Hútòng – a type of narrow street or alley, most commonly associated with Beijing, China. In Beijing, hútòngs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hútòng, and then joining one hútòng to another. The word hútòng is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods. (definitions.net)
Doujiao Hútòng #6 courtyard is the original Great Leap Brewing Brewpub and also the original Beijing Hútòng Brewery. These days they no longer brew on the original site and there are two more Great Leap operations in the city, both of which are far larger and glitzier than the original.
We wandered through the historic hútòng from Nanluoguxiang which in parts is exactly the same as every other tourist area in China, selling exactly the same wares, interesting but not compelling. If you’re in the Dōngchéng North area the pretty Qiánhāi Lake and the Drum and Bell Towers are well worth a visit before you lose yourself in the ‘off the beaten track’ hútòngs looking for Great Leap Brewing, because get lost you will.
I couldn’t even see it when I was stood bang outside. Fortunately Mrs C’s eagle eyes spotted the dull plaque on the wall. You walk through an unassuming doorway into a lovely little courtyard which is half full at 4.30pm. Probably 75% Chinese to 25% European/American, and quite a lot of those appeared to be residents.
I think they must have thought I should be a resident too, because when I asked about a hoodie the polite staff informed me they wouldn’t have any in my size until the week after next, but they could save me one.
As well as the staff’s excellent spoken English there were a few other differences to what I’d found in Shanghai: The decor was authentically Chinese, in a very simple style. I was told the building was more than a hundred years old and had been sympathetically restored.
There was no food available, but you could order what you wanted and have it delivered. China’s Deliveroo style service is diverse, massive, cheap and efficient and several people appeared to have taken advantage. The only downside, they served complimentary dishes of the Sichuan pepper and chilli spiced peanuts which although delightful, are not conducive to tasting beer.
The beer was a little less mainstream, a little tastier and more what I was expecting, from an established (2010) micro brewery. There were twenty taps serving their own beers and three guests; Mikeller, Moon Dog and Baird.
The pricing was bewildering, the beers colour coded by ABV into different price ranges which meant you didn’t exactly know how much your beer was going to be until you’d paid for it? Prices were from ¥20 – 60 a pint, and there didn’t appear to be a Happy Hour!
You can sit where you want, outside, inside, at the bar. Wherever, you order, pay and collect at the bar, just like a proper pub. We sat at the bar talking to a couple of American ladies, one of who’s husband was from Cleveland, like Great Leap founder Carl Setzer. They explained many of the colour ways used in the branding were reflective of Cleveland’s various sporting teams.
On the other side of us were some young Chinese kids who were noisily eating spun toffee, purchased in the more touristy part of the hútòng. I was offered a taste of the Dragon shaped figure. Quite nice, very similar to the toffee covering toffee apples. Like the peanuts, it wasn’t really conducive to drinking beer though.
With all this interaction going on, with other customers and staff, it all started to feel like a pub, which was quite nice, so we had another beer. All told we drank, Little General IPA 6.5%, Banana Wheat 5.5%, Pale Ale #6 5.2% and East City Porter 5.2%.
The IPA was okay, malty and bitter but not much else. The Wheat beer was what it said. Pale Ale #6 was a sort of light APA. The Porter was decent, a little murky and thin, quite malty, molasses and bit of liquorice, maybe a hint of banana which was surprising, and then a bitterness which sort of grounded everything.
While I’m sat there making a few notes, I couldn’t help wondering why there was a roll of toilet paper on the window ledge? The penny didn’t drop until after wandering around the courtyard a couple of times I was directed to the public lavatory across the street.
I’m guessing many of these old hútòngs don’t have any indoor conveniences, as public toilets are sited at regular intervals of less than 100m. There’s usually a sluice to dispose of household waste and, you’ve guessed it. No toilet paper! Like I mentioned in a previous post, it’s wise to carry your own supply in China. Quality of these public conveniences ranges from excellent, like the one opposite Great Leap, to absolutely gopping.
Verdict – reasonable craft beer in an authentic Chinese setting and an atmosphere that was both welcoming and felt more like a pub than other identikit western styled, Chinese craft beer bars I had visited.
You can try to find Great Leap Brewing at #6 Doujiao Hútòng, Di’Anmenwai Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing.