Crafty business all about the hops

Updated: 2016-06-03 08:19

By Dong Fangyu(China Daily Europe)

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Micro breweries have become all the rage in Beijing since a Briton and a Swede got things rolling

When Will Yorke started making beer in an alley in Beijing four years ago, craft beers were virtually unknown in the capital.

As the Briton set up his business in Dongcheng district, he confronted the normal uncertainties of any business pioneer, but of one thing he was sure: there was no meaningful competition, so he would have the field to himself.

 Crafty business all about the hops
Clockwise from top: Arrow Factory Brewing at Liangmahe; a glimpse of the interior from outside; beer made by Arrow Factory Brewing; Yorke (right) and Gaestadius (left) at a craft beer festival in Beijing in 2014; Charcoal, a bar in Shunyi district in Beijing that has now closed, was where Yorke and Gaestadius used to brew their beer.

How times have changed. In the past two months alone, Yorke says, the craft beer market in Beijing has doubled.

"It's like a massive explosion."

Yorke has expanded his operations recently, opening a taproom overlooking Liangmahe canal in the city's Chaoyang district. There, he and Thomas Gaestadius, a long-time friend and business partner from Sweden, are producing a beer brand called Arrow Factory.

"Both foreigners and Chinese here are increasingly interested in craft beer," Gaestadius says.

"But making beer is not just a business about making a lot of money. It's closer to the heart than that."

To open a brewery and produce craft beer, Yorke says, one has to "pay one's dues".

The two men's first brewing venture was making beer to go with homemade sausages - in an operation that made just 140 liters in a batch -at Stuff'd, the restaurant they jointly own, which opened in 2012.

Two years later, they gave their brewing operations the name Arrow Factory Brewing, after the street where they set up their operations, Jianchang (Arrow Factory) Hutong. The first taproom that opened in May 2015 is adjacent to the restaurant.

"Brewing is about perseverance, commitment, and dedication, and taking risks, and facing failure," Yorke says. "Authenticity and credibility are really important."

Crafty business all about the hops

"It's a shame that some people are now rushing into the business. They buy a great big system, and off they go, with no brewing experience, no restaurant experience, just eyeing the business."

Learning how to brew beer is akin to learning the piano, he says. "You may have a bad piano, and you use it for years, learning to play, but you understand and have a feeling for it."

After a few years of relying on a lot of experimentation, Arrow Factory's new site has the latest equipment. The beer is brewed on the ground floor and is drunk on the floor above, with seating for about 40 at the bar and tables, and a rooftop terrace.

The two business partners first met in 2005 at a club where Yorke was a DJ, and where Gaestadius liked to dance. They are both keen on electronic music, something reflected in the occasional musical events staged at the two taprooms.

The new taproom had been Yorke's own restaurant, Vineyard Cafe, near Liangmahe. He has another Vineyard Cafe, in Wudaoying, Dongcheng district, established in 2006, which is still a popular restaurant.

Arrow's Mama Huhu Session IPA beer, 440ml for 40 yuan ($6.10; 5.45 euros) is a popular drink. (A session IPA is one that has a low alcohol content, usually 4 to 4.5 percent. IPA stands for India pale ale). Mama Huhu is low in alcoholic content, at 4.3 percent alcohol by volume, hoppy and slightly bitter but also light and refreshing. Yorke says the Chinese name mama huhu (so-so) fits nicely with the "anything but" feeling of this session IPA.

Another best-selling drink is Seeing Double IPA. It is strong, bright and hoppy, with a real knockout of citra and simcoe, two popular hop varieties.

The two brewers love to play around with hops. "I'm not a huge fan of using fruit in beer, though I think using pomelo or mango might be nice," Yorke says.

"At the moment, we are more focused on the hops. There is a huge amount of information about hops. Every hop has different oils," he says.

But the men say they eschew overly hoppy flavors. "Good beer just has good balance with nothing that stands out too much," Gaestadius says.

Hops is a critical ingredient in beer along with three other ingredients: grain, water and yeast. Hop varieties are categorized as bittering, aroma or dual purpose.

All of the many kinds of hops they use are imported, Yorke says. "I haven't heard about any great hops in China."

At the moment there is a dearth of hops due to bad crops in the United States and in Germany, he says.

Apart from the 12 beers on tap, they have Oaked Sour Saison and English Brown Ale in the making, and they expect to have cider soon, too.