Here's my new article in Hangzhoufeel
They who drink beer will think beer.
Washington Irving (American Writer)
The Craft Beer Scene in Hangzhou.
Today I was in the company of Eric White the Brew Master at the Midtown Brewery and time was spent both drinking and thinking beer.
If you haven’t been to the Midtown bar and brewery, then I recommend that you put it on your to do list. It is a place of mash and magic where you can have a choice of many delicious prize winning craft beers brewed in-house. Eric is quite rightly proud of his concoctions from the dark black porter to a flowery Hangzhou Pale Ale infused with the scent of Osmanthus.
Brewing beer is more than a scientific achievement depending upon the exacting attention to detail that Eric demands from his staff, there is also a touch of the dark arts about it. Eric tells me he first dabbled in the hubble, bubble, toil and trouble of beer making in Kuwait – which then and still is a “dry” country – alcoholic beverages are not allowed. But to a thirsty American teenager from Oregon that's just a challenge, right?
This fascination with the brew led him eventually to The Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago that focuses on brewing science. It was here he learnt his beer alchemy as well as engineering and technology skills – these are the things that turn the four simple ingredients, Water, Hops, Malt and Yeast into the amazing brews on offer today.
Having been shanghaied from the Shanghai beer scene into his current position Eric is making his wishes come true. He once stood atop a mountain overlooking Hangzhou and thought about making beer here. It’s not about the money, he says. Craft beer making is much more serious than that. Eric stresses that drinking it is unique experience and one that benefits from a modicum of education about what you are tasting for the first time.
Making craft beer to international standards is what Eric is about – and the bunch of awards and medals hung near the door bears that out. He emphasizes, that unlike perhaps, good wines, a good IPA is eminently approachable. His job is to make local people more familiar with how special craft beer is. Midtown wants to inspire people to legitimize the craft beer market and value the craftsmanship and meticulous planning that goes into making this beverage.
Hangzhou is a cool place to experience the Pale Ale’s, IPA’s, Porters and Black Beers Midtown brews. Eric points to the cosmopolitan scene in HZ but also underlines its uniquely Chinese characteristics. He tells me that around 90% of the bars custom is Chinese and they are all open to new experiences. Craft beers are being talked about and thirsty people are looking to try them. A good product, using top class ingredients, will always attract new customers and Midtown is somewhere this new community can gather together. A taster tray of 8 small glasses allows the new acolyte to savour the results of the hocus pocus that happens in the large gleaming stainless steel vats that dominate the bar.
“You gotta try it and it will grow on you” Eric exclaims as we try a dark porter that has, to my taste buds, a hint of liquorice about it. We then move on to an even darker brew that is deceptively smooth but carries the hidden kick of being 7% proof by volume. China is the most exacting beer market in the world Eric claims. Every producer in the world wants to be in China. It is a sophisticated business with local brewers leading the way.
When he’s not conjuring up new potions you will find Midtown’s brew master back in the mountains, enjoying the slower pace of life that Hangzhou offers after the long hours and burnt–out lifestyle of Shanghai. Over the bitter, floral, earthy, citrusy, piney, fruity, flavours of one of his IPA’s Eric tells me that working in the food and beverage industry is a cool experience and in Hangzhou the added bonuses of the friendly people and outdoor attractions such as West Lake will keep him casting his spells over his huge stainless steel cauldrons for many years to come.