Beijing beer boom: The capital's craftiest pubs

Beijing beer boom: The capital's craftiest pubs

It's a good time to be a lager lover. A brewing boom means complex craft ales can be found all over the city

For years, going out for a beer in Beijing meant settling for tasteless, mass-produced lagers.

The drought has come to an end. 

A number of local brewpubs are now serving complex craft ales in pub atmospheres throughout the city.

Though the current beer boom was kicked off by expats eager for a taste of home, brewing classes and homebrew associations have spurred the growth of local Chinese beer aficionados, whose brews appeal to a more domestic palate.

Beijing's best brewpubs range from boutique pubs to those that brew and bottle for outside venues and aim to make it big. 

Great Leap Brewing

Great Leap Brewing is credited with moving Beijing's beer scene forward. Great Leap made its name brewing beers in a  rustic courtyard that's been around since the days of Old Beijing.

Nowadays, the hype surrounds its second location. 

Closer to modernity, Great Leap's Brewing Taproom is scaled up with plenty of polished wood, shiny fermenting tanks and a state-of-the-art tap system pouring 12 beer varieties.

The expanded size reflects the status: bearded owner Carl Setzer is credited with kick-starting Beijing's current beer boom.

Much like their sweet Honey Ma Ale (it's laced with local honey from the Great Wall and a touch of numbing Sichuan peppercorns), this idiosyncratic brewery brings the best of Western styles under the eaves of the historic Eastern city.

Great Leap Brewing Taproom, 12 Xinzhongjie, Chaoyang district; +86 (0)10 6416 6887 

More on CNN: For Beijing's best food, hit the hutongs 

Slow Boat Brewing

Drink or leave. At Slowboat's flagship taproom, the focus is on beer alone. Half the appeal of Slow Boat’s taproom is wandering down a hutong alleyway to find it.

The bar is hidden for a reason.

Slow Boat started out as a simple lease-a-keg operation, putting its ever-growing list of ales and stouts on menus of other bars and restaurants around town.

Their flagship taproom sidesteps competition by putting them all in one place.

Rows of tables in the unadorned one-room pub resemble an alcoholic canteen. The focus is on the drink and drink alone.

Beers range from bold and rich Two-Six Oatmeal Stout to fruity, hoppy Flying Whale IPA.

Slow Boat Brewing Taproom, 56 Dongsibatiao, Dongcheng district; +86 (0)10 6538 5537

Capital Brewing Company (京A)

Capital's 'gypsy brewers' are known for their quirky beer varieties, like watermelon and mandarin orange.The duo that took up residence in the spare room of Beijing barbecue restaurant The Big Smoke describe themselves as "gypsy brewers."

For months they were balancing corporate gigs with a hobby that found them brewing in apartments and commercial kitchens.

What resulted was a number of small batches that reflected the duo’s quirkiness. Rather than stick with a standard wheat beer, they jazzed it up with watermelon and mandarin orange varieties.

What comes out of their laboratory and into the glasses can be as conventional as sharp pale ale or innovative as wasabi beer.

Capital Brewing CompanyThe Big Smoke 1/F, Lee World Building (near Frost Nails), 57 Xingfucun Zhong Lu, Chaoyang district; +86 (0)10 6416 5195

More on CNN: Insider guide: What to do in Beijing

N Beer

Welcome to beer-vana.

The popularity of foreign-owned breweries has inspired a generation of domestic Chinese brewers, notably locally prolific Tipsy Face Brewing.

Founder Yin Hai, president of the Chinese Homebrewer’s Association, joined forces with beer fanatic and bar owner Xiao Biar to lay the stones for their home base -- N Beer -- beside the noodle shops on Huguosi Snack Street.

What's the vibe like?

Start with a wall of silver taps pouring brews from around the country.

Add the largest beer fridge in the city with bottles from all over the world.

Top it off with a funky soundtrack playing to a beer-nerd crowd.

Tipsy Face supplies a majority of the taps at N Beer. 

The rest are rounded out by craft beer from as far away as Chengdu and Nanjing. Or even from passersby: the beer factory offers home brewing classes with customized labels.

N Beer, 1/F, Huguo Xintiandi 52 Huguosi Jie, Xicheng district; +86 (0)10 8328 8823

More on CNN: 20 best Beijing restaurants

Malty Dog

Laid back Malty Dog is a quick stroll away from Beijing's Drum and Bell Towers. Malty Dog's one-room hutong setup keeps a chiller vibe than its competitors -- dim lighting, quirky playlists and no-fuss décor swing with the list of brews scribbled on a blackboard.

While there are a good number of imported bottles in the fridge, eight or nine homebrews are regularly available.

They’re creative brews that range from a malty beast of a Black IPA to a spot-on British bitter.

It’s a different scene than the owner’s other bar, Mai, up the street, which shakes cocktails in a hole-in-the-wall aesthetic.

Malty Dog is growing in name for is its folk music performances.

Walk through the doors on certain nights and you'll be greeted with twanging guitars and fiddles. A number of expat groups are using the pub as a miniature performance space.

Malty Dog, 51 Beiluoguxiang, Dongcheng district; +86 (0)10 8408 3763

More on CNN: Best way to see Beijing? From a motorcycle sidecar

CNN Partner Hotels