Spotlight Shanghai: Interview with Fraser Kennedy

Fraser Kennedy is a New Zealander who has made his way to brew for the Dr. Beer brewpub in Shanghai, China. For a young brewer in his mid twenties, that’s certainly no easy feat. Craft Beer Asia has the story.

Fraser spent time running the brewclub at the University and bartending before striking off on his own gypsy brewing project, Ad Lib Brewing Company. Running his own operation gave him exposure in managing brewing, packaging, distribution and marketing – valuable experience for any brewer for sure!

Shortly after, he was off to Yangzhou, China as an IELTS teacher before starting his international brewing career with the Dr Beer brewpub in Shanghai. Craft beer in China has gained momentum, and Fraser has been part of the movement in Shanghai along with Michael Jordan of Boxing Cat whom we recently featured.

Brewing in China has had its share of ups and downs – downs from dealing with local authorities, to attending to calls from beer problems at the brewpub in the night, to the ups of the autonomy of crafting beer for the local market and the great friendships forged with other brewers in China.

Fraser’s taken some time out of his busy schedule(Dr Beer is opening several more brewpubs) to answer some of our questions, and shed light on his experiences in China.

Fraser at Dr. Beer
Fraser at Dr. Beer

Craft Beer Asia:

Fraser – you had good experience with professional brewing as well as bar experience. Why China?

Fraser Kennedy:

Initially I came to China following a short visit to Shanghai in 2011, where I began to see the potential for craft beer in the region. I’d been keenly aware of the rise of craft beer in other North East Asian countries and had a contact for another Kiwi working in the brewing industry in Shanghai. Teaching was a stepping stone, an easy way to receive a visa to China, and working in Yangzhou – only 2 hours outside of Shanghai – allowed me to build some good contacts from which to land a brewing job here. Also, the job market in New Zealand did not offer much in comparison to the huge growth experience I gained while in Shanghai!

Craft Beer Asia:

You ran a brewing company which operated on contract in NZ. Was it difficult for you to make the jump to brewing beer in the Far East?

Fraser Kennedy:

It was a difficult jump in some regards. As a contract brewing company, we always had the technical support of our partner brewery, although I had studied brewing science and would take care of the production, we were in a good environment back in NZ. Stepping out to become the head brewer for a relatively new brewery in China, with little grasp on the language and almost no support network, very poor access to good technicians for maintenance and inconsistent raw material supply was a big hurdle. I often reflect that we had it very easy back home. Good, locally grown hops, malt and clean water – technical support with a can-do attitude, a huge network of fellow brewers and industry professionals. Now we are the pioneers, on the fringe.

Craft Beer Asia:

Being a Head Brewer is definitely not easy, least of all in a different environment and culture. What were your biggest challenges in running Dr Beer?

Fraser Kennedy:

For me the biggest challenge was becoming a manager. I was only 23 when I started, and had very little staff management experience. Learning how to become an effective manager within the brewery, and the company itself took some time – especially in China where the skills required for business are very different than in NZ. At the moment, the biggest challenge is the opening of the new brewery our company has been planning. I’m certainly putting all my skills acquired over the last two years to the test now!

Craft Beer Asia:

You’ve revealed plans for the future – consulting for Chinese brewing equipment, a local cider project and building a brewery in Ecuador. Lots of start-up projects – how does one cope?

Fraser Kennedy:

It has been hard at times. I never really sought out so many projects, they sort of came about more organically through contacts within the industry. What can start out as giving a friend some useful advice can turn into a business prospect very quickly in this town. I’m always thinking ahead. I will finish my contract with the company soon, to give me the time and space I need to now focus on my own projects. I guess I want what everyone wants, security and a career that I really enjoy. I love the side projects I’ve been working on, for me they are some of the most exciting and rewarding times of the last two years.

Craft Beer Asia:

Any shoutouts to friends or thoughts on how far you’ve come with brewing?

Fraser Kennedy:

A huge shout out to Leon Mickleson. Whom without his faith and continued support I would never have landed the job with Dr Beer. He’s been more of a close mentor to me in my career than anyone else, and a true friend here in Shanghai, and for the future. Also, the support network of fellow brewers here in Shanghai and greater China has been huge. Eric from Boxing Cat has been a great guy to share ideas and problems with over a cold one on a Friday night. Now, things are a little uncertain – but in a good way. It’s nice to have some freedom ahead of me. I plan to spend time devoted to the cider project, with ginger beer on the way soon too, I’m really enjoying having direction over my own business, and the opportunities are incredibly exciting. I’d love to get some more travels underway too, but as always will take things as they come.


If you’re looking to get in touch with Fraser to find out more about his experiences or seek his expertise on all things beer – contact him at fraser.kennedy@outlook.co.nz.

All the best to him for his future adventures, and to travel the world brewing beer!

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