Craft beer seems to be expanding everywhere in Shenzhen as of late, but what exactly is all the fuss about? Is it really any better than cheap commercial lagers? Is it worth the price difference? For that matter, what exactly is craft beer?
In the US, there is a legal definition as to what constitutes “craft beer”. Unfortunately, in China, there is less of a universally accepted standard and the word can often be applied in questionable circumstances. Sadly, most of what’s out there still leaves a lot to be desired.
Beer is unlike wine or whiskey in the sense that it is far more susceptible to travel stress and it’s quality can rapidly decline if handled poorly.
As a general rule, the closer you can get to where it’s made, the better it is, at least in terms of it not having been subjected to travel stress. You’ll have a better chance of having a beer as it was intended to taste if it was brewed on site, but might also find a good experience with a beer made off site providing it was transported right. The further and further you get away from where it was made, the more risk there is that it no longer tastes as it was intended to, especially when it comes to crossing the border with potentially lengthy customs delays.
We are of course talking about the good stuff, fresh beer, which is unpasteurized and often unfiltered. Fresh beer needs to be kept cold, time and temperature are far less forgiving to it than its mass-made pasteurized counterpart.
A few red flags to look out for when searching for a craft beer bar;
1) If they serve beer from flash chillers and the kegs aren’t always kept cold, don’t pay the extra money for it. The way to spot this is to see if the kegs are kept outside of a fridge or cold room on the floor. In these cases the beer is chilled only on demand by a flash chiller as it is sent to the tap.
2) If the bar doesn’t put the brewery name on the menu, you might not be getting what you expect. Is it really a craft beer, or is it a commercial beer with an inflated price tag?
3) If the bartender doesn’t know which brewery the beer came from, find another place to frequent. An educated barman will not only give you a better more educational craft beer experience, they’re more likely to know how to take care of the beer and how to recommend a suitable beer for you based on your preferences.
4) Be careful with the imports. No matter how great the beer tasted when it was first made, it often gets ruined by the transportation process. Importing beer into China is notorious for its difficulty in making sure the proper temperature controls are in place. Fresh unpasteurized beer should be kept cold as overheating can cause flavors to go off and also spoilage.
Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in awareness regarding the transportation process and overseas breweries have started to manage their own product transportation to China. Even with the best efforts, however, imported craft beer will never be able to compare to a product of equal quality that is freshly made locally.
That being said, let’s take a look at some of the top brewpubs in Shenzhen…
1. Bionic Brew
Shenzhen’s first craft brewery opened in 2014 and is just as famous for its beers as it’s rollercoaster ride with the authorities. It’s been featured in CNN, The South China Morning Post, and Travel + Leisure to name just a few publications.
Distribution is limited to around Shenzhen and most people go to its gritty urban village taproom in Baishizhou or B10 Live house to sample the brew. They are best known for the Bionic Ale, Crickside Golden, and Metropolis IPA, but they also make dry cider and other rotating beers.
Their taproom features guest taps from all over China and they organize the Electric City Craft Beer Festival in Shenzhen.
Address: Shang Ye Bu Xing Jie, Baishizhou, Nanshan, Shenzhen (深圳市南山区白石洲沙河街商业步行街)
This brewpub made a big splash when it opened a few years ago and was even featured in Fortune magazine as one of the top 5 craft beer brands in China. Taps was also featured on CCTV national news and is one of only seven brewpubs listed in the Lonely Planet’s global craft beer guide; the only one in Guangdong on the list. This brewpub offers a clean and comfortable environment and is nestled near Haiyue subway station in Nanshan.
In addition to a large draft list, they have many food items available from their kitchen to try whether you’re feeling peckish after a few pints or looking for a full-on meal. Be sure to try their famous End of Days IPA.
Address: Shop 136, Branch 5th Rd, JunhuiXintian Garden, Nanshan, Shenzhen (Behind AllCity North) (深圳南山区支五路君汇新天商业136号商铺 (宝能太古城北区后面))
NBeer originates from Beijing, brewed in Chengdu, but you can find all their latest beers at the bar in OCT Loft right here in Shenzhen.
They are most famous for their sour Goose Beer, but they are no one-trick pony, and make dozens of other styles of beer. Don’t be surprised to find these beers pop up at other locations across the city, but to get the full NBeer experience, head to their bar in OCT Loft.
Recently, NBeer Craft Brewing has won awards on the international scene. At the 2019 New York International Beer Competition, NBeer collected six awards, including a gold medal for their Mango Gose and China Brewery of the Year. At the 2019 International Brewing Awards in the UK they picked up a silver medal for NBeer Strawberry Gose and a gold medal for NBeer Niubic Sour.
Address: OCT Loft, Building A2, No.101, Nanshan, Shenzhen (深圳南山华侨城创意园北区A2栋101)
4. Plus Nine Brewery
One of the more recent bars to burst on the brewpub scene is Plus Nine Brewery, situated in the up-and-coming area of Shuiwei. They brew onsite to fuel their 11 drafts, but they also have some guest taps on rotation.
It’s worth noting that the taps are not always well marked so be sure to ask the bartender who made the beer if you want to know if it’s one of their own brews or one of the well-known guests beers.
Address: 1368 Intl Culture St, Shuiwei Village, Huanggang Park 1st St, Futian, Shenzhen (深圳市福田区皇岗公园一街水围1368国际街区144栋)
5. ET Brewery
Located in Houhai between the shops of Coastal City and the offices of Tencent, ET Brewery is a great little option for those looking for a pint or two. Although this brewpub has tanks onsite, most of their beers are actually brewed at their place in Foshan.
The drafts available often take inspiration from the extra-terrestrial nature of the brewpub with drinks like Starfrunova and Space Cow Porter. They don’t usually carry guest beers on tap, but occasionally you will find other great beers from around the city or China.
Address: No.60 Haide 3rd Road, Nanshan District, Shenzhen (深圳市南山区海德三道60号 )
6. Craft Head
Craft Head has long been a stalwart of the craft beer scene in Shenzhen. They are very much a craft brewer’s brewer, and their old location in Shuiwei holds a special place in the hearts of many craft beer lovers. So the news of the opening of their new spot in Xinzhou Village was met with no small amount of excitement.
Over the years, they have become synonymous with cider and you can still find their classics Apple, Berry, and Kiwifruit. It’s perhaps their Exit Plan IPA that makes the strongest impression. Craft Head also use their extensive network in the craft beer scene to bring a lively mix of guest taps too. With 16 taps on offer, you are going to want to come back time and time again to try the latest beers.
The new spot has a fantastic terrace view and also their food menu of reimagined Chinese classics and Asian-Western fusion are must trys. Be sure to try the Goat Cheese Wonton, Lamb Rou Jam, and Jian Special Noodles.
Address: Xinzhou 2nd Street and 7th Street, Line 7, Near Shawei Station (深圳市福田区新洲中心村78栋二楼（新洲二街与七街交叉口）)
Shenzhen’s craft beer scene is growing all the time and new brewpubs are popping up everywhere. Start your boozy journey with these establishments, but who knows where that hoppy road will lead you. Cheers!