From opening his latest gastropub, Liquid Laundry, to organizing Shanghai Beer Week, to seeing his flagship brewpub Boxing Cat ranked among Asia’s 10 best beer bars by CNN, brewmaster Michael Jordan has had an incredible year. We caught up to the brew maven to talk Beer Week, Liquid Laundry, and Shanghai’s ever-changing beerscape.
How does it feel being named one Asia’s ten best beer bars by CNN? To what do you attribute this?
It feels wonderful! It’s great recognition and something that is very cool. I attribute it to us sticking to our vision where we brew with passion and push innovation forward on the beer front.
Let’s wind the clocks back. What were you doing before you came to Shanghai? What prompts one to come to Shanghai and start up a brewery?
I was living in Denmark prior to coming to Shanghai – I was Brewmaster for a decent size brewery that was nearly 150 years old. Making beer is what I do – getting paid for it since 1996. I left the US to explore the world and discovered that US craft brewers have good street cred. The job opportunity in Shanghai came out of left field as Asia wasn’t really on my radar. Once I visited and met with Lee Tseng and Kelley Lee I realized we could make a good team and propel Boxing Cat forward. They give me almost unlimited freedom in the brewery – which every brewer wants. I think my time in the industry stateside has provided a lot of valuable lessons about the industry and different trends. Of course China is different but some basic rules where craft brewers work together to educate the market is a global phenomenon.
What are some of the challenges starting and running a successful brewery and restaurants in China? The rewards?
There are a lot of challenges ranging from sourcing ingredients, training staff with little to no experience and of course trying to educate a new market about craft beer and what beer flavor can be. It’s fun to work with Kelley and Sean Jorgensen on the food front but that’s there specialty so I just focus on the brewery. I think we have a good team at BCB with some long-standing employees. This helps a lot with daily operations. The goal of the brewery is to make great beer by international standards and gain some recognition outside China – this has worked well for us with some international brewing awards and participation in a few different festivals – Copenhagen, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei. The reward potential is high since craft brewing is relatively new and BCB was one of the first Western craft breweries to open in 2008. It’s a very exciting time and something I’ve never experienced in nearly 20 years of professional brewing – (getting in on the pioneer movement).
Did you find it challenging turning Chinese customers onto IPAs like TKO or some your darker lagers?
It’s always challenging to turn customers onto different beer flavors that are sometimes complex or strong – this is the case anywhere in the world. We encourage sampling of the beers if customers are uncertain about all the beers we make. We would rather provide a free taste than them ordering something they might not enjoy. The 6 beer sampler set is a good way for them to experience all the flavors at their own pace. We provide dual language beer descriptions for some assistance. We do in-house beer school training so the staff can also assist with beer and food questions.
How have you adjusted your beer flavors or foods to suit the local palate?
We’ve made a few little adjustments by creating certain beers that might suite the local palate – beers like Ringside Red or Contender Extra Pale Ale. I take pride in the beers we make and focus on brewing them to style. This means they aren’t “dumbed’ down – our IPA is American in style and is brewed like I would brew it if I were still in the US. We also take inspiration with some local culinary options – ranging from Sichuan Peppercorns and fresh ginger in Tripel Threat to making a beer with Goji Berries or Chinese Tea. There are some really unique Chinese ingredients that add a whole local dimension to the beers we’re brewing – this is very cool!!
Favorite beer you’ve brewed in Shanghai?
That’s a tough question – I really enjoy the barrel aged beers we do. It’s a labor of love that requires patience. The reward is a very complex beer – take Bourbon Barrel Aged King Louie Imperial Stout. It’s aged anywhere from 8-12 months in used Jim Beam Bourbon Barrels. The result is a thick and luscious stout with notes of coffee, chocolate, bourbon and some oak notes.
Favorite food in Shanghai?
I love a good dumpling – having Xiaolongbao in Shanghai is a real treat.
Which of your beers go best with Shanghai food?
My favorite beer to pair with food depends upon the season – I had some good Shanghainese food recently that paired well with Ringside Red.
Let’s talk Liquid Laundry? What inspired it? Tell us about the concept.
The idea was to raise the bar with food and beer with a proper gastropub. By having a brewery onsite it also lets people see a brewery with some educational aspects. Of course we can also brew all new beers for that location. So the beers we brew onsite at LL will only be served at LL. We fill the rest of the taps with BCB beers or some guest beers. The cocktail program is also strong with some excellent drinks and we offer a decent amount of wines. The “liquid” portion is 100% covered. The name is a bit quirky to some people but the laundry name lends itself to some fun concepts and phrases. I think Lee did a great job coming up with this name. In general the concept is a NYC style gastropub – exposed ceiling with industrial aspects, subway tiles with a touch of retro feel. Some of the recycled wood around the bar provides a comfort factor. The designer has done a great job with the entire concept – it’s a damn big space in the end and I think it feels nice. The food side really allows Kelley and Sean to do something very different than BCB – they can get a bit fancy in a relaxed environment. I look forward to our first Brewmasters Dinner later this month!
Biggest misconception about beer in Shanghai?
The biggest misconception is that there is no good beer or craft beer in Shanghai. Of course we have some local brewpubs and people seek those out if they do their research…. but until the licensing for local breweries to distribute changes we’ll deal with this misconception.
How has Shanghai’s beer scene changed from when you arrived here until now? Where do you see it going in the future?
Since arriving in late 2010 it’s changed a lot – more players in the market – which is actually a good thing. We have also started craft beer festivals since 2011 so we can expose more people to craft beer/good beer in one big setting – it opens people’s eyes to beer flavor and helps all of us. I’m a supporter of the “rising tides lift all ships” as it’s huge market and we should support one another to promote our little industry. This is taken shape in a number of factors – beer festivals, collaboration brewing, co-operative purchasing and I’d like to think Shanghai Beer Week as well.
You have any brews in the works at either Boxing Cat or Liquid Laundry?
We always have new brews in the works. For BCB – we have 2 barrel aged beers coming out soon – Bourbon Barrel Aged King Louie and Wild Cat Saison. The later being a sour beer that has some funky flavors. We also have a single hop beer with a new hop variety from the US called Equinox. Lastly we did a collaboration brew with Jing A from Beijing that is a Lychee Pilsner. We’ll pour these beers during SHBW and some at the Sinan Mansions Beer Festival on May 31 – June 1. A fun upcoming project is a collaboration brew on June 2 with Kjetil Jikiun from Nogne in Norway. We’re brewing a Saison beer using Norwegian Juniper Berries and Chrysanthemum Tea. This should be great fun and fun to taste near the end of June. We’ve brewed 4 different beers at LL so far. – a brand new IPA that will be juicy and fruity, an Amber Ale, a Kolsch and a Strawberry Wheat. These are all in process and will start hitting the taps later this month. We’ll continue to experiment at LL with all new beer styles and ingredients.
Any upcoming ventures?
We have a lot of projects happening in 2014 besides opening Liquid Laundry – We’re expanding the capacity of the brewery in Minhang with larger fermenters. This will give us a 50% increase in capacity. We’ll also open a BCB in Hongqiao later this Fall. This will have a brewery onsite so we can continue to push innovation and brew different beers. There are more beer festivals happening this year with travel to Taipei, Beijing and Hong Kong. It’s a very busy year for our team.
Let’s talk Shanghai Beer Week? What are some of the events we should be looking forward to?
We have a lot of cool events happening for Shanghai Beer Week this year. The coverage around the city is diverse and I think it’s helping get Shanghai some street cred amongst international beer circles. The Brew Cruise on May 23rd is the kickoff party and it should be great this year. The collaboration brew amongst Dr. Beer, The BREW, Shanghai Brewery and Boxing Cat Brewery will be released at this party. We went big again with a 10% Triple IPA. There are heaps of events during the week ranging from night brewing, beer dinners and special tastings. The “meet the brewer” night with Kjetil from Nogne is pretty unique and it’s great to have support from a foreign brewmaster. The industry event is the Brewers Conference – we have many breweries from all over China attending so this might be the first time all the craft players are in the same room to experience some cool presentations that are lined up. The homebrew contest is another new thing and I’m looking forward to judging these beers. We’ll announce the winners during the Sinan Mansions Beer Festival – which wraps up the 10 days of activities. The beer festival has 41 booths this year – some great beer and food vendors with more out of town breweries joining us this year.
Any tips on how to get the most out of Beer Week?
Use the interactive beer map [available at participating outlets] and look over the website to see which events you want to check out. Some events require RSVP’ing, so make sure to get onto it before they sell out. Supporting your local breweries is always encouraged!
See a complete list of Shanghai Beer Week events here.
Liquid Laundry – K. Wah Centre, 2/F, 1028 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Donghu Lu (淮海中路1028号, 嘉华房2/F, 近东湖路). Tel: (0)21-6445-9589. Hours: 5am-midnight. Closest metro stop: South Shanxi Road, lines 1/10.
Boxing Cat Brewery (Sinan Mansions) – Sinan Mansions, Unit 26A, 519 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Sinan Lu (思南公馆, 复兴中路519号26A, 近思南路). Tel: (0)21-6426-0360. Hours: 5pm-2am Mon-Fri, 10am-2am Sat-Sun. Closest metro stop: Xintiandi, line 10.
Boxing Cat Brewery – 82 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu (复兴路82号, 近永福路). Tel: (0)21-6431-2091. Hours: 5pm-2am Mon-Thu, 3pm-2am Fri, 11am-2am Sat-Sun. Closest metro stop: Shanghai Library, line 10.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].