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 when the brewer Nick and his wife Penny returned with new partners Sean and Chrissy to open a new tap house, the news was met with no small amount of excitement.
What impresses first is the new location. Transported a couple of neighborhoods away from Shuiwei to Xinzhou, the new Craft Head is located on the corner of a bustling intersection of the charming area. Situated over the second and third floors of a converted home, the views and atmosphere on their terrace is poised to become the envy of most pubs in the city.
Over the years, they have become synonymous with cider and you can still find their classics Apple, Berry, and my personal favorite, Kiwifruit. It’s perhaps their Exit Plan IPA that makes the strongest impression. Nick also uses his 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.
When it comes to food, the owners are principled about what they do and don’t serve. You won’t find any beef at Craft Head, and Chrissy mentioned that there is an upcoming emphasis on offering more quality vegetarian dishes too. Which is great for us, because it’s led to one of the most creative and freshest brewpub food menus around.
In place of your burgers, you have their Roujams, where they take that Chinese hamburger you find served by street vendors and give it a twist with some new mouthwatering fillings. Of the five varieties, Lamb Jam was the one that left me licking my fingers the most.
And that same fun sense of experimentation and fusion can be found all over the menu. From the criminally good Goat Cheese Wonton, to the Chef’s Meishan Special potato wedges seasoned with Sichuan spices, to the Chef’s Jian Special noodles, recipe for which comes all the way from Chrissy’s Mother’s kitchen in Jiangxi.
The new Craft Head is an absolute must try. Come for the cider and beer. Stay for the food and terrace view.
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）)
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 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 coldroom 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…
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, South China Morning Post, Travel + Leisure and in Lonely Planet as an unmissable experience, just to name 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, American Pale Ale, Crickside Golden Ale, 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 Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival, which is now in its 4th year.
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 7 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 which was recently called one of the top 5 beers in China by Lonely Planet.
Address: Shop 136-137, Anwanwu Rd, JunHuiXinTian Garden, Nanshan, Shenzhen (Behind All City North) (深圳市南山区岸湾五路君汇新天136、137号商铺（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.
Address: OCT Loft, Building A2, No.101, Nanshan, Shenzhen (深圳南山华侨城创意园北区A2栋101)
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)
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.
November 9th to 11th, Bionic Brew presents Electric City, the 4th Annual Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival. The festival, which is an invitation only event for Guangdong and Greater China craft breweries, began in 2015 with just six breweries and expands this year to 21 of China’s best craft breweries. As well as great beer, expect plenty of food vendors and live DJ sets all weekend.
Shenzhen’s original craft beer festival, Electric City, is coming up on Friday 9th to Sunday 11th November. Shenzhen Party sat down to speak with Joe Finkenbinder, founder of Electric City and Bionic Brew, to learn more about this year’s festival, the story of his brewery, and his love of craft beer.
Shenzhen Party (SZP): Bionic Brew has become one of the most iconic craft beer brands in Shenzhen and across China. How did it all come about?
Joe Finkenbinder (JF): I started home brewing in 2008 when I was in Pennsylvania. I went to Beijing in 2010 where there was a brewery called Great Leap Brewing that had just started up, and I started to work there part-time. I really liked the brewing scene, and in 2014 I decided I wanted to do my own place in Shenzhen.
I’d never been to Shenzhen before. I didn’t know the area, I didn’t have any partners. But I liked the weather. I liked the access to Hong Kong.
I arrived in April and started brewing right away. Rented some equipment from another local brewer and I would brew there on weekends. Rented a little bar in Baishizhou. It was basically a tiny storage room. There were no chairs, no bathroom. It was just somewhere I could sell my beer.
After a month, we were doing pretty well, so I got the place next door. We started to brew inside there and we had a bar. And then that was closed by November. We had won a That’s PRD Award and by the time the award ceremony was held a week later we had already been closed down. They never told us why.
I reached out to a friend of mine, Thompson, who was the owner of NYPD. He made really good pizza, and pizza and beer kind of go together. So, we co-located in another shop in Baishizhou.
That worked for a few months before it was shut down. Apparently, it wasn’t zoned for what it was meant to be. So, we spent all that money and it was closed within a few months. It was a week after our first beer festival. We were top of the world and then you have your knees kicked out from under you.
Just when I was thinking that Baishizhou was not the right place, Thompson got in touch. He had found a 100 sqm location that was legit. The police had shown it to him and he had the paperwork.
So we opened the third Bionic in Baishizhou in August 2015. And that’s where we’ve been ever since.
SZP: Bionic Brew organize Shenzhen’s original craft beer festival, Electric City, which is now in its fourth year. How did that all start and how has it grown over the years?
JF: I’d seen it done in Beijing and Shanghai. I thought it would be a good way to bring people together and show there is craft beer down here.
We had six breweries from Guangzhou, Beijing, Hong Kong, and some local guys. The same weekend there was a big Battle of the Bands and the week before they lost their venue. So we did it together. I think everyone sold out of beer. I know we did. It was only one day, but it was a good time.
We have a waiting list for breweries, but we always invite back the people who came before. We have a lot of breweries, we could have 30, but I just said let’s do 19, plus the home brewers. Last year we did 17 plus the home brewers. The year before was 14.
We need to grow slowly to ensure we have good quality breweries because you want to have someone who already has a little bit of a foothold in the market already. And also, are they legal companies? You know, I don’t want people to get sick.
I would say for those that came, 80 or 90% were foreigners. By the fourth year, it’s – same as our bar – about 50/50. Some craft beer bars are all Chinese and there are some that are all foreign. But ours is very mixed.
SZP: Every year, the top brewers from all over China descend on Shenzhen for Electric City. What breweries have you got for us this year?
JF: One of the breweries we have is a Taiwanese brewery that has a Shenzhen location. They’re called Zhang Men. We’ve got Moonzen, from Hong Kong and we’ve got Master Gao, who comes every year. He’s one of, if not the, biggest brewery in China. We just did a nice Pilsner together. Then we’ve got guys from Wuhan, Beijing, Chengdu, Dongguan, and Guangzhou.
SZP: You must get a wide range of beers at Electric City. What have been the standout beers at the festival over the years?
JF: I’ve got some new recipes in development. An Imperial Stout and a Mango Saison. The idea is to have them there, but I don’t know yet. We’re going to have our two flagship beers and a new hoppy, amber beer called Brass Neck.
I know the guys from Moonzen do some weird stuff that people like. Craft Head is known for their cider. Last year, Devils from Wuhan made a Sweet & Sour Noodle beer. 18 Brewpub made a Blonde Coffee Saison, which they won an award for in Japan.
That’s the thing, you make two that you can just pound all day, and you make two that are the beer nerds, which are high alcohol and are unique.
SZP: After a few of those beers, I’m sure our readers will have worked up a bit of an appetite. What food vendors will be at Electric City this year?
JF: We’ve got a pretty good range. We’ve got tacos from Teqo, the new spot. We’ve got Artisans pizza, who came last year. HH Gourment, who does real cheeses, sandwiches, bagels, and pizza bagels and stuff. We’ve also got this guy, Andy, who flies down every year from Beijing. He makes his own sausages and they’re delicious.
We make Chinese food too. Most people sell Western food, but we do Chinese food. Just a bit different. We start at RMB20 for a Rou Jia Mo.
SZP: Craft beer festivals have become increasingly popular in recent years, and it’s threatening to over-saturate the market. How does Electric City distinguish itself from other craft beer festivals?
JF: What we do that makes us unique these days is that we only have brewers that brew in China. They have to be a Chinese business and they have to use Chinese water.
That’s pretty unique because it allows for a fairly even playing field. You see most of us started from pretty much nothing, and most of us are still pretty much very tiny businesses. There’s no Vedetts or Budweisers that can drop thirty grand and kit out their tent.
Another thing is, you don’t pay for beer with tickets at our festival. You pay each brewer individually. That way, that brewery keeps all the money. Not like these guys who do tickets and take 20% off the top and pocket it. As a brewer, we don’t want that to happen. We treat the festival as we would if we were one of the guests.
Also, every beer fest in China, apart from us and one other, use disposable cups. You get one, you drink one, you throw it away, you get another. So we give a plastic cup, but it’s a thick, reusable cup, and you have to take back that same cup every time. Between the first two years and when we introduced the cup, we cut down on our trash to 1/15th of what it was.
This year, another big difference for us is we are doing three days. One of the reasons for that is that on Sunday we will give out tickets to people in F&B. Number one, if there is any leftover beer then the vendors can sell the kegs to local bars and restaurants. Two, it helps the brewers build new relationships.