The holiday season is going to be tough on Santa this year, I doubt he can find any chimneys in China he would be willing to go down anyway. The AQI is horrible, and the smell is very bad this year. I can feel it burning my lungs even at home and we are running two air purifiers 24/7. Annie has a new respirator mask that plugs in to recharge, it is like something out of a science fiction movie. If you ever wanted to see what unregulated coal plants would do to the environment, come to the capital of China.
A better title might be craft beer in Beijing, but many of my friends who are involved in craft beer are spread out across multiple Chinese cities. I am very lucky to have been involved in the Chinese craft beer scene since almost the beginning because now I have so many friends, so many great people -- that I can always visit and talk with about what is going on in China. Things are changing quickly as with almost everything else in China (other than the laws regulating beer) so it should not have surprised me to see how well many of the operations are doing. But still, I was not only surprised but really happy to see how well business is doing and how much better our choices are with regards to both drinking and producing beer in China.
On the import side of things we have multiple new choices for American craft beers, including Dogfish, Great Divide, Firestone Walker and Founders. The picture below shows the cooler at NBeer's location out by PingAn'Li and as you can see it is packed with great choices. It is expensive ($10+) for a bottle but at least you can get it. Finally Chinese enthusiasts can taste a great beer and have something to compare other beers too. When you drink a Double Jack then you know what to shoot for when brewing your own IPA's or what to expect from other local brewers who are presenting double IPA's to you as examples of the style. Not to say there aren't other great double IPA's out there, but you have to admit they are a leading example of the style.
One of the other fascinating developments is NBeer's Sabco Brew Magic that they use to produce beers for sale as well as "rent" to local home brewers. Yes - you can actually go in and talk to Yin Hai or the other guys there and set up a time to brew on their Sabco system. Then use one of their small conicals to ferment and BAM! you have beer to take home. It is a great concept that I have to admit I was totally skeptical about when they first explained it to me 2 years ago, but it seems to work out well for them. There are 3 Sabco Brew Magics in China that I know of, the first one I helped a friend ship into Beijing (which was a nightmare) and then the two that NBeer/Tipsy Face brought in shortly afterwards.
There were lots of new brewing operations to visit, but one of the coolest stories was the third Great Leap location. Here I found a friend who started brewing with the Beijing Homebrew Society and is now one of the main brewers at Great Leap. I can remember when Enda was homebrewing at the embassy apartment and trying to deal with keeping the kitchen clean and finding a place to store all the fermenters. Now he is working commercially on a modern ten barrel system and they are producing top quality beer. He is totally enthused about it and in my opinion this guy was born to brew.
It was a shocker to see the kitchen when I arrived in Beijing. I built up a nice kitchen over the last few years in Beijing and even though Annie doesn't cook, she still has a housekeeper who comes 4 days a week to cook and clean for her. But the housekeeper apparently wasn't very good at the cleaning part. There were lots of things that had not been cleaned since my last visit. First off, I had to clean out the air conditioner as summer was here and the AC doesn't work at all when its dirty. I have some tools I made from the local hardware store so we don't have to pay anyone to clean this, I just have to open up the window and use a hose and brush. It takes an hour or so and it is good as new. I usually have to do this every two weeks, and this shows you how dirty the air is in Beijing.
The kitchen was just awful, with grease and oil on everything. These drawers had not been cleaned since the last time I was in the apartment. This is still the paper I put down! Cleaning the kitchen took about a week. It was filthy. I do a lot of cooking for Annie's friends and clients so the kitchen has to be spotless.
And the refrigerator is not an automatic defrost model, so I defrost it twice a year. Nobody had defrosted the fridge in 18 months! But I finished this up and threw out all of the old food that was in the freezer.
I met a new riding friend on this trip. His name was Tito, and we met while riding down Chang'An avenue. He was a taller guy, with a larger frame bike similar to my own so it was natural that I tried to strike up a conversation with him. He doesn't speak much English, but he is a strong rider. We did a great ride that day, and then followed that up with a big ride up into the mountains north of Beijing. We ran into some fun people, and I clocked 55 mph on the downhill! Not bad for a 72 mile day.
I have come to enjoy bike riding as much in China as the US. It is true that it can be a little dangerous, but I feel much safer than in the US. Bike lanes are very large and as long as you keep your eyes open and don't act stupid everything should be ok. The entire city is huge and almost completely flat. I once did a full century (100m, 160km) and only had a total elevation change of 900 feet (300m). I see exciting and strange things every time I ride and it really helps me to understand the city and how people live.
The bike lanes are shared with 3 wheel vehicles, electric scooters, pedestrians, taxis dropping people off and the occasional parked car. So it is a challenge, but that is part of the fun.
In what almost seems a lifetime ago I was lucky enough to meet Li Lei who owned True North Cabin in the Jianwai Soho area. He had a small shop at the bottom of Building 17 where he kept some wonderful fresh water aquariums. It was there that I helped him create a cocktail menu and develop a fusion liquor program. I was able to go back and see my friend and wow - times have changed in only 20 months. Now he has an extensive collection of Japanese whiskey. Like everything else, he was obsessed with serving it perfectly. So now the tables were turned and he taught me much about not only the Japanese whiskey, but also some very interesting methods for serving ice.
For my birthday he poured me some Yamazaki 18 year, and it was unlike anything else I have ever tried.
If you want to visit somewhere off the beaten path in Beijing where you can be treated well by a very smart host, True North Cabin, Building 17, Jianwai SOHO is the place to try. Li Lei is a great guy and he is fluent in Chinese, English and Japanese. The cocktails are very good, and the company can't be beat.
I returned to Beijing for a couple of months and the first priority was rebuilding the hubs on my bike. I have a Giant XR2 Roam that has been modified with a Surly solid fork and it was just under 1000 miles (1600 km) on the factory Giant hubs. A full season in Beijing consists of a lot of dust, combined with some heavy rain in the monsoon season. Since they had never been torn down it seemed like a good time to do it. I took over all the tools, but the truth is most bike parts and tools are about 30% cheaper than in the U.S. if you just buy them off of Taobao. The bearings for front and back were easy to find and cost me 4 RMB (about 75 cents) total. Packed them up with Park grease and the bike was ready for another season.
The first night after the rebuild we had amazing clear air, less than 100 AQI and so I hit Chang'An Avenue for a quick ride. I stopped for some pictures at the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
So the guys got together and decided that a beer festival was in order, and it was done primarily to host the Chinese brewers who might not otherwise attend a festival in Beijing. It was an absolute blast to see everyone I knew from the brewing community. There were 23 homebrews submitted and the quality was actually quite good. The main thing was hanging out with friends who love to brew.
There were quite a few tents put up and this one was giving an explanation on how to brew.
And the homebrews were judged by some of the local brewmasters and awards were given out at the end of the day.
I got clipped for 200 RMB (about $36) on Friday night by a cab driver passing counterfeit bills. I feel like an idiot, but I wanted to post how it was done so someone else might be able to avoid the scam.
I was near the Houhai Lake area east entrance just south of Drum Tower and picked up a cab back to the CBD. When we got there, the cab fee was 25 rmb and I had exact change. The guy acted all pissed off and handed me the bills back with the corner torn off, and said basically they were bad and he wouldn't take them. So I gave him a 100 RMB note, he passed it back and said it was no good, I gave him a different one, he gave it back saying it was no good, and then I told him to kiss my ass and I took my money and left. But it wasn't my money, it was two counterfeit 100 RMB notes.
Moral of the story, don't let cab drivers pass your money back to you. They take it, they give change or be ready to go completely nuts on them. And keep your phone handy to take a picture of their cab ID on the dash or back seat.
Over the weekend Annie and I took a photography class from Mitchell Masilun in Beijing. The two day workshop was for beginning photographers and explained a lot of the basics and really helped us to shoot some interesting pictures. For anyone that is interested in spending a couple of days taking some nice pictures in Beijing and learning more about their SLR I would really recommend contacting him.