Shanghai craft beers you need to try now

From sessionable saisons to serious stouts, get the suds skinny on the city's best locals brews

Blondes and Belgians, saisons and stouts – we've all looked over a beer roster and wondered what the hell these titles mean. With the craft beer revolution finally hitting Shanghai, there are enough bottles, brew types and punny names around to leave the Beer Lady in a daze. Get the low down on these styles being brewed locally at some of the city's best craft beer bars so you can give your friends a bit of schooling the next time you're out for a pint. Happy drinking.

Saison

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The 101: Its name being French for ‘season’, originally the saison was a seasonal beer brewed at home by farmers exclusively during the winter so that it could mature until the warmer months arrived. These Belgian farmhouse ales were a mainstay for hot summers in the field, acting as a thirst-quencher for workers. A saison is a very effervescent and refreshing brew, with spicy, fruity flavours.

What we love: Nitro Sleepless in Saison at Liquid Laundry. Serving the beer via a nitrogen tap (rather than the standard CO2) makes for a smoother, creamier mouthfeel with lots of tiny bubbles and less bitterness.

Pair it with: A rustic roast chicken and some peppery, herby veg.

IPA

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The 101: The first thing you should know about an India Pale Ale (IPA) is that it does not come from India and is not always pale. This brew dates back to the wave-ruling days of the British Empire, when it was created as an export bound for Brits on the subcontinent. In the sacred tradition of red-faced Anglosaxons drinking abroad, IPAs are a feisty bunch with a bitter aftertaste and high alcohol content – 6.5 to 8 percent in most cases. Flavours range from fruity zests to malty palate burners.

Try this local version: The BREW IPA. Brewmaster Christopher Bump’s unfiltered IPA uses a combo of both hop pellets and Cryo hop powder to further enhance aromatics and create a malty, ‘juicy’ and fruity flavour that’s less bitter than most, making it a highly sessionable brew.

Pair it with: Spicy, mouth-numbing Sichuan food.


Smoked beer

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The 101: Known as rauchbier in their German homeland, smoked beers were primarily popularised in the 18th century, but their roots go back far further. These smouldering suds are the result of malt dried over an open wood fire, which then carries over the smoky flavour during brewing. Back in the day when flame-drying was the only option, brewers tried to stamp out those ashy notes, but now it’s a speciality.

Try this local version: Zapfler’s smoked lager. Smoked beers have a robust, distinctive flavour that you’re either into or you’re not, but Zapfler founder and brewmaster Dirk Frauenheim's modern take is a crowd-pleaser. You can taste the burning wood with every sip, and it’s quite comforting.

Pair it with: German-style charcuterie and sausages.

Amber ale

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The 101: This North American-style ale is easily recognisable by its colour (go figure); a malt-focused, mildly fruity brew with an accessible flavour that’s a perfect step into real beer. It’s a broad class with plenty of room for brewmasters to get creative.

Try this local version: First Date by Shanghai Love Brewery (get it at The Rooster and all Beer Lady locations). A collaboration between Shanghai Love founder and brewer Kia Parsai and local personality The Brew Girl, the addition of Xinjiang red dates technically makes this a fruit beer, but it’s nothing like the sugary Lambics you’re used to. Instead, it’s a well-rounded ale with caramel undertones from the sticky dates.

Pair it with: Spicy buffalo wings or a stand-up burger.

Sour ale

Sour V3The 101: Of Belgian origin and seeing a recent spike in popularity, the distinctive sourness of these ales comes from the addition of wild yeast during fermentation (a no-no in most other beers), a period which lasts up to two years. Brewers often complement sours’ unique acidity with a variety of fruits.

Try this local version: Goose Island Brewhouse’s Funk of the Forest. Brewmaster Fraser Kennedy ferments FotF from a Belgian sour red ale base with raspberries and blackberries, ageing it for three months with wild yeast and select bacteria for a palatable beer with a unique profile. Goose Island is a good place to start if you’re new to sours, as they’re what put the Chicago brewery on the map.

Pair it with: Strong cheeses like stinky blue or sharp cheddar.

Stout

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The 101: Without a doubt the easiest beer to spot in a crowd due to its dark colour, stouts are often erroneously labelled as the most alcohol heavy beers on the market, though they can actually be as light as 4.5 percent. Brewers roast malts or barley at high temperatures to achieve the stout's inky hue, in a process that is not too dissimilar to roasting coffee; which is the main factor behind these beers’ dark, almost dessert-like flavours.

Try this local version: Shanghai Brewery's Black Eyed Bear Stout (also available at The Refinery). Brewmaster Mark Rittmer doesn’t use any added flavourings to create this toasty brew – it’s the roasting style that gives subtle hints of cocoa, coffee and chargrilled deliciousness.

Pair it with: Dark chocolate desserts and gamey meat stews.

By Elysia Bagley and Sebastian Morgan

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