By Hector Flores – Craft Beer Asia’s China Correspondent
Led by the intrepid David Strand and his wife Xurry, Strand Brewing is the vanguard for craft brewing in thirsty Guangzhou.
With Shanghai and Beijing the current darlings of the craft brewing scene in China, the southern region of the Middle Kingdom can easily be lost in the fervor and that is quite literally the way Strand Brewing likes it.
Tucked away in a family friendly neighborhood on the forgotten side of Zhejiang New Town, Strand Brewing is a friendly welcome to the beer scene in Guangzhou. Started by David Strand and his wife Xurry in the summer of 2013, the fledgling brewery and tap house known as The Strand Beer Café has attracted locals and expatriates alike.
“We were almost immediately busy,” says David “and it has not slowed down. I guess people were waiting for Guangzhou’s answer to Great Leap and Boxing Cat (two well-known breweries from Beijing and Shanghai).” David goes on to say, “craft brewing in China is at an early stage and there is a lot of room to grow.” With their optimism and commitment to quality beers, it is clear that Strand Brewing is Guangzhou’s answer to their big city counterparts.
Having lived in China for the better part of the last half-decade, David watched from abroad as the craft beer scene in the United States boomed. David laments, “We have had some new breweries popping up in unlikely places, like my hometown (in Reno) and they are doing well.” With this as a source of inspiration, David threw himself into home brewing 5 years ago, at first going through the process of learning all about quality brewing, albeit from China. Without a large local brewing scene, David has had to turn to the Internet for community and camaraderie.
“Brewing on a small scale is not difficult here, since many of the ingredients are readily available, although, some are tough to source.” David describes that local people were initially confused as to why he would need hops (啤酒花 lit: beer flower) and yeast. After spending several years refining his skill set and testing his batches on his unsuspecting yet appreciative friends, David and Xurry decided the timing was ripe for a larger operation.
Difficulties arose when scaling his operation from home brewing to a larger system. David tells us that he had to modify and build his own brewing system since many of the locally made brewing systems are made for export. Problems also arose when trying to source large amounts of ingredients. “Since most of the brewing in China is done on an industrial scale, suppliers deal in tons, not pounds.” David says, “so getting someone to sell us a couple hundred pounds of barely was a challenge.” Luckily, David has managed to sort out these logistical hurdles, although, he has had to find his own work around to others. For example, since a large quantity of brewing yeast is not readily available, David has had to learn to propagate his own yeast cultures.
After pooling their funds, Strand Brewing was born. The tap house, located near the Wu Yang Cun metro stop (exit A), is a warm and cozy place for a pint. David tells us “We pour our beer at the café, and we also have a decent selection of bottled beers. We also offer pizza and hope to expand our menu soon.”
Brewing takes place at an off site facility not far from the bar. David comments “initially, we wanted the brewing equipment to be visible but there was not enough room. Our long term goal is a larger facility where we can include the brewing equipment and bar under the same roof.”
David brews familiar styles, an IPA named Wu Yang after the ancient name of his adopted city and Xurry’s porter named after his wife. Both have been tremendous sellers but David has set his aspirations higher, “we put on a farmhouse ale and also a Belgian, both we very popular. I really like to experiment with style and ingredients.” At press time, David’s most recent one-off includes a chestnut ale infused with dragon eye fruit. Future beers, David tells us, will be mixed with more local ingredients giving his beers a uniquely Guangzhou-esque character.
Business has been brisk to say the least, with an eclectic mix of beer enthusiasts quaffing their ales alongside handmade pizzas. Local media has been quick to capitalize on the novelty of the brewery as bitter beers or full bodies ales are something of an oddity. David says, “Locals are used to drinking lagers but now they are learning more about quality craft beers. Half of my customers are Chinese and they are very appreciative of the beers.”
The Strand Beer Café is not a large corporate bar with plasma TV screens showing the latest football match from the Premier league. It begs conversation with your friends or stool mate. The ambiance lends itself more to contemplation and dialog and is best enjoyed with a group of friends. “We have our regulars and we have people who hear about us through their friends,” David tells us, “and I think that is the best form of marketing there is.” We couldn’t agree more David!
For more information:
Address: 1 Chunfeng Road, Wuyang Xincheng, Yuexiu District
Metro: 五羊邨站 (exit B)
Phone number: (020) 8735-7179
**All Photos by David Strand