Many new wave craft brewers in Beijing started up brewing in the Hútòngs. If you missed the Great Leap Brewing post I’ll re-define the meaning;
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)
Essentially the hútòngs are the traditional fabric of the city where people used to live, work and play. There are quite a few still dotted around, but the Chinese People’s government seem obsessed with pulling them down and constructing identikit modern tower blocks in their place.
Arrow Factory Brewing is no exception, named after their original start up location in the old arrow factory hútòng. Four years on, they now have two bars in downtown Beijing; a tap room at Jian Chang Hutong and their showcase brewpub at Liang Ma He South Rd, Sanlitun.
Will Yorke, owner, brewer and co-founder told me apart from a bit of test/one off brewing on the small brew kit on the ground floor, he no longer brewed on site at Liang Ma He South Road. All their main production is now done in a bespoke out of town location where they produce between 2,500 – 5,000 litres per brew.
Originally from Guildford, Will is a self taught brewer and entrepreneur and it was really interesting to learn about the harsh realities of business in China. For a start, don’t even bother unless you either speak Mandarin or have a trusted Chinese speaking business partner.
Having obtained a degree in Mandarin Chinese and living and working in China for a good many years, Will was well placed to negotiate the very grey legislation surrounding brewing, much of which went over my head, although I got the bit about the only taxation being at point of sale, per unit sold, hence there was no real differential pricing by ABV as we see in the UK.
Arrow Factory Brewing currently use Fawcett’s Marris Otter malt, which costs between £1.20 – £1.40 per kilo, a premium Will is happy to pay, rather than using the Australian grown, Chinese malted, base malt that many of his competitors use at only 50p per kilo.
Hops were a problem too and the only UK hops Will can get hold of are East Kent Goldings and occasionally Fuggles. Leaving him with a choice of locally grown and antipodean varieties. To be fair, he doesn’t seem to be doing a bad job and after a couple of weeks of Chinese beer, the notes in my little book reads, ‘Best so far, by miles’.
We sampled our way through the core beers and the ‘brewed by season’ specials. They were all pretty tasty, well brewed and I could have supped any of them all night. A lot of others must have thought the same because there wasn’t a spare seat in the spacious two floor bar.
The Guanxi Pale Ale, hopped with Mosaic, Warrior and a dry hopping of Cascade was a nice easy drinking 4.9% beer. Similarly the 5.5% Liang Ma IPA, although the stronger, 8.1%, Seeing Double IPA, double dry hopped with Citra and Simcoe was my highlight of the core draught beers.
Prices were very reasonable at around ¥40 -50 for a 500ml, so called, pint. Although these are all keg beers, they are all unfiltered, unfined and unpasteurised, essentially live beer, or to the purist real ale.
Being in China, they aren’t over chilled neither, many Chinese folk believing it is ill advised to imbibe cold liquids into your warm stomach. You won’t find an ice cold bottle or can in most Chinese bars, restaurants or off licences, although some do keep a few on ice for the strange Western tastes.
I couldn’t understand why Will was pushing me to down the Seeing Double IPA? Clearly he had something on his mind, which manifested itself into a bottle of The Night Time Porter (5.4%). It felt a bit sacrilegious to be finishing off one of the very last bottles of this small batch brew which had been lovingly aged in Speyside and Laphroaig whisky casks before being hand bottled, and bottle conditioned.
I think Will was really pleased with it. He deserves to be. I’m not going to bore you with tasting notes, other than; black as night, roasty toasty, whisky and vanilla. As good as you’ll get and a serious drink of beer. No wonder Will had been saving the last few bottles for himself.
Looking round the bar, there was more of a British pubby feel to the place, despite the majority of the clientele being local people. It wasn’t the decor, which was modern, industrial style. Maybe it was the people sat eating fish and chips with Norwegian Haddock in crispy batter; real English sausages; Steak and ale pie?
You can even get Sunday Lunch; roast beef, Yorkshires, sprouts, parsnips, gravy and all the trimmings. Surely the only place in Beijing to serve up such homely delights. I nearly asked whether hordes of drunk Chinese blokes turned up just before closing time demanding an English, rudely asking whether all the British had funny round eyes?
If in Beijing, Arrow Factory Brewing is a must visit for both the beer and the crack and I have to thank Will for his wonderful hospitality and company. And for introducing us to 京A. And for the excellent restaurant he took us to. And for getting us home when at 1.30am we realised the underground had stopped running at 11pm.
Travellers tip: Always make sure you know how to get home late at night in China as none of the taxi drivers speak English, even if you have your address written in Chinese many can’t read, and if they can read, in these huge cities, they still might not know where it is. What looked like a short distance on the map, in a city as large as Beijing, turned out to be 7km.
Arrow Factory Brewing is at 亮马河南路 (Liang Ma He South Rd.) in the Sanlitun district of Beijing.