I learnt my first lesson about Chinese craft beer bars in Boxing Cat one Saturday afternoon. Always go when it’s happy hour, and strangely happy hour here is Friday to Sunday, 3 – 8pm, as opposed to 5 – 8pm during the rest of the week. It’s worth checking websites as happy hours and days vary from bar to bar.
Just to give you some idea, it was ¥35 a pint for draught beers during happy hour, as opposed to ¥50 the rest of the time. If you work on ¥10 being about a quid then you can’t go far wrong when you’re out and about. It’s actually somewhere around the 90p mark, so by my reckoning, every time you buy something, you end up saving money.
A brief history is, established in 2008 by two ex-pats and a local guy, taken over by AB-Inbev in 2017. In the meantime they have two Boxing Cat Brewpubs in Shanghai, a further one in Beijing and a factory, there’s also Liquid Laundry and Li’l Laundry Smokin’ Meats and Brew which are similar places just under a different brand.
Basically they all follow the same format of Boxing Cat beers and food, like the one I visited in the Sinan Mansions area where the food is Burgers and Southern American cum BBQ style, which is commensurate with the decor – if you’ve been in one craft beer bar then you’ve been in ‘em all sort of thing.
Not that Boxing Cat isn’t pleasant, it is, all three floors (bar, restaurant, function room) are nicely decorated. It’s just not Chinese. Neither is it meant to be because craft beer is a niche in the market here, although it’s more the norm in Shanghai and Beijing than the lesser well known cities.
I reckon the split of customers on a Saturday afternoon was around 70/30 ex-pats to Chinese. Myself and Mrs C were the only casual visitors to the city. To be fair, apart from these Western styled bars the chance of seeing anyone of Caucasian appearance in most places is a rarity.
Notably, the Chinese drinkers here, and in craft beer bars elsewhere were generally in the 18 – 35 bracket. The older, taking a British stereotypical view of Saturday afternoon pub goers, were all in Fuxing Park across the road, sat playing cards, smoking and drinking tea at portable tables in the open air; an almost mythical, outdoor, temperance based WMC tap room.
The staff are worth a mention, they were brilliant, even robbing a souvenir presentation pack for a limited edition beer mat for me. A couple spoke reasonable English which is not something you should expect in most places.
Unless you sit at the bar, it’s table service and I asked for the tasting flight, a third of the six core draught beers at ¥75 (normally ¥100) . There’s also a half reasonable selection of Global beers and a couple of Limited Editions available too, as well as Cocktails and spirits.
First thoughts, there’s a residual sweetness to all the beers. The penny dropped after a few days in the country, there’s a faint sweetness to many (all?) things in China, so I’m guessing they brew for the local palate.
My favourite beer was the Sugar Daddy Impporter, a 10% Imperial Stout; Aroma – Coconut, Taste – Coconut, Verdict – beautiful, if you like Coconut, almost like a Bounty bar with a beery bite. Mind you, I don’t think I could have managed a 500ml glass full.
Contender was a very easy drinking, pale, hoppy, clean tasting 4.9% beer which would be a decent seller anywhere. We ended up drinking quite a bit of this in another bar, but that’s another post entirely.
Suckerpunch at 5.5% was a stronger variant of Contender just not as clean on the palate. The TKO India Pale Ale at 6.5% ramped the strength up a bit more. Citrus, piney, touch of orange and an almondy bitterness. Quite nice, very well balanced and easy to drink at 6.5%. I though it was a decent craft IPA.
Right Hook was a pleasant Helles styled beer and would have instantly appealed to Lager drinkers everywhere. Firecraker was a totally different kettle of fish, a very strong (7.5%), sweetish, malty bitter which Boxing Cat call an Imperial Red Ale. My brief notes end with – Nice!
All in all I thought Boxing Cat Sinan Mansions to be an excellent place to spend an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon. The location is good, the place is nice and the beers were very good. If you’re expecting off the wall Sour Brut Quadruple IPA’s and the like it won’t cut it.
At the start of an extended trip to China I was unsure whether this was as good as it gets or whether this vast country had more beery wonders to offer? You’ll have to read the rest of the posts to find that out.