Still feeling the heat? Summers are long in Shenzhen. Nevertheless, you have made it this far and the chances are you have something to celebrate—maybe it is finishing up the final week of a thankless internship, a reunion with friends, making it through the National Judicial Examination, or finally settling into your new home here at Nanyan after a long flight and an even longer visa application process. So get your old friends and your new friends together and consider making your way over to Bionic Brew in Baishizhou because a good celebration calls for a good beer.
Bionic Brew was founded 4 years ago by an American brewer in Shenzhen. As the name suggests, the bar was a bit of an experiment. In 2014, with an exploding tech industry, growing startup culture, and plenty of young universities, the question was simple: Wasn’t it time to establish Shenzhen’s first craft brewery?
Thankfully for us here at PKU Shenzhen, founder Joe Finkenbinder decided on Baishizhou in the Nanshan District of Shenzhen as the location for this great experiment. It is only 5km from campus, about 40min on the 43 bus from the Harbin Technology University bus stop, and positioned in the middle of one of the best night street-food markets you’re going to find in the city.
The setup is really straightforward. Bionic Brew wants to serve you with the best Chinese beer you can find in Shenzhen, or anywhere else, in a casual setting. It is a small space with three or so tables and a completely exposed front entrance where more seating spills out into the food street. Being Shenzhen’s first craft brewery (and a mighty fine one at that) there are always customers, but there is never a shortage of available seating. They brew their own delicious beer made from world-class ingredients, the most popular of which is called Bionic Ale. In China, we may get used to the cheap 15-20RMB domestic beers, but considering the quality of this beer, it’s hard to complain about the 40RMB price tag. The selection is limited to ten beers on tap and a few different bottles. However, you never feel the need for more choices because there are new options each time you go. Out of all the beers on tap the evening I visited, three were made by Bionic Brew and the rest were from craft breweries around China. There were very appealing selections from Beijing, Nanjing, and Dongguang.
I normally feel like supporting the local brewery so that made my first choice easy, the Bionic Ale. This is a great choice, especially for those that are looking to enjoy a refined beer but don’t have a strong preference yet for what kind of beer they most enjoy. There is a balanced presence of both hops, a dried flower that gives a distinctive bitter and floral quality to craft beer, and malted barley, a dried cereal grain that gives beer an earthy, caramel color and taste. The Bionic Ale isn’t very bitter, and the dark tan color complements the caramel-vanilla hints of sweetness that you taste when sipping the beer. I see why it has become a favorite in a city that is just developing an audience and community for craft beer; it carries the flavor and body (or feel) elements that make craft beer special without pushing any extremes. And I’m not too ashamed to say that of course alcohol content is an important factor for some of us spending a little extra money on a beer—at 5.6% it is certainly respectable.
For my next choice, I had to go with something a little more fresh and unique so I chose the Osmanthus Ale by Master Gao Brewing. Master Gao Brewing hails from Nanjing and seems to specialize in using distinctive Chinese flavors to create beers that subtly and tastefully proclaim their homeland. My first taste of the Osmanthus flower was when I had the famous guihua green tea from Guilin (a city named after the Osmanthus flower). I have been hooked ever since, but it is a delicate flavor that needs to be used with extreme care. The Osmanthus Ale was a light and cloudy beer with a small head (the frothy foam top). The brilliance of this beer is its sourness which makes it incredibly crisp and refreshing in the muggy heat of Shenzhen. The sourness also gives a nice background for the key flavor, the Osmanthus flower, to be appreciated without seeming like an unnecessary or cheap device for expressing ‘Chinese characteristics’.
As for food, NYPD pizza has a kitchen at the bar. However, I highly recommend making a trip down any of the four food streets that are right around the bar. Honestly, there should be a whole other review around the food in this area because there’s tons to try. I will just say it is exactly what you want for street food in China and the prices are cheaper than most other areas of the city. Don’t miss the one street that is more like a night market in the style of Taiwan’s famous Shilin market, but less crowded. When eating, switch back to the typical Chinese beers.
Part of Bionic Brew’s mission is to help introduce bolder and more diverse flavors to consumers who are accustomed to light beers (that pair great with Chinese food) but are new to craft beer. They take pride in making sure that whenever there is a curious customer eager to learn something about their beers or the industry in general, there is a knowledgeable and friendly staff person to chat with. Sitting for an evening at Bionic Brew you are sure to see the regulars pass through who have enjoyed the beer since its opening, as well as curious first-timers. As a novice beer drinker myself, I learned a lot in conversations with the Canadian bartender, who then swiftly transitioned to fluent Chinese to introduce beers to a group of new customers who fired back more probing questions. The whole exchange: me sitting there with my Osmanthus Ale, samples being passed around by curious but discerning Chinese customers, a passionate bartender who had his own hand in creating the product, all in the middle of a mecca for local street food, made a few of his words stick out in my head: “It’s Chinese beer. It’s not about who is making it—whether it is a foreigner or not. It is made in China for Chinese people. It’s Chinese beer.”
Is there a better way to send off the summer and bring in the school year than enjoying some of that?
(First published in the July 2018 Nanyan Observer)
Written by Nathan Faber
Photos by Nathan Faber