First Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival has no shortage of Chinese flavours
Event is proof that Hong Kong's neighbour is developing a taste for local independent brews
Shenzhen is hosting its first craft beer festival, with a strong emphasis on local brews.
Festival-goers will be able to try beers from Hong Kong, Beijing and Guangzhou as well as Shenzhen, including the city's BionicBrew. Craft beer, made in small batches by artisan brewers and said by fans to have more flavour than volume-produced beers, has seen a global revival in recent years and China hasn't escaped the trend.
Although the scene is still dominated by players such as Tsingtao, Heineken and Budweiser, Jim Boyce, a Beijing-based wine consultant and craft beer fan says that the brew came to the fore at around the time the city hosted the Olympic Games in 2008.
By then Belgian beer already had a strong toehold in the market.
"There were also people experimenting with brew pubs at that time, besides long-term players like Paulaner and newcomer Drei Kronen 1308, a franchise from Germany that opened the same day as the Olympics. For example, a Mexican restaurant called The Saddle Cantina, which is now closed, started making its own beer about that time."
Watch: It's beer o'clock! Pause for a pint at Hong Kong's local brewery
Breweries such as Great Leap, Jing-A, Slow Boat, Arrow Factory and Panda Beer in Beijing or Boxing Cat in Shanghai have also put the emphasis on artisan ales, but only in the last three years, says Boyce.
It's also been a great time for bottled beer fans. Boyce says the Olympics were a watershed. "After that event, we saw a kind of race to grow beer portfolios. We'd hear about one bar with 30 different beers, then another one would open a few months later with 50 options, and then yet another would break the 100 barrier. Now we have places such as Trouble Bar with more than 200 different kinds of beers and spots throughout the city - from the hutongs to Sanlitun - that stock 50 or 100 or more beers."
Even in places where beer is not the priority, they will often have a selection of interesting brews.
Founder of BionicBrew, Joe Finkenbinder, is the motive force behind this month's Shenzhen festival. Finkenbinder has taken the classic route of turning a hobby into a business more recently. The former technology company founder and university teacher pitched up in Shenzhen in April last year, having just spent a year in Beijing teaching and working part-time in sales at Great Leap brewery.
A craft beer fan, he started BionicBrew, which he believes is Shenzhen's first taproom and bar, and a few months later he realised that several friends were working on similar projects and that it might be a good time to organise a festival - one that celebrates craft beer made in China.
"Shenzhen is a little behind the curve, unlike Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai," he says, referring to the availability of imported craft beers from Britain, Germany and the US and the presence of local breweries.
But it's starting to catch up. "I can name off the top of my head a few local names that are going to pop up in Shenzhen soon, which probably means that soon there will be double that."
Boyce believes this is great time to be a craft beer drinker in China.
"One thing defining this era is creativity. While operations such as Paulaner and Drei Kronen are basically producing beers in the German tradition, many in the newer wave of breweries are experimenting with styles and ingredients, including chillies, teas, fruits and more," says Boyce, adding that creativity and experimentation can mean misses as well as hits.
That's not news to Finkenbinder, who has been a brewing enthusiast since 2008, when he was living in the US and he "brewed a lot of bad batches and a few good batches".
Finkenbinder hopes the upcoming event's appeal won't be limited to the stereotypical expat "lumbersexual". His own bar gets a lot of repeat business from locals keen to try craft beer made in China, as well as imports.
The festival's focus, though, is definitely on Chinese-made beer. "If the event continues we hope there will be beer from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau," says Finkenbinder.
The inaugural Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival will be held on Saturday, March 28 from 11am to 11pm at the 1979 Complex. Among the Chinese breweries featured are: BionicBrew and PRC Brewing from Shenzhen; HK Beer Co and Young Master Ales from Hong Kong; Strand Brewing from Guangzhou and Slow Boat Brewery from Beijing.
Entry is 300 yuan (HK$370 in advance) and includes three beers and a shirt, or 50 yuan (available fromHK Brewcraft in Hong Kong). Tickets can also be purchased at the door for 100 yuan (includes one free beer). Go to shenzhencraftbeer.com for more details.
Getting there: take the Metro to Xiang Mei North station and head to Exit B2.
BEER FAN JIM BOYCE’S TIPS
"In Beijing, I enjoy Great Leap, including the Iron Buddha Blonde that contains oolong tea and is a good 'session' beer. Jing-A produces Black Velvet vanilla stout if you fancy for something with a fuller body. I am also impressed by Shanghai's Boxing Cat and Hefei's Calvin Beer. And I'll give a shout out to the Beijing Homebrewing Society, which helps fuel the city's craft beer scene and includes a cider maker in its ranks."