Sudsy success

Updated: 2015-07-07 07:26

By Valerie Osipov(China Daily USA)

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The room has the rustic look of a warehouse, with its wooden tables, brick walls, industrial metal chairs and a polished, modern bar. Warm, yellow bulbs hang on black wires, creating a nice contrast between softness and a bit of edge. A hand-painted beer menu hanging on the wall adds a collage of color, while a flashy sign reading "BEER" lights up a back corner.

It's quiet now, but come opening time, the Jing-A Taproom will echo with the chatter of foreigners and Chinese amidst the clinks and clanks of beer glasses.

Since it opened its doors late last year in 1949 The Hidden City compound in Beijing's buzzing Sanlitun area, the restaurant and bar has made quite a name for itself. The creative duo behind the operation, Canadian Kristian Li and American Alex Acker, are two guys living the dream and not taking anything too seriously. They've been brewing up a storm for three years but their friendship spans over a decade.

 Sudsy success

Brewmasters Kristian Li (left) and Alex Acker, who run Jing-A Taproom in Beijing, have a shared love of craft beer. Hannah Adamson / For China Daily

"Want a beer?" Li asks as I sit down.

It's 11 am on a Wednesday. We're getting comfortable.

The two came to Beijing in 2000 separately through university programs and met each other in their first year. As their temporary positions expired, they found themselves charmed by Beijing and decided to stick around for the long run. Li and Acker soon discovered they had a shared love of craft beer and began to experiment with home brewing.

"Craft beer for us was definitely something we were passionate about. Obviously we started as consumers of beer," Li says. "We started to separately explore different types of beers that were out there and building a flavor palette for what we like."

"Yeah, we were very good at drinking beer," Acker adds laughing.

From that point on, Li and Acker led a double-life, working corporate jobs during the day and moonlighting as beer brewers at night. After receiving rave reviews from friends, they left their jobs to pursue brewing full time.

They acquired a beer-mobile dubbed the Keg Egg, now well-recognized by the surrounding community and local businesses.

"Beijing is a city of 25 million people and beer is part of the culture already. People have been drinking beer for hundreds of years here, and now you're introducing that population to good beer," Li says. "It's a great opportunity."

Although owning and running their own taproom was never part of their original vision, Li and Acker realized that aside from building a thriving beer brand, they wanted to get to know their customers and share the experience with them in their own unique space.

Inside their new space, the brewmasters are known for holding creative events and collaborations, such as a recent "kitchen takeover" featuring a four-course, Japanese-inspired menu produced by the chefs from Hagaki at East Beijing hotel. They also serve brunch every Saturday and Sunday morning - as Acker says, it's never too early for beer.

The drinks menu features a few core beers, such as their award-winning Flying Fist IPA and their popular Airpocalypse Double IPA - popular because of a clever marketing ploy: The beer is discounted on bad air-quality days. Also on offer: "guest beers" from Beijing's craft breweries and unusual imports from outside of China, and bar snacks which spotlight ingredients from local food businesses.

Sudsy success

"Beer is definitely still at the center," says Acker, noting that they brew with "Chinese characteristics" by incorporating seasonal fruits and spices that are distinctively Beijing.

One such beer: the Beijing Bikini Watermelon Wheat, an ode to the bare-bellied men who walk around hutong with their shirts rolled up to cool down in the heat of summer. The two travel to Daxing, a southern district in Beijing famous for its many watermelon varieties, to meet with farmers and choose the perfect melons to brew with.

"I think that's one of the things we do differently. The way we try to make our beer part of the community and at the same time, representing a slice of Beijing life," Li says.

The craft beer scene is a recent development in this land of commercial beers, but they're confident that an appreciation for a good brew can be stirred in the hearts of every Beijinger.

"This whole craft beer movement is kind of a global revolution. It's just a matter of time for people here," Acker says. "It's universal that people like good things. We've been here long enough to see how quickly things can change.

"But we're also trying to make people happy, put smiles on people's faces and be part of the community here. It's more than just beer."

For China Daily

(China Daily USA 07/07/2015 page8)