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RAN Craft Beer: IPA (China: IPA: 5.6% ABV)

Visual: Dark caramel brown. Thin off white to cream coloured bubbled head.

Nose: Creamy caramel and toffee. Light sulphur. Dried mango and kiwi. Dried apricot.

Body: Caramel. Sulphur. Creamy. Kiwi. Grapes. Kinda thin. Low bitterness and hop character. Dried apricot. Slightly muggy.

Finish: Caramel. Tart grapes. Apples. Kiwi. Sulphur. Some hop character. Slightly watery. Fudge. Cream. Dried apricot.

Conclusion: This is pretty disappointing as an IPA, to use a certain degree of understatement. There is some hop character, but it is kind of muggy with low present bitterness. So a bad start.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it doesn’t seem to know what kind of IPA it is aiming for. It has that light sulphur character that can come with a British real ale IPA – and here that feels like an off note out of its natural real ale habitat. It has the caramel sweetness of an east coast IPA but with a much thinner body so it doesn’t deliver it well, and without pushing the fruity notes as well as such an IPA tends to do. It feels too wet and lacking in hop bitterness for a west coast IPA and distinctly lacks the fruit punch and creaminess for a New England IPA.

So, instead of comparing it on and on to the other IPA variants it doesn’t match I ask – how does it do as a new take on the IPA on its own, is it any good?

Well, sub par shall we say, to be kind. Too watery, a few off notes, muggy bitterness and low clarity of fruit flavours. It has elements that could be improved to make a good beer, but pretty much everything needs pushing up a notch. More body, more hops, more flavour. As it is, it is one of the more disappointing IPAs I’ve had and one of the more disappointing beers of the China trip. Not the worst beer, I’ve had – especially considering some of the wet air pale lagers I have run into, but definitely more disappointing as this shows hints that could be made, with a lot of effort, into something decent,

A definite avoid.

Background: I genuinely can’t find shit on these guys online – I randomly wandered over their pub while walking around Yangshuo. So, erm, yeah it is a brewery I ran into and had a beer at. Went for IPA as it tends to be a good go to beer for an unknown brewery. That’s about all I can say really.

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Le Votre: Black Beer (China: Dunkel: 4.7% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy and brown with a thin browned head.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Cocoa. Light chalk.

Body: Roasted. Nuts. Cola bottle sweets. Light chalk. Slightly light. Slight charring.

Finish: Roasted. Malt chocolate. Slight liquorice. Chalky feel. Cocoa dust. Light charring. Low level bitterness and hops. Hop oils.

Conclusion: There seems to be a lot of lagers around China, with each region seeming to have a different common bottled pale lager, and a lot of places have their own lagers brewed for their taps it seems. So, here at Le Votre I decided to do notes on their dark beer – hadn’t tried a dark lager yet this trip.

It is fairly middle of the road – better than a lot of the inoffensively dull pale lagers I’ve run into though – a lot of the pale lagers feel like they are designed to be wet backgrounds to a meal than have any real flavour themselves. This at least does have flavour.

This has a mild roasted base, with low level malt chocolate backing and touches of cola bottles and liquorice. There seriously have been a lot of liquorice touched beers this trip. There is low level but present bitterness and hop character, which makes this feel like it is a German inspired dark lager – which make sense considering how popular German beers are in the local region. It similarly has light noble hops oily feel on the way out, further enhancing the comparison.

It is slightly light at the start, but gains just enough weight to the mouthfeel over time. It is a bit too chalk touched for the lower weight though, so it never quite balances it perfectly. The best part is definitely the finish, as the air roams the mouth it seems to have more time to develop tasty hop oil and chocolate notes that never seem to find their way in the mid body.

A better beer to enjoy alongside a meal than most here, in that you can enjoy it for its own flavours – an average stand alone beer though. Not bad, not great, just a dark lager.

Background: Turns out Yangshuo has more of a beer scene than my initial research suggested. Ratebeer listed only Le Votre restaurant, which where I tried this, and a quick google only found a few more. Turned out the place if packed with bars – a lot concentrating on import beer – especially from Germany with a couple concentrating on craft beer – but there are a few local brewpubs as well. I decided to do notes on this one as a representative of the many local breweries around the country that basically brew their own lager (sometimes just pale, sometimes a dark lager as well) – it is fairly common for an area to have its own locally brewed lager, often tied to a restaurant, even if there isn’t really any other beer scene. So – here I grabbed the dark lager. When I was trying to ask about the abv I was unable to get the question across despite my best mime attempts, so this info was taken from googling after getting back.

Tsing Tao: Stout (China: Stout: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Dark red if held to light. Good sized browned bubbles in mounds for a head.

Nose: Liquorice. Caramel. Oats. Vanilla fudge. Mild milky coffee. Marshmallow.

Body: Liquorice. Creamy. Slightly light. Nutty. Fluffy marshmallow flavour and mouthfeel. Touch of chalk.

Finish: Liquorice. Marshmallow. Chocolate liqueur. Light dry roasted peanuts.

Conclusion: I must admit this is better than I was expecting. I don’t mind Tsing Tao , or at least the version I have tried in the UK, but the “draft” bottle version I’ve had here in China lacked a lot. This ain’t perfect, but it is definitely the more flavoursome creation.

It feels like halfway between a black lager and a stout – slightly light, smooth mouthfeel, both notes that say an easy drinking black lager – but then it develops a fluffy marshmallow thickness at time which is more at home in a stout.

Flavour wise it opens up with big amounts of liquorice, which seems to be popular in China’s stouts in my (vary small sample size admittedly) experience. Similarly stouty is the solid roasted character it brings, and the light chalk finish calls to the more grounded end of the stout style. The sweeter chocolate and heavier coffee notes you would expect of a stout are only really subtle hints here – the liquorice is the main thing.

It is still slightly light for a stout, even late on, so it feels like a solidly stout flavoured black lager. The marshmallow character giving rise to a slight sweet contrast to liquorice as time goes on really helping it from getting too dry by the end. It is decent, and probably the easiest to get decent Chinese beer, if far from the best. Not great, but since you can find it in a supermarket it is the Chinese beer to grab for a decent experience when you can’t find a more dedicated craft beer merchant.

Background: Tsing Tao turns up quite a bit in the UK – it is an ok lager – nowt special but I can drink it. In China there are so many different versions of the lager, varying in abv and quality – some ok, some bleeding terrible. The most common one at restaurants seemed to be Tsing Tao draft, which was a less flavoursome version of standard Tsing Tao. Anyway, being in China I figured I should do at least one set of notes of its most famous brewery – so, when I saw this stout in the supermarket I decided to grab I can. I didn’t even know they did a stout. Also, while I was in China I asked locals how this was pronounced to settle a long standing debate we have had – the best way I can write the response given is “Ching Dao” which is quite close to how I thought it was. Go me! Then again, I’m guessing the answer would vary by area and and accent so don’t take that as the definitive answer. This was another one done on the boat in a room I shared with another random traveller from China. Since he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese I do wonder what the heck he thought I was doing when I started taking photos of my beer.

Full Sail: Wassail Winter Ale (USA: English Strong Ale: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Ruddy red, or brown if not held to the light. Some carbonation. Large solid toffee brown head.

Nose: Cinnamon. Cherries. Caramel. Slight cream. Slight cloves and nutmeg.

Body: Nutmeg. Raisins. Malt chocolate. Warming vinous red wine notes. Caramel. Earthy bitterness.

Finish: Glacier cherries. Dry malt chocolate. Crushed peanuts. Cloves and nutmeg. Dry roasted peanuts. Toffee. Earthy bitterness. Sour red wine vinous notes.

Conclusion: This feels like a Christmas spiced dopplebock in a lot of ways – a quick search tells me it is a English strong ale – Michael Jackson’s book calls it an old ale – though that may have changed since the book was published. Any which way – definitely has some dopplebock like notes.

Anyway, this is a dry malt chocolate and dry roasted nut tasting base – smoothly deliverer and grounded by what feels like an earthy British hop style – a part that made me finally decide to list this as English Strong Ale style. A solid base, and one offset by slight caramel sweetness, but one that could have become wearing if not for the other two big influences.

Influence one is a vinous – sour red wine and sweet glacier cherries style set of notes – giving high sweet notes and vinous depth that makes for an interesting top and tail to the beer. This develops the more dopplebock like elements, bringing out rich raisin notes and Christmas cake imagery to this winter beer.

The other influence is the moderately used spice notes– a nutmeg middle, clove heaviness and cinnamon sweet spots. Again it really widens the range of the beer and is used heavily enough without dominating the beer.

Together it is very Christmassy, very solid. Very smooth and with a very good range. A medley of Christmas experiences – cake, wine and spice, all shown in one beer. Very high quality and well worth trying if you can grab it. Not a world best, but about as good as you can get without reaching those echelons.

Background: An American beer? As part of my China trip? Yep, found this in a supermarket in Chengdu and memory told me it was one of Michael Jackson’s 500 beers. I checked when I got back, and I was right! Go me! Before I get too full of myself though, the supermarket had another Full Sail beer that was also one of Jackson’s 500 picks which I did not remember, so missed a chance to grab. Stupid me. Anyway, drank this on a cruise down the river – had to ask the staff for a fridge so I could chill it as the room didn’t have one by default. Due to being a solo traveller I had to share the room with another traveller – a Chinese man who spent a lot of time walking around in his boxers and rearranging his junk. So, yeah, a …unique background to doing these notes.


Chengdu: Wheat (China: Wheat Ale: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy peach skin with large off white head.

Nose: Vanilla. Peach. Slight sulphur. Brown bread. Toffee.

Body: Wheaty. Creamy. Lemon sherbet. Prickling mouthfeel. Peppery. Vanilla toffee. Apricot. Squeezed lime.

Finish: Cream. Peach. Wheat and peppery. Moderate bitterness. Lemon. Slight sour twist. Lime cordial. Banana and cloves.

Conclusion: This feels like a mix between a wheat ale, a Belgian wit and a hefeweizen – so pretty much hitting all the wheat beer bases. It takes a few notes from each and adds what tastes like American hops into the mix to bring this creation to us.

It has the more solid body of a standard wheat ale – pushing soft lemon and lime notes into a moderately creamy base – however it also has a soft peppery spice character that reminds me of the Belgian interpretation. From the hefeweizen style I found a mix of banana and clove notes in the finish. While a mix of peach and apricot high notes declare the higher hop influence than normal.

So, a whole wealth of influences – is it any good. As I seem to be saying a lot this trip, it is solid but not stand out. The texture is solid – creamy with the wheaty character giving a prickling mouthfeel. It has a higher than normal, awakening but not harsh, hop character and bitterness. The fruit notes and gentle and soothing and the spice notes give it pep. Nothing stand out but everything works.

A solid wheat -probably you only need to have one in the session as the flavours could get heavy and wearing if overdone, but definitely enjoyable for one.

Background: Doing research on this brewery was hard, mainly as its name is just the name of the city – best I can tell it is linked with the pub I tried it at – The Beer Nest in Chengdu. Anyway, doing search for “Chengdu Wheat” brought be up what appeared to be other breweries’ wheat beers, so I am just winging it for background info on this one. As mentioned I tried this at The Beer Nest, a small place with a large bottle selection (including some very expensive westvleterens) and a few taps – I also tried Chengdu IPA, which was distinctly sub optimal in my mind. I think this is a wheat ale – as mentioned in the notes it flirts with a lot of varied wheat styles so it was hard to pin down. Worth noting, this pub has plastic willies behind the bar. I have no idea why. I approve though.

Panda Brew: Mocking Imperial Stout (China: Imperial Stout: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Slightly fizzy. Loose bubbled large brown head that leaves a sud rim.

Nose: Dry coffee. Roasted nuts. Liquorice – predominantly dry black liquorice bits.

Body: Viscous. Dry black liquorice. Vanilla. Roasted nuts. Bitter chocolate. Caramel as it warms.

Finish: Black liquorice. Bitter roasted nuts. Sour dough and cloying sour cream. Gains bitter hop character over time. Bitter cocoa.

Conclusion: Ok, I’ve had a few liquorice infused imperial porters, and I’ve run into some Imperial Stouts with a level of liquorice influence – but this is the first IS I’ve had with this much liquorice kick.

It is a very dry delivered beer, full of roasted nut character, and yes, the dry liquorice mentioned – it doesn’t give an inch to to the usual more sweet stylings of the imperial stout style. Instead this goes for a surprisingly heavy bitterness route – pushing out bitter, roasted hop character that builds to quite the intense and long lasting finish.

Warmth gives some, minor, concessions to the expected sweet style. You get mild caramel and vanilla, and a real bitter, but recognisable cocoa, chocolate backing. It is still a harsh flavoured beer, but is closer to expectations in style. Just. It is cloying, bitter, roasted and liquorice led. Technically I should hate it. I do like liquorice, in moderation, but not massively so in beer, and not to the levels used here.

However, with all that said, it is well made. Viscous, weighty with heavy mouthfeel that gives good grip to the flavour but doesn’t make the bitterness too clingy. Not world class, but another well made beer found on this trip. It you want more liquorice in a well made stout – well, here it is. It is well made, and well textured, but pushes flavours in a way that isn’t really aimed at me. So, good, but not one for me. Your mileage may vary.

Background: This was a bit of an accidental find – I was looking for the Beer Nest in Chengdu when I found that they had another Panda Brew brewpub here. Since Panda Brew had been pretty good quality, and a good guide when I had got lost before I decided to drop in and try one of their beers. This “ Mocking Imperial Stout” Looked like one of their special releases with the fancy bottle, and since I hadn’t done an imperial stout yet this trip I decided to give it a go. Anyway, this was a simple pull off cap to open, and was drunk from an absolutely tiny glass that came with it. The bottle lists this as a pretty high for a stout 66 IBU.

Master Gao: Baby Jasmine Tea Lager (China: Spice/Herb/Vegetable Lager: 5.1% ABV)

Visual: Thick yellow. High carbonation. White head.

Nose: Cake sponge. Mild brown tea. Shortbread.

Body: Honey and vanilla. Bready. Soft tannins. Cake sponge. Brown tea. Nutty.

Finish: Floral. Soft sweet raspberry bits. Vanilla. Nutty. Gentle tea notes and tannins. Dry tea bags. Lemongrass and light pepper.

Conclusion: I have to admit, since I was seeing this pretty much everywhere before I tried it, I was expecting … – for snobbish reason I guess – I was expecting this to be a fairly lacklustre beer. Stupid snob me.

This is a fairly solid lager – well, let me go into that a bit more as I may be misleading slightly. At its base it is a sweet honey and vanilla thing – good thickness of mouthfeel but by itself it would be a bit simple and a tad sickly over time. Hence why I guess I shouldn’t say it is a solid lager – as a lager alone it is a bit of a let down. So, why was a surprised by this? Well the base is solid in thickness, kind of cake sponge like, and it makes a good base that the beer uses well in playing with the extra ingredient – the tea!

With this ingredient it is lightly floral, with dry brown tea notes and plenty of tannins – bringing a dry, nutty character to the sweet base, and a slight peppery spark to the finish. Together the ok lager base, and the tea influence become a satisfying beer – the slight sweetness of the base meaning that the drier tea notes don’t seem harsh. While most of the complexity comes from the tea it doesn’t push the element so hard it become overbearing – the thick sweet lager base shows through to make it evident this is still a beer.

So a lager that would have been weak without the extra element, but has become a remarkably solid drink with it – gaining just enough complexity to be worth a try.

Background: This was tried in Xi’an – I’d been hunting for a craft beer brewpub and failed to find it, so settled down in a more standard bar near the hotel. I’d seen this Tea Lager in a few 7-11s around Beijing, so decided to give it a try as one of the more common craft beers of the area. The photo came out way too dark, so I’ve done a bit of work in GIMP to make it more visible. Hope it looks ok.

Great Leap Brewing: Liu The Brave Stout (Nitro) (China: Stout: 7.1% abv)

Visual: Black. Still. A good centimetre of creamy head.

Nose: Creamy coffee. Dry roasted peanuts and general roasted nuts. Slight bitter cocoa.

Body: Creamy and full bodied. Light milk. Milky chocolate. Buttery shortbread. Lactose. Light toffee.

Finish: Light mint. Charring. Milky chocolate. Buttery shortbread. Cocoa. Nutty.

Conclusion: This feels like a very big and more robust than normal take on a milk stout. A kind of imperial sweet stout if you will. Mainly I say that as it is very creamy – which I would suggest is probably the nitro influence giving it a boost to the character already in the main beer – overall it deliverers a creamy, coffee heavy, beer.

The aroma hints at a more nutty ale, with dry roasted notes especially coming out, but then it vanishes, hiding before poking its head out again in the finish. So, the main body is generally that creamy coffee, with soft, gentle cocoa coming out late on.

As seems to be the trend so far on this trip, it is a solid, high quality but not pushing the boundaries beer. Still, it is a very balanced, creamy stout, the most unusual element I can find is a buttery shortbread backing which helps develop the robust character.

Over time, as the beer warms the cocoa character manages to build to a more bitter expression adding edge to the smooth beer – but Great Leap really seem to have taken its cue from the American use of nitro and uses it here to really show off the creamy character as the main thing.

Not unusual, but polished as heck.

Background: Second beer I tried at the Great Leap Brewing brewpub no. 6 – this one a stout on nitro. Looking online, it is apparently infused with spices, which I would not have guessed at the time – and the beer is named after the breweries founder’s father. I had a smoked lager after this but did not do notes on it – it was not bad – the smoke was gentle and just added a bit of backbone to the beer.

Great Leap Brewing: Chesty Puller A-IPA (China: IPA: 6.3% ABV)

Visual: Clear gold. Creamy white head that leaves suds.

Nose: Creamy. Gooseberry and kiwi. Banana. Moderate creamy hop character.

Body: Gooseberry. Light apricot. Good hop character. Light greenery. Light brown sugar.

Finish: Slightly oily. Apricot and greenery. Kiwi. Light dry golden syrup. Good hop character and bitterness. Lightly earthy.

Conclusion: My first IPA of the trip! I tend to find IPAs good go tos for judging a craft beer brewery as they are often the mainstay of a range. So short version – good hop use, average malt body. Boom. Notes done!

Ok, more detail – hops first. The hop use, while not show stopping, mixes American style apricot notes with NZ gooseberry tartness. Despite being named an A-IPA, it feels like it leans harder on the tarter notes to my mind, if I hadn’t been told they were aiming for American IPA I would have guessed it as a more NZ inspired beer myself. Then again, there are plenty of tart American hops, so its probably just my own preconceptions. Anyway, there is a lot of greenery, hop oils and even slight earthy hop character leading out in the finish giving a much more rustic styling to the ending against the tart main body. Lots of hop influence going on then, not raw bitterness, nor clean fruit, this is instead beer that seems to exploit a wide range of the available IPA styles for influences, which is cool.

So, onto the malt – the base could do with bit more body early on, though it does develop fairly nicely as it warms. Nothing too out of the normal though – It comes across slightly harsher that feels right – more a dry golden syrup style that a smooth sweet backing – but it doesn’t overly hurt the beer. It makes it feel like a rounded, characterful beer rather than a super polished expression, so in some ways the odd notes actually add to that.

So, average body, good hops – not a super stand out IPA but a solid pint, Rough edged but good flavour – a fair entry in their range but doesn’t insist on being tried above other IPAs.

Background: I am embarrassed how long it took me to realise A-IPA stood for American IPA. Anyway….. This was a hard wee Brewpub to find – they had several stashed around Beijing, but the one I hunted out was “Original 6” – the first they set up – tucked away in a hutong. I was glad that I a) had a map I had printed out on how to get to it and b) had maps in the hutong itself to compare it to, as this was tucked right in the backstreets and I was worried I was completely in the wrong area. I was not alone in this – while waiting for it to open I ran into two tourists looking at their smartphone map and wondering if they were lost, so I volunteered to show them where it was. Anyway, this was the first beer I tried, kicking back and relaxing after vast amounts of walking at the Great Wall the previous day. 1000 steps just to get to the wall. I earned this beer.

Panda Brew: 3B Brown Bear Beer Brown Ale (China: Brown Ale: 5.5% ABV)

Visual: Ruddy red brown. Large yellow brown head.

Nose: Dry and nutty. Sweet pecan pie. Malt chocolate.

Body: Nutty with slight nut oils. Sweet pecan pie. Malt chocolate.

Body: Nut oils. Moderate robust bitterness. Walnuts. Pecan pie and brown sugar.

Conclusion: The shout of “boring brown beer” Is a common refrain (and also 3Bs, akin to this beer’s name), however, while this beer does not have the widest range, I would be very hard pressed to call it a boring beer.

This is a dry delivered, nut dominated ale that keeps the balance between the dry crushed nuts style – akin to crushed dry roasted peanuts in a way – and the sweet pecan style counterpoints. The drier notes match the feel of the base well, and uses the sweeter notes as high points to keep it from getting leaden. It feels like it is aiming for a sessionable Brown ale, admittedly at slighter thicker body, and of course higher abv that that would suggest. The dryness makes it a very sippable beer early on, and warmth brings out a touch of brown sugar sweetness to accentuate the pecan styled notes.

It doesn’t rate as a must have beer – almost all the complexity is in the range of nuttiness it has, and it deals in only slight malt chocolate notes rounding it out – however due to its simple goals it manages to polish them well, and actually holds up well against western attempts to reinvent the brown ale as a craft beer. It doesn’t get lost in uber hopping, or trying to make the style radically different from its base, just does the basic idea with a more nutty and and a bit drier.

There is legs left in this oft overlooked style, and it seems China, or at least Panda Brew have seen that. Needs a bit more work to make a must have beer, but this seems a nice route to go.

Background: First beer notes from China holiday! This one, actually a beer drunk before I had even checked in. I had left my bags at the hotel, until I could check in that afternoon, then wandered Beijing. Then got lost. On a straight road. No seriously. I had entered a Hyper-mart for a quick snack, then didn’t realise I had wandered out of a different exit on a street at a right angle to the one I had come in on. Oops. Anyway, well and truly lost I was saved when I came across Panda brew brewpub. I had been planning to hit them later, so had printed out a map showing how to get to them from the hotel, so could follow that backwards. How lucky! Anyway, a Panda themed brewpub, with very friendly staff who had some English language knowledge which was very helpful for me. I decided to go for their Brown ale – it is an oft overlooked style by the craft scene, so thought it would be an interesting pick.

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