I’d been looking forward to getting to China for most of the trip, as I’d heard a great deal about Shenzhen and was keen to see one of China’s newly built and cutting edge megacities. It did not disappoint. Shenzhen was nothing more than a small fishing village a mere 40 years ago, and the metro area now has an estimated population of ~23 million people – roughly the same as the entire population of Australia. It has become China’s version of Silicon Valley, and is home to major corporations like Huawei. The development and prosperity have attracted mainlanders and foreigners alike, all looking to get ahead, and has created an environment full of folks with money who want to spend it enjoying themselves. This has been a boon for the food & beverage industry in the city, evident by the numerous high end restaurants, clubs, bars, pubs, and breweries that abound.
One of our first visits was to Peko Brewing, run by an American expat affectionately known as Hoss. As we’d arrived towards the end of the school year – in what we discovered was known as the ‘silly season’ – we were fortunate to have many busy evenings full of activities, as the teachers at the school were wrapping up their year, with many moving on to new assignments the following school year. Peko Brewing was located in a small strip plaza type development in the Baishizhou neighbourhood, right next to another small brewery, Bionic, which was apparently the very first in the city.
On our way, we explored some of the backstreets of the neighbourhood. Although the main street would be as developed and organized as any comparable western city, just a few streets back one would find a much more authentic Chinese atmosphere, with multiple butcher shops and fishmongers with plenty of meat freshly butchered in plain sight and on display ready for purchase in the more traditional format.
We’d heard about a brand new craft beer bar in Shenzhen called Goon Goon, run by Young Master, the brewery behind TAP in Hong Kong that we’d enjoyed so much, and were very keen to check it out. Arriving on a weeknight, we found the place sparkling new and mostly empty. Located in a major shopping centre, with a huge number of tables and large bar, there were only a couple of other tables of people when we arrived, and we didn’t expect a very eventful evening. Little did we know that the China sales rep for Young Master, Jessica, was on site that evening, and would help to make things considerably more eventful!
After sampling our way through their tap list, Jessica was kind enough to open a few bottles of barrel-aged beer from their cellar (which were exceptional), many of which she informed us she’d hauled across the border from Hong Kong in her backpack. As we were enjoying everything so much, and curious to try anything else they had to offer, Jessica went out of her way to allow us to try the very limited edition and yet to be released collab with a major craft brewer from Taiwan, Taihu. Although the 20L keg wasn’t meant to go on tap until later in the week, she had a bartender clean a line and put it on for us to try. This beer was a star fruit gose, and as one brewery is known for their sour beers and the other are excellent at brewing with fruit, they decided to combine their two strengths with a fruited sour. The result was absolutely exceptional! The salty-sourness of the nose base was complemented perfectly by the sweet flavour of the star fruit. This was easily one of my favourite beers in recent memory, and had a crushability factor of at least 11! We enjoyed a few glasses, and were even able to get a few cans filled off the tap so that we would be able to have it again in a few days, just to be sure that the beer was a good as we thought, and we weren’t just caught up in the moment (it was!).
As we had month long visas, we planned on staying in China for the duration to make full use of our investment. As it was the end of the school year, it also unfortunately meant we’d only have a couple of weeks with Ashraf and Aneta before they headed off to start their summer vacations. Home to Montenegro for Aneta, and 2 weeks in Thailand for Ashraf. In order to give them a break from us before their departures, and to check out a little more of China, we planned a weekend trip to Xiamen, a port city in the neighboring Fujian province on China’s southeast coast, directly across from Taiwan. Given how much we’d loved the collab beer at Goon Goon, Jessica gave us rough directions (in Chinese) to the brewery Taihu had just recently opened in Xiamen – so we had a mission set out for ourselves before we’d even arrived.
A couple of hours by train (traveling at ~200km/h, but not truly high speed), we arrived into Xiamen and quickly navigated our way through their subway system to our hostel. Although not an overly remarkable place by any means, being a port city, we knew their should at least be a waterfront to check out. It did not disappoint. They’ve done quite a nice job of making a large section of it pedestrian friendly, with shops, restaurants, and bars all along the old harbor, creating a great nightlife atmosphere. A couple of pretty decent hamburgers later, we were fed and ready to be watered!
We’d been told about a well known brewery on the waterfront, Fat Fat Beer Horse, that was not to be missed. Upon arrival, we discovered they were undergoing significant renovations, but were still open, and we were able to enjoy a couple of pretty decent beers on their rooftop patio overlooking the water. We found the heat and humidity in Xiamen to be pretty extreme, which meant we spent most of the daytime inside, searching out air conditioned environments. We were not, however, willing to leave without trying to locate the new Taihu brewery we’d heard about.
China really hammered home how conditioned we are to using Google Maps to navigate everywhere and find whatever businesses we might be looking for. China being China, this ever dependable tool became somewhat useless. Having the name and exact location of any place we were looking for prior to departure was absolutely essential. There are local apps that serve the same purpose, one of which was Maps.me – a resource that would prove very helpful as we carried on later in our travels. Jessica had given us the basic details of the Taihu brewery’s location, and using Google Translate, we were able to give ourselves a street name and very rough location. After walking up and down the street, we knew we were close, but something wasn’t right. After a while, we discovered that just off of the street, there was an old warehouse complex that was being revitalized and converted into restaurants and business. We figured the brewery had to be tucked away somewhere in there. After a few more minutes of exploring each row of storehouses, we finally found it, and just as they were opening for the evening! I immediately added the location to Maps.me to make life considerably easier for any other travellers looking for it in the future.
Taihu itself also did not disappoint. After running through their core offerings, I noticed that they had a Lichtenhainer on the menu. This smoked sour style is pretty rare, and not one I’d ever had the chance to try before, so naturally I was all over it! Taihu’s version is brewed with plums, and yet again, turned out to be an absolute home run! Smoke beers can be very polarizing, but something about the smokiness cutting through the sourness of this beer, with the plum character mingling throughout, was just to die for in my opinion. Truly exceptional!
Wrapping up our visit to Xiamen, we trained back to Shenzhen and laid low there for the next couple of weeks. Ashraf and Aneta were kind enough to allow us to stay in their apartment during this time period while they were away to help us save some money and get some work done before the next leg of our trip. Although we kept it pretty low key, we did continue to explore the seemingly endless parts of Shenzhen, including what turned out to a major highlight for us – the skyscraper light show at Children’s Palace. Each evening on the weekends just after sundown, all the major skyscrapers surround the Children’s Palace park are lit up in a coordinated show timed to music. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and found it extremely impressive. The show ran for about 20 minutes, highlighting short compositions with various themes by artists from around the world. It was great to follow the show taking place in almost 360 degrees!
All in all, the beer in China was definitely solid, with a couple of clear standouts, and overall considerably better than initially expected.
There was a serious lack of bovines on this leg of the trip though. We did however find this awesome bronze statue in Xiamen harkening back to days gone by…
Also, not much to report on the beard front for China. Limited facial hair found here.
Next we’d be off to one of the most adventurous parts of our entire trips – Central Asia!