A US brew laced with honey from the Great Wall and peppercorns from distant Sichuan province, Great Leap Brewing’s sweet-yet-fiery Honey Ma Gold is Beijing summarised in a glass: a mix of old Eastern ingredients and modern Western techniques, enormously attractive to hipsters and, thanks to Great Leap’s location, intimately tied to the city’s winding hutong alleys. Plus it’s enormously alcoholic, just like a sizeable chunk of the city’s foreign population…
The bustling, tat-filled storefronts of Nanluoguxiang have made the street a magnet for tourists from around the world. But push past the glowing façades and into the knot of alleys down Jingyang Hutong and you’ll find one of Beijing’s most idiosyncratic – but influential – beery haunts. Opened in 2010, Great Leap Brewing wasn’t the first place in Beijing to offer microbrewed beers in the city, but it did spark off a craze for home-brewing that has seen amateur hop-heads crafting ales all over the city.
Not that the pints served up at Great Leap are anything less than professional quality. Whether you’re sipping the sweetly malty Pale Ale #6 or the moreishly bitter Danshan Wheat – made with black tea from Danshan – you’re all but guaranteed high times (and a high ABV). They’re not cheap (the menu declines to list prices for a reason) but these are beers to be savoured anyway, not knocked back in a boozy rush. Indeed, such is the bar’s success with ale connoisseurs that founder Carl Setzer has even started hosting ‘how to brew’ classes (pictured).
It’s the setting that completes the package, though. Surrounded by 8ft-high walls, dotted with trees and tables and thankfully equipped with a mosquito zapper, Great Leap’s courtyard – located on Doujiao Hutong, with Jongying Hutong to the east and Di'anmenwai Dajie to the west – is a great place to while away the summer. And while it’s a little less inviting in the colder months, the warmly friendly staff (well, save for Setzer, a man who’s in love with beer alone and seems to regard customers as a necessary evil) and comfy couches make the tiny interior space a decent place to hide from winter's bite.
By James Wilkinson