The First Ever “Crafty Beer Fest” in Shenzhen, China – A Review

Leading up to last weekend’s Crafty Beer Fest in Shenzhen, I couldn’t help but think of Hong Kong’s Beertopia. Although the amount and range of beer, and the location, were incredible, I documented how bummed out I was at the prices there. Although after visiting Hong Kong a few more times and drinking in some pubs I realized it might be more of a Hong Kong problem than a Beertopia one.

Either way, with Shenzhen’s brand new Crafty Beer Fest I was hoping for the opposite: a smaller, simpler, and more affordable festival. I’m happy to say it delivered.

 

Here we go again

For craft beer fans in Shenzhen, it’s hard not to compare the Crafty Beer Fest to the Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival. The latter is about to have its third iteration this November and, until last weekend, was the only Shenzhen craft beer festival in existence. To further the comparison, last week’s Crafty Beer Fest was held at Sofun Land (behind Tanglang Mountain), the location of last year’s Shenzhen Craft Beer Festival. That confused some people.

I wasn’t here for the last Shenzhen Beer Fest, so I can’t compare the two. However, this festival was definitely a well-executed first time craft beer fest. It was attended almost exclusively by foreigners, which is how these things start. It had a cozy, friendly feel: almost intimate. About 400 people attended, according to the organizer. There were a few rough edges, which is to be expected for a first time event, but overall I think the first Crafty Beer Fest was an impressive success.  

 

Lay of the land

Hosted at a sort-of residential complex called Sofun Land (So Fun Land?), Crafty Beer Fest chose a smaller alley in contrast to last year’s Shenzhen Craft Beer Fest which, I was told, spread itself down a bigger road.

The entrance to the alley
Entrance to the fest

The alley was in an artsy neighborhood that peaked my interest a little, but didn’t compel me to explore further. On one side of the alley was a line of six booths: Treehouse, E.T., Fubar, Zhenker, Mash (a burger restaurant), and Firestone Walker. Some of these booths did double or triple duty. For example, Treehouse (from nearby Dongguan) had two of their own beers as well as one each from Dongguan’s Liberty and Cheers breweries. The beer was solid overall. Not as spectacular as Beertopia’s by any means in selection or quality, and I did have one beer with some off-flavors, but considering the focus was on local: the beers were pretty damn fine. 

The far end of the alley was bookended by a music stage were DJs and acoustic guitarists took turns in providing the festival’s soundtrack. Opposite the beer booths there was a seating area.

Although I thought the location was out of the way, one feature that made it cool was the rooftop area. Near the stage there was an entrance into the building where you could climb three stories and find yourself overlooking the festival. The rooftop was where all the food stalls (aside from Mash) and most of the seating was located, with a view of the mountains in the background. There were also a games booth and an e-cigarette booth.

Rooftop area
Mountain view
Sausages from The Deli

Was it a good location for a beer fest? Hard to say.

It was charming and I’m sure its distance from the downtown areas helped keep things affordable. But the venue was tucked behind Tanglang mountain in the North-central part of the city. I didn’t take the free shuttle bus, which might have made things very easy, but instead followed two more seasoned commuters who lead me through a few city bus transfers. Not a huge deal, but intimidating for someone liek myself who is still pretty new to Shenzhen.

Even after we arrived in the Sofun Land area the festival wasn’t easy to locate. Twice we entered areas with big Sofun Land signs thinking we’d made it, only to be confused and disappointed.

But if you knew how to get there easily, or simply took advantage of the free shuttle buses, the venue proved to be near perfect — enough room to walk around without it feeling empty, two distinct areas to help mix up the vibe, and plenty of seating for you and your friends.

Crafty ways of creating value

The organizer of the Crafty Beer Fest, Dane Smith-Burchnell of Crafty Marketing, really went out of his way to create as much value as possible. Providing shuttle buses to and from Shekou and Futian showed both foresight and commitment towards the customer.

The tickets themselves came in two varieties: Early Bird and Slow Bird. The Early Bird tickets offered spectacular value, but even the Slow Bird tickets were impossible to complain about. For 70 CNY ($10.57 USD) I got 2 x 200ml samples (not without controversy), 2 game tokens, 1 raffle ticket (whose existence may or may not be real), 1 free drink at Dolores Park the night before, 1 free drink at each of 3 different locations throughout the city, and admission to the festival. The Early Bird got you all this, plus an extra 3 x 200ml samples. Even without taking advantage of the four different free drinks outside the event, the shuttle bus, or the raffle ticket, I was happy with what I got.

There were definitely a few rough edges though, which I expect will be ironed out by the next event. And although the festival’s pros by far outweighed the cons, some of the cons are just too delightful for me to ignore.

 

Sofun’s Nofun Games

I never found out if there was a raffle. I bought my festival ticket online and was instructed to give my name at the festival entrance, where I got a wristband AND a ticket without the stub torn off. Maybe that was supposed to be the raffle ticket? If so, why wasn’t that explained or my stub taken? What was the prize for the raffle? Did it even happen? None of these questions were answered during the time I spent at the festival.

The games booth on the rooftop was a great idea in theory. I used both of my free game coupons, but it was never clear if anyone could pay for more games. I would, however, guarantee that no one asked. Truth be told, the games are more in need of an upgrade than anything else at the next festival. 

I feel like these games belong at a carnival either in a sad ghetto or a horror movie. It’s dark, dingy, and only missing a really creepy pedo carny to complete the picture.

There were three games to chose from: throw a ring around a pop can, throw a ping pong ball in a plastic cup, or magnetically fish a plastic duck from a kiddie pool. I played the first two and failed both. Under most circumstances I’d spend some money to try a few more times. I love games, especially when I’m having some beer. But the games area just looked awful. Pop cans and plastic cups on two long tables adorned by nothing. It looked more like a tables for people to leave their trash on, as did the wall directly behind the tables. There was clearly no thought or care put into setting it up and, for that, I feel bad for the organizer. When so much thought is put into the rest of the festival, I can guarantee the games booth was left up to someone else: someone who is either unreliable or had literally never been to a carnival before.

Another example of the lack of foresight: the booth’s banner hung too low, preventing players from comfortably throwing their ping pong balls in a basketball-style overhand release. And these games were played on a windy rooftop, in semi-dark, with no attempt to compensate for either. The only prizes I saw were these ridiculously funny (and cute) fox hand puppets. Next time I’d love to see better games, more care put into the presentation, a way to buy game tickets (or an incentive to), and more beer-focused prizes: glasses, merch, drink coupons, food coupons, or really anything at all valuable.

I wanna throw my drunken ping pong balls Beer Pong style, but that damn banner… plus, where was the bean bag throw?
Two lucky game winners sporting their fox puppets

Interpretive beer samples

Providing free 200ml samples is awesome. That’s basically a small beer. And getting five of them with an Early Bird ticket? That’s incredible. Unfortunately, the 200ml sample concept was not clearly communicated to the vendors.

At Treehouse, I was poured about a half-full plastic cup of beer for my coupon. That seemed about fair, if maybe a little short assuming the cup is about 350ml. 

At Fubar, they poured me about one-quarter of a cup; so I pointed out that Treehouse gave me more. Shockingly, they asked me how much beer were they suppose to serve for a coupon. I thought that odd, considering the marketing behind the early bird tickets (5 x 200ml) especailly emphasized that this added up to one full liter of beer for free! I informed Fubar of the 200ml volume, and they generously gave me about two-thirds of a cup.

On the other extreme, Zhenker gave me a paper shot glass of beer. My friend helped pour beer for Zhenker and he told them not to accept my coupon — so maybe that’s why I received such a small sample. But they had several sleeves of paper shot glasses, so I don’t know. If they were freely giving away paper shots to everyone, then they really should have explained that. That would have been a huge selling point! Needless to say, I didn’t risk spending a real coupon to find out.  

Pretty loose interpretation of 200ml.

But perhaps my favorite aspect of the festival was that you could pay the booths directly for beer. The free 200ml samples were paid for with tokens you picked up at the front of the festival with your wristband. But the rest of time you bought full-sized beers directly from the booths with cash or smartphone. Most beers ranged from 30 to 50 CNY, which is about your standard Shenzhen pub price — or even a little lower. Not too shabby for a fest that had a very affordable admission price to begin with.

Conclusion

The Crafty Beer Fest was a success by any measurement, offering lots of value for craft beer geeks and Shenzhen expats looking for a more Western social experience. For a first-time festival, it was especially impressive. The organizing company, Crafty Marketing, certainly took great pains to provide value. Assuming that the next version of the Crafty Beer Fest will improve upon this one, it’s safe to say that this festival has earned itself a spot on my Asian craft beer calendar and I look forward to the next one.

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