This post is slightly more "complicated" than the usual post--there's the "ORIGINAL" chit chat version in English with Carl--then there's a Translated version sent together with the "Ori" from Beijing--and then there's obviously the Chinese newspaper version written by me for the bi-weekly column.
I have decided to post all "3" version--especially the Translated Mandarin version from Beijing--there's obvious differences in choice of words--as well as style of writing/speaking even though it's essentially the same language--mainland China and those outside.
Let's starts with the NEWSPAPER COLUMN version--please SCROLL DOWN for ENGLISH ORIGINAL chat version( including Beijing Chinese translated version)
不同地方在推进Craft Beer文化发展时都面对不同问题，中国“精酿”圈内发生着什么样的变化？“顽啤主张”跟已在亚洲生活超过十年的北京大跃酿坊（Great Leap）主创酿酒师CARL SETZER聊聊（ 国内说法，是个娶了中国媳妇的美国老外-酿坊名称来自媳妇爷爷建议，引用宋朝诗人陈舜俞“骑牛歌”其中一句《乘肥大跃须年少》）
HERE's the ORIGINAL TEXT from the chit chat:-Q) Briefly—why China?—and “DA YAO” kind of sound very “old China”—how did the name came about? A story perhaps?
I moved to Asia right out of college and have spent the last twelve years living in China and Taiwan. My wife is from Qufu, Shandong Province and we have a five year old son. We also take care of her paternal grandparents as her father passed away when she was our son’s age. The name “Da Yue/Yao” （大跃） comes from an old Song Dynasty poem. Although the poem has many lines, the line that references “Da Yue” is “cheng fei da yue xu nian shao (乘肥大跃须年少),” or in English, “Make sure to grasp the opportunity to take a great leap when you are young.” It’s true meaning is that if you want to take a big risk in your life, be sure to take that risk when you are young and “fat,” so that if you fail you can bounce back up off the ground and get going again. I used to have what others defined as a ‘successful’ career in the IT security industry, and my wife also had a successful career in mining compliance products, so when we decided to quit our salaried positions to open a craft brewery in a small courtyard in Beijing, China, my wife’s grandfather stated, “Fine, but if you’re going to do this, you have to call it 大跃.” There is reason why his opinion holds more weight in my life than most other living beings, but that is a story for another time.
Q) 12 years in China---in what way or how much has China factors influenced your beer philosophy? Or was it the other way round?
Time flies. Especially when half of that has been spent getting the good people of Beijing buzzed. Six years ago, when we decided to walk away from our previous careers, it wasn’t to open a bar, or copy something from back home, recreating American or any other international style of craft beer in China just seemed like a waste of an opportunity. Rather, we saw the chance to create a distinctly Chinese craft beer and brewery that uses and honors Chinese culinary and historical traditions as a way to show China as it should be seen, a true originator and historic home to consumer culture. Many of our beers use Chinese ingredients (from hops to additives, like tea, Sichuan peppercorn, spices and adjunct sugars) and the names of our beers, in Chinese as well as English, often reflect these same Chinese culinary and historical traditions. For example, one of our signature beers, “Honey Ma Gold,” uses the Sichuan Peppercorn in its production, a staple of Chinese cuisine, and honey that used to come from Shandong Province. Its Chinese name is “甫子 fuzi.” The character - 甫 – is a reference to one of China’s most famous poet’s from the Tang Dynasty who was living in Sichuan province, whose name was 杜甫 dufu. And the character – 子 – is a reference to a man very famous in the West, Confucius, whose Chinese name is 孔子 kongzi and was born in Qufu, Shandong Province. Same birthplace in fact as Liu Fang’s grandfather. It doesn’t get much more culturally relevant to Chinese history than Qufu. One of the many reasons why Liu Fang’s grandfather, Liu Shao Zeng, is the shit.
But when it comes to how China has influenced the beers themselves, that is something of which we are extremely proud. When Great Leap started in 2010 there weren’t only no other craft breweries in Beijing or even Northeast China, the other breweries that did exist else where laughed at us when we dedicated ourselves to the use of local ingredients. I was told repeatedly that the Qingdao Flower Hop (QDDH:青岛大花) wasn’t worth using in craft beer and that the Chinese palate would never want anything other than imported products or local commercial beers. I remember thinking to myself how pathetic that sounded. These weren’t foreigners hating on China, these were Chinese “experts” with no faith in their own people. Now its hard not to find someone on the “support local” bandwagon. The bigger the industry gets, the more honored we are to have inspired people, whether directly or indirectly, to make something China can love.
Q) Tell us how was the scene back then?
There really was no scene back then. Paulaner has had a brauhaus in the Kempinksi Hotel since the early 90s, a few imported beers had made their way into the market, Boxing Cat Brewery had opened in 2008 in Shanghai, and Gao Yan had not yet really found his inner Master yet in Nanjing, but otherwise there was little to no craft beer scene when we first opened in October, 2010. To the point where even the vocabulary for what we needed to start was not fully developed. Beer kegs were called 啤酒小罐 instead of 啤酒桶, fluted American style beer glasses were unheard of at local bars, hops came in two different styles, 苦味 and 香味, and malting companies wouldn’t sell you base malt in quantities less than 100 tons. Its easy to look at Beijing now and think that craft beer had always been here, but in reality, we created a lot of the demand that allowed for the market to truly flourish. Statements like that usually piss people off, but the only people that get mad are the one’s that don’t know how hard it used to be.
Q) Any major shift of taste preferences in beer styles during those 6 years?—what changes you have noticed both in terms of supply chain and customers preferences…
In the last six years tastes have changed dramatically. Local Chinese beer is generally very light in flavor, and early imports tended to be of the German variety that, although delicious, are limited in flavor profiles by the German Purity Law enacted 500 years ago. Now people are being introduced to new flavors, from hoppy IPA’s to full bodied, malt-balanced dark ales, and even sour ales. Our Banana Wheat and Honey Ma Gold are still our highest sellers, but other beers such as our Little General IPA and East City Porter have a very strong following amongst our drinkers. The tastes overall in China have no limitations. Nothing pisses me off more than when some self defeating dip shit says that Chinese people will never embrace IPAs, there is nothing worse than when you underestimate your own people. Its almost as stupid as when you read old assessments of the potentials for American drinkers as it relates to their ability to understand and appreciate Continental European style beers, northern European sour beers, and British style ales. Its ignorance to underestimate your consumer. I refuse to do it. Chinese consumers have some of the most complex palates when it comes to dining and consumption of local cuisines. I fully expect China to be not only a world leader in the production of craft beer, but also the home to some of the most educated and informed drinkers.
Q) Give us an outline of how’s the craft beer scene been in China lately—say the last 5 years?
We started in October of 2010, so it is almost 6 years since we first opened. Since then, in Beijing alone, we have seen almost 15 other craft breweries open up of varying sizes and production level. This does not include the craft breweries of other places of China, either. Yes, things are moving a bit faster here. Like Taiwan and Japan, China is an emerging market in the world economy. This means that a lot of people are moving here, coming to visit, coming to study abroad, etc. Because of this, new trends and styles will be quick to both emerge and permeate. Remember, there are 1.4 billion people in China versus the roughly 300 million Americans. Not to mention a refreshing vacuum of religious prohibition to the consumption of alcohol. Every time I walk outside with a beer in my hand in America I’m reminded how arcane and irrational our drinking laws are there. China has none of the preconception of what it means to drink and consume alcohol socially.
Currently in China, there are only three legal ways to grow a craft beer brand. The first is the brewpub model that allows for the installation of equipment on site inside of a commercial retail space, and gives the proprietor the ability to brew beer, grain to glass, inside their own establishment for the consumption of their consumers. There are different interpretations of this model, like the Boxing Cat Brewery model where they brew offsite and onsite and then bring it in on a linear distribution model to their own restaurants and bars, and then there is the Great Leap model where the equipment is located inside multiple locations and then cross distributed to the other locations. No matter what model you subscribe to, as long as the means of production and the end points are all owned by the same company, China is happy.
The second model is a contract brewing model, in which the beer is brewed by a larger, third party brewery on contract and is distributed under their license. This model has some flaws, both growth wise and in terms of quality control, but is employed by brands like Master Gao's, Panda Brew and Slow Boat Brewery. What you give up in terms of guarantees on the quality of the product, you make up for in the ability to distribute to the greater market without the threat of legal liabilities.
The third model is what is known as a fresh beer draft exception under the commercial brewery regulation. This allows for the sale of draft beer that is unpasteurized. Its what I would describe as a loophole that was created to allow for commercial beer to be distributed easier in the local regions. It is a temporary fix to a long term need for new licensing and regulatory compliance.
98% of all legal craft beer in China falls under one of these three models. So you can see that because of this current situation of bifurcated legal pathways to distribution and brand growth, some craft beer in China is good, some is great, and some is not so great. But you can also see the spirit of determination that has grown in China over the last five years. We are getting very close to a new era in craft beer licensure that will usher in with it a new generation of problems, and growth. Truly an exciting time in our short history.
Q) The last few years—China has seen some sort of boom in terms of various people getting involved with all kinds of imports—grey imports for that matter---how has that affected the scene?
This is a loaded question. I think you knew that when you typed it out. So I’ll be brief. Grey market importers are assholes and shouldn’t be supported. Overpriced, expired or unlicensed beer is a sign of growth in a market. It won’t stop the Chinese consumers desire to find a better lifestyle. It will only take advantage of that quest’s developmental period.
The other thing that very few people are talking about in terms of misleading the Chinese consumer of craft beer, is the market positioning of Anheuser Busch InBev and their portfolio of recently acquired crafty beers like Goose Island, Elysian etc. These beers aren’t defined as craft in America, where they are from, so putting them on a boat to China and then launching them as “craft” is irresponsible. ABI doesn’t care about establishing craft in China. They are getting their asses handed to them in America and are trying to correct those losses on their spreadsheets by entering China under false pretenses. If grey market distributors are assholes and shouldn’t be supported, what, oh what are we to do with a multinational corporation that is lying to the Chinese public? Time will tell I guess. I would only ask so-called beer geeks to stop supporting Anheuser Busch InBev products, it makes you look like amateurs. Support local craft.
说到误导市场，有另外一件很少人谈及的情况，就是百威英博把他们旗下的“特色啤酒品牌”，如Goose Island, Elysian 等，用精酿啤酒的名义进入中国市场。如果一个品牌在美国当地已经不再是属于精酿啤酒，那它们来到中国后，怎么可以就神奇般地成了“精酿啤酒”呢？这是一种不负责任的欺骗。百威英博毫不在乎建设健康的中国精酿市场。它只寄希望用这种偷换概念的做法来让财务数字变得更好看。如果在灰色市场中赚钱的人应该被抵制，那对于百威英博这种对公众撒谎的大企业应该采取什么态度呢？我真心希望那些所谓的精酿“极客”不要去支持百威英博的这些产品，因为这会让你显得很业余。请支持真正的本地精酿。
Q) Theoretically—when more varieties/beer styles are available in the market---It would help to enhance drinkers’ appreciation level—hence making it a better market—but it seems with that many different beers coming into China these days---the market is more in a state of confusion than moving forward?
First, this is a transition period. During these periods I tend to stand on the side of optimism. The days of the 煤老板 are coming to an end. That is to say an uneducated but moneyed class of people that just want the most expensive thing on the menu to express social affluence, not taste. The anti corruption campaign has done a good job in putting this culture to bed, but so has the reality that you can’t throw your money around like it is infinite. Eventually you stop buying the chrome Ferrari and start thinking about a sustainable consumption lifestyle. Right now, people just know one thing, “craft” is a word and they hear often and people keep saying it. But eventually it will be about what is in the glass that matters, not just the label on the bottle. Gray market beers are not as good as the same beer distributed through legitimate channels. The quality disparity is obvious. This isn’t a Chinese consumer problem, it’s a shitty media/education/bar owner problem. The best way to change this into something proactive is for actual creators of craft beer to make better beer than what is available on the shelves. Fresh, local beer is always preferred when talking about the best representation to a growing market.
Second, I couldn’t be happier with what Beijing has come to represent to Chinese craft beer. There are more breweries and styles available now, just in Beijing, than there were in all of China just three years ago. That’s amazing. Everything else will catch. There is no greater motivator to make a great product than the constant threat of going out of business. When you build a brewpub you are putting a factory inside of a restaurant. It doubles your build out time, it doubles your property size requirements and it increases the stress on performance. It really is a great motivator to lead, follow or get the fuck out of the way. There will be something like 25 brewpubs in Beijing by the end of this year, there will be 15 by the end of next year. That’s not an expression of pessimism, its just the truth. After that period of decline, we’ll start to see what China’s craft beer rise will really look like.
Q: There’s quite a lot of brew pubs in China that sells own beers---generally speaking---are these brews comparable to International standards or there’s much work to be done yet?
As in any new and burgeoning market, some people are making world class beers and some people are not. But regardless, no one is perfect and there is always room for progress and advancement from all. As long as they focus first and foremost on the quality, everything else will come up as a result. Anyone can sell one beer to one guy, once. It’s a sign of quality when they come back for another.
Q) Also –the home brew game seems to be picking up in China—are we seeing a healthy trend here?
As craft beer is taking off in China so is the home brewing scene. Previously, there were hardly if any reference materials for home brewing translated into Chinese. Recently, both in hard copy form and on online platforms like We Chat and Weibo there have been more and more sources emerging in both English and Chinese language. Furthermore, whereas when we first started we had to construct our brewing equipment ourselves as online delivery services, such as Taobao, had not yet taken off, nowadays people who want to home brew in China, both foreign and Chinese, have ample access to the necessary components for brewing. We just need to see a maturation in Chinese homebrewing. The trend of a homebrewer selling his beer to the general public, goes against the entire purpose of novice brewing. In a country that is so concerned with food safety, I’d rather not have professionally brewed beer confused with a beer that was brewed at someone’s home and was mascaraded as craft beer. America is a great example of what that delineation needs to be. People seeking to make profit off of the passion of homebrewers are a lower class of human being. There is something pure and innocent about brewing beer just to give away to friends. The minute you start asking for money, you stop being an amateur and you are susceptible to the same regulations and the same punishments as a larger craft brewery or commercial brewery. Which, in China, is not a risk I would ask of someone that is fermenting their beer at home.
Q) Understand that there’s a group of geeks who have been fascinated by craft beer and been actively promoting craft beer by setting up brew pubs/ bottle shop—or by publishing books---organizing seminars-work shop-----Is the market /newbies being lead in right direction?
First, you need to have an industry to lead in order to be an industry leader. A handful of dedicated breweries across a market as big as China isn’t something that will be definable in its current condition. So people can self-publish books or lead conferences or make claims, but the only thing that matters is that your product is selling to a non transient, static consumer who has other choices, but is dedicated to your brand due to quality and reliability. I was having this conversation earlier this week with a friend in the industry, basically what we have now is an echo chamber of upstarts and small brands that are all struggling to find that big payoff they were hoping for, and as a result have a lot of time on their hands to get together and reverberate the same empty bullshit over and over again. The social media landscape is peppered with low value activity that is pretty insular and really just bounces around the same handful of accounts echoing 我们的精酿就牛逼了我们的精酿就牛逼了我们的精酿就牛逼了, but in Great Leap’s case the people that talk about us isn’t this limited group, it is our consumers, media and international peers, and that is exposure and promotion that actually has contextual value.
Right now, the only thing that matters is that this industry is not going to remember bullshitters as industry founders and bedrocks. Its going to remember people that change public perception, regulations and international opinion. The first and the last of those have already started, as a result the regulatory bit will come along.
Q) The “no drunk no home” style of drinking culture is quite popular in China when it comes to anything alcoholic---are we seeing that happening more often than usual in craft beer bars--or more people treating craft beer as something for taste rather than gulping?
Everyone has their own pace of drinking. With craft beer, the ABV is generally significantly higher than industrial brands, meaning people in general consume less in quantity because they just get drunk faster. Another thing, the price for craft beer is generally higher than industrial brands, so for many people the experience at a craft beer bar is much different. While the purpose might still be to get fucked up, tasting, sampling, and appreciating the beer rather than just throwing it back is also an important part of the experience. Like I said earlier, there is less of a prohibitive or judgmental culture towards drinking in China. As a result beer isn’t looked at as alcohol, rather its seen as what you drink when you take a break from the hard stuff. That being the case I think it’s a comfortable position to be in as a bar owner. Things rarely get out of hand, and when they do, the other customers help self regulate.
The idea of tasting for pleasure is developing in lock step with the idea that its ok to drink socially, at your own pace, just for pleasure. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Q) 6 years and going strong in China—what has Great Leap done right? And what might be some of the things that can be done better?
I’d say the most important thing we have done correctly is always focusing on producing and selling a quality product. This instills trust and faith in our guests, which is why they continue to return, as well as helps us continuously attract new clientele, both Chinese and foreign.
Some of the things we could’ve done better would be to no have wasted our time on draft distribution in 2011, but if we hadn’t had that failure, we wouldn’t have learned from it and found our long term success. I also think that I could just be nicer in general. I have a very low patience level for people that enter my market and waste opportunities. I don’t like empty words. The all of a sudden experts, fairweather craft fans and opportunistic businessmen are what almost killed craft beer in America in the late 90s, seeing that happening again here makes me really upset. So some days I wish I could be nicer and more patient to help China avoid that near future, and some days I’m happy that my general gruff demeanor and relative success keeps those people in the periphery and out of my day to day purview. The only thing I can hope to do is give Chinese consumers access to high quality beer, so they can demand it every where else they go.
Q) In very simple words---how would you tell a newbie to give craft beer a try? Or how to appreciate craft beer?
The important word here is “craft.” When one hears this word, it imparts a connotation that the product is not only quality, but honestly made by the hands of its creator. So for craft beer, you are drinking the hard work of generally just a handful of individuals who are simply trying to make people happy. I think that says it all. Support local craft, demand that it improves.