Great Leap Brewing 大跃啤酒 - Beijing, China

On my recent quick trip to Beijing I made time to visit two craft breweries. One of them was Great Leap Brewing (大跃啤酒). There are three Great Leap locations in the city but my schedule only allowed me to choose one. Great Leap #45, a pizzeria in the Chaoyang District, was on my way to the airport, so that's the one I selected.

My first flight: Honey Ma Gold ale, Cinnamon Rock Ale, Aggressor dark ale, Little General IPA

The #45 Building

The taxi driver dropped me on a street corner near the brewery and it took several minutes of desperately walking around and employing the help of an English speaking stranger to help me find the brewery entrance; it was off a side-street and not highly visible. The brown building was utilitarian looking. It appeared that the brewery consumed the entire ground floor, with apartments on the upper floors.

Great Leap Brewing #45

To the right of the main entrance is an area to park bicycles and scooters

Enter through this huge door

Since I wasn't able to visit the other Great Leap locations, I can't say if they have a similar aesthetic. The dining room at #45 had an industrial feel with concrete, exposed ductwork and large, heavy, communal tables. There were fermenters and brite tanks in the building. The setup was done well, and with several huge windows facing the street, there was plenty of light to keep the room feeling cheerful. At night, it must be much darker inside.

It was early lunchtime on a Sunday and the brewery wasn't yet busy. I chose a table to myself with a great view of the dining room. Classic punk rock played on the speakers and fit right in with the decor to create an energizing atmosphere. I noticed that some customers came in for tea or coffee and a meal, and not necessarily to drink beer. It says something good for Great Leap #45 that it's a local dining destination. But I wonder if those teetotalers knew what they were missing.

The view from my table; I liked the stylized Beijing map on the far wall

The bar, where I usually choose to sit upon visiting new breweries, but there I would not have had a view

The Flavors

Great Leap brews a diverse selection of beer styles that would be recognized at a craft brewery in North America, but they include traditional Asian ingredients in several of them. The draught list boasted 16 varieties of house beer (there were also a few guest beers from Japan, Australia and Denmark), and flights came in samplers of four. Most brews were of medium to high ABV, with the highest coming in at 12%. I chose my first flight, knowing that I'd probably go for a second one. I wanted to experience as much as I could, and with my next stop being the Beijing airport, I'd have 12 hours in flight to sleep off the beer.

The beers provided a delightful "East meets West" tour. Honey Ma Gold, described as Great Leap's "flagship ale" was very nice, with adjuncts of honey and Sichuan peppercorns (subtle and not over-powering); this was an award-winning beer. The Iron Buddha Blonde and the Aggressor dark ale (classified as a wee heavy in Untappd) were each infused with oolong tea; it's a very subtle addition of tea and both are smooth and drinkable. Cinnamon Rock Ale may have been the most unique brew on the list; it was brewed with cinnamon and rock candy, and was good but not a favorite. My American-ness is apparent in my pick of the eight I tried: Explorer General IPA, a west coast IPA with hops from Michigan.

The servers wore Great Leap Brewing track jackets

And for my second flight: Iron Buddha Blonde, Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Explorer General IPA, Liu the Brave Stout

My 16-inch "The Cheese" pizza with basil was tasty and, of course, huge

Drinking all these beers, I needed some good food, and the New York style pizza at Great Leap #45 delivered on flavor. The menu also included Italian-inspired appetizers, salads and entrees. Unfortunately, they only make 16-inch pies, and that's quite a lot for one person. I figured I would take much of my cheese pizza to go and eat it on the airplane. Later, I learned that select pizzas are available by-the-slice.

My server Trent didn't speak much English, and I don't speak any Chinese, so I asked if there was another staff member who could tell me more about the brewery. The manager's English was marginally better, and she was helpful, but unable to answer the questions I would normally ask of a brewery owner or member of the brewing team. When I left Great Leap #45, I didn't know much beyond what I'd already learned on the website. That is that Great Leap started in 2010 as Beijing's first craft brewery founded by Carl Setzer from Ohio, USA and Liu Fang from Shandong Province, China. From the start, this was an East/West venture, and that explains a lot about the beer styles. The brewery has three public locations in Beijing as well as a production facility outside the city. If I'd had more time, I would have arranged to meet with the owners. For this trip, I had to be content to simply enjoy the beers in the Great Leap #45 taproom...and I did.

The brewery started filling up after 1 PM, mostly with foreigners from Europe and North America. I approached the English-speaking family at the table next to mine. They were American expats from Washington state. They are regulars at Great Leap and also at Slow Boat, the other Beijing brewery that I visited. I sat with Kjell, Elisabeth and Erica for a while (and they took my leftover pizza off my hands).

Me with my new friends Kjell, Elisabeth and Erica (and my leftover pizza)

There was one more thing I had to do before leaving Great Leap, and that was to check out the merchandise. I simply can't make purchases at every brewery I visit (there would be no room in my closets for the clothing, or in my kitchen cabinets for the glassware). But I wanted to commemorate my possibly once-in-a-lifetime trip to Beijing, and the Great Leap Brewing artwork was too good to pass up. I chose the red t-shirt with the brewery logo, but I was drawn to the beer-specific designs as well. I said farewell to my American friends with a full belly, a sated beer palate, and ultimately, a strong desire to get to the airport, to return home, and share my China adventures.

Stellar merchandise collection

It's a rare brewery post in which I include photos of myself, but I just had to share the cool t-shirt

Visit

You have your choice of Great Leap Brewing locations depending on where you are in the city, and what type of food you're in the mood for. Great Leap #45 was my pizza haven in Chaoyang District; #12 is the burger joint in Dongcheng District; and the original #6 is in Doujiao Hutong but does not serve food. Hours vary by location, for #45: Sunday-Thursday 11 AM to 1 AM, Friday-Saturday 11 AM to 2 AM. Check out the brewery at GreatLeapBrewing.com or follow on Facebook or Instagram.

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