercorn; the malty, fragrant crispness of the Banana Wheat (50RMB); or the smooth, amber-coloured, slightly sweet Cinnamon Rock Ale (35RMB). Not all brews measure up, though – the bland Prosperor (40RMB) tasted vaguely bitter, while the cloudy Heaven On Earth Kölsch (40RMB) was low on suds.
This was especially disappointing as GLB has a state-of-the art tap system that connects directly to the in-house brewery, ostensibly allowing staff to pull smoother, more reliable drafts. The menu also has basic mixers and house red and white wines (all 40RMB).
With Kin Hong – of The Taco Bar
– heading up the kitchen, there are some serious eats to match the quality brews. We devoured our plate of crispy fried onion rings (25RMB) and succulent, honey-glazed GLB Wings (45RMB), neither requiring the tangy mustard or creamy Ranch dipping sauces provided respectively. The calorific cheeseburger (50RMB) – with two beef patties ground in-house, Thousand Island dressing, mayonnaise, cheese and pickles – is barely contained by its sesame seed bun. The lighter GLB Burger (45RMB), with a well-seasoned ground lamb patty and tzatziki
sauce, goes down blissfully well and leaves room to attack the accompanying mound of slightly stale, liberally salted thin-cut fries.
Ironically, the real ‘junk food’ lies with the chop salad (45RMB): its chunks of oily salami and processed-tasting mozzarella, piled over sparse greens, offer little incentive to deviate from the joint’s more indulgent, meaty mainstays.
Plentiful, well-trained waiters somehow manage to pacify the roaring, mostly expat, crowd with attentive service. Most can speak basic English but getting them to explain the beers in their second language is something of a stretch. A list of all beers and their ABV is buried in the back of the menu, but it currently lacks a detailed introduction to the various types.
Still, Great Leap Brewing’s new location is a game changer, and if there’s a better spot for a few top-notch pints in Sanlitun, we are hard pressed to find it.