I can’t reveal all of my beerhunting secrets, but I had reason to believe there was a brewpub in Yangshuo, which is close to the southern city of Guilin. Both are popular tourist destinations owing to their spectacular unique landscape of jutting rock formations. Yangshuo is also a place where backpackers go to forget that they are on the road. The streets are lined with hostels, cheap hotels and western cafes. My information proved correct, too, as the French restaurant Le Votre does indeed have a brewery. They make very complex renditions of helles and dunkel that rank among Asia’s best beers.
In Yangshuo, they have a local specialty called ’beer fish’, which is based on carp and Liquan beer. A local cafe showed me how to make it, and the recipe can be found <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Recipe.asp?RecipeID=71>here. Essentially, the carp is fried whole or in pieces with beer, green onions, garlic, ginger, oyster sauce and peppers.
Most of the rest of my time in China was spent in Yunnan province. I found a couple of forgettable Erdinger beers I’d managed to miss, but also found the delicious Tsingtao Dark, one of the better schwarzbiers I’ve encountered.
In the northwester tourist town of Lijiang, I found some interesting specialties. Lijiang Yinjiu is literally a barley wine, and one of great complexity - a dessert beer in the vein of Samuel Adams Utopias. A session-strength variant of this, oddly named The East Montreal - was also found. Yinjiu is a traditional beverage of the Naxi people, and dates back 500 years. The Mosu people of the same region also have a traditional beer, called sulima. I’d seen in around Lijiang, but did not realize it was beer until I started researching the Yinjiu, after I’d left town. If you’re ever in the area, pick me up a bottle.
On my last night in Kunming, I somehow found three beers that had previously eluded me. I’d done the same the previous night and was quite pleased with myself, as every place in Yunnan has more or less the same selection and I’d been there for two weeks already. I was at an Internet cafe to log the ratings in and did a few searches. This turned up a potential brewpub in town. I’d already found one closed brewpub in Kunming, but this was a different place. It was getting late and I made a mad dash. It was all for naught, and most likely there was never a brewery at this location anyway.
In Jinghong, on the way to Laos, the same bloody thing happened. Happy to find five new beers, I was trying to dig up some information on a brewpub in the next town. I turned up nothing on that front, but confirmed a brewpub in Jinghong, close by on Jingde Donglu. It was really late, and a sprint ensued. Due to my inability to remember whether ’dong’ meant ’east’ or ’west’, I ran up and down the entire length of Jingde street. With Smith River Marina in Chengdu and the non-starter in Kunming, this was the third time I’d done an end-of-night brewpub dash and come up with nothing. I still had the last one in Mengla, to check up on. I was owed one by now, I figured.
My last day in China was in the remote town of Mengla, not far from the Lao border. Indeed, the only reason anyone ever comes here is to go overland between China and Laos. In 1998, there was a brewpub here, but that was the last time a beer lover passed through town. Still, I had to check it out. It was gone, but at this point I wasn’t surprised. Bigger and richer places than Mengla had failed to support brewpubs.
Overall, only three of seven solid leads panned out. These were on consecutive days in the middle of my stay, so the rest of the trip was an endless stream of boring pale lagers. They’re ridiculously cheap ($0.30 for 630ml), so it was no worry to document all that I found. But I look forward to trying some different types of beer again. That will have to wait a few weeks, though.