Box­ing Cat de­liv­ers win­ning blow for China’s mi­cro­brew­eries

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ALY­WIN CHEW in Shang­hai

aly­win@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Eight years of hard work paid off ear­lier this year for Shang­hai-based Box­ing Cat Brew­ery as they had the honor of win­ning a medal in the 2016 World Beer Cup, widely re­garded as the most pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion of its kind in the world.

Held in Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia on May 6, the com­pe­ti­tion wel­comed 6,596 beer en­tries from 1,907 brew­eries in 55 coun­tries, and Box­ing Cat’s craft lager, called the Ring­side Red, took home the sil­ver medal in the Amer­i­can-Style Am­ber Lager cat­e­gory, beat­ing 58 other con­tes­tants.

While large Chi­nese brew­eries, such as Hainan Asia Pa­cific Brew­ery Co and Guangzhou Brew­ery, have won medals from the com­pe­ti­tion be­fore, Box­ing Cat is the first mi­cro­brew­ery from China to have done so.

As its name sug­gests, mi­cro­brew­eries are much smaller op­er­a­tions com­pared to their large cor­po­rate coun­ter­parts and are in­de­pen­dently owned. Mi­cro­brew­eries also tend to be more ex­per­i­men­tal with their cre­ations.

Kel­ley Lee, the co-founder of Box­ing Cat, said that the achieve­ment was a vin­di­ca­tion of her team’s per­se­ver­ance in cham­pi­oning craft beer since the brand’s in­cep­tion in 2008.

Though the brew­ery has earned it­self the rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing China’s most be­medalled mi­cro­brew­ery with a slew of awards in other in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, Lee con­sid­ers this lat­est achieve­ment the most sig­nif­i­cant of all.

“It’s re­ally quite a big deal for us. This is the first time a craft beer brew­ery in China has won an award in the Beer World Cup, the most com­pet­i­tive and pres­ti­gious craft beer com­pe­ti­tion in the world. Most at­ten­dees at the con­fer­ence were very sur­prised when they heard a Chi­nese mi­cro­brew­ery be­ing an­nounced as a win­ner,” quipped the 39-year-old restau­ran­teur.

Ac­cord­ing to Lee, the first Box­ing Cat Brew­ery branch in Shang­hai’s Min­hang dis­trict was not well re­ceived as the area was dom­i­nated by fam­i­lies. How­ever, the man­age­ment de­cided to press on, open­ing an­other branch on Yongfu Road a cou­ple of years later even though they were los­ing money.

Though the Los An­ge­les na­tive and her busi­ness part­ners closed down the Min­hang branch a few years ago, Box­ing Cat to­day has three other branches in the city. Hav­ing pro­duced just 2,000 liters a month when it first started, Box­ing Cat Brew­ery now pro­duces 18,000 liters to sa­ti­ate a grow­ing thirst for craft beer.

While this steady ex­pan­sion of the busi­ness re­flects the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of craft beer, Lee said that the scene in China is still in its in­fancy. One of the main ob­sta­cles to the growth of the in­dus­try is gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Lee, craft beer es­tab­lish­ments can only serve their beers if they are brewed on the premises. In or­der to sell craft beers out­side of the place they are pro­duced, an­other li­cence is needed. In ad­di­tion, govern­ment reg­u­la­tions stip­u­late that a brew­ery can­not ob­tain a li­cence to sell bot­tled beer un­less it can pro­duce 12,000 bot­tles an hour. For small busi­nesses like mi­cro­brew­eries, this is an al­most im­pos­si­ble task to ac­com­plish. These fac­tors have re­sulted in an un­der­de­vel­oped in­dus­try where key in­gre­di­ents for craft beers, such as hops and yeast, are hard to pro­cure. Some of the craft beer brew­eries in Shang­hai are known to have to re­sort to hand-car­ry­ing batches of yeast from abroad into the city.

Ac­cord­ing to Lee, Box­ing Cat’s cre­ations re­ceived a luke­warm re­sponse when the brew­ery first opened. As craft beer brew­eries typ­i­cally use more hops — the in­gre­di­ent that makes beers bit­ter or sour — in the brew­ing process, its beers are usu­ally more in­tense in fla­vor com­pared to the in­dus­tri­al­ized op­tions. As such, lo­cal cus­tomers were ini­tially put off by “the weird and bit­ter taste” and how “it smells so perfumed”.

“Of course, there were those who thought that our craft beers were de­li­cious, but they didn’t un­der­stand it at all. Some would drink our beers as if they were drink­ing the mass pro­duced lagers, and they got drunk very quickly,” laughed Lee.

“Cus­tomers now are a lot more open about try­ing craft beers. A lot of young Chi­nese want to ex­per­i­ment.”

Ea­ger to tap into the grow­ing trend and raise more aware­ness about craft beer, Lee and her busi­ness part­ners opened Liq­uid Laun­dry Kitchen and Brew in down­town Shang­hai in 2014.

Be­sides a se­lec­tion of beers from Box­ing Cat, the gas­tropub also stocks an ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion of la­bels from home and abroad, in­clud­ing the much lauded cre­ations by Bei­jing brew­ery Jing-A as well as award­win­ning craft beers from coun­tries such as the United States, Nor­way and New Zealand.

Look­ing ahead, Lee said that her ef­forts will be fo­cused on gen­er­at­ing more hype for craft beers via col­lab­o­ra­tions with other busi­nesses such as spe­cialty cafes. Its col­lab­o­ra­tions in­clude us­ing di­an­hong black tea from Yun­nan prov­ince to brew an am­ber ale in part­ner­ship with Bei­jing’s Great Leap Brew­ing.

“I’m not just a cham­pion for craft beer but a cham­pion for Chi­nese craft beer. I want to show peo­ple around the world that we’re a coun­try that can make unique and amaz­ing craft beers with lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and lo­cal ta­lent,” said Lee.

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