Unsolicited, the Chinese tech kid staying in Shanghai on business emptied into my glass a few swigs of pale ale from a near-empty bottle from which he was drinking. I thanked him for the gesture, of course, and didn’t actually drink that warm mixture of pale ale and saliva, of course.
He introduced himself—Leonard or Renaldo or Ernest, something to that effect—explained that he saw me using my laptop a few minutes ago, and asked if he could use my VPN. We were behind The Great Firewall of China, and it was a reasonable request, but I lied and said I didn’t have a VPN because, well, I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps I did it because the world is a dangerous place, and what if he touched my keyboard without first applying hand sanitizer?
I changed the subject and asked him what types of beer he liked. Along with 27 taps of mostly Belgian ales, there are thousands of bottles of beer from which to choose at The Beer Lady’s third and newest outlet, which is discreetly located in a Suzhou Creek back alley. There’s just about every beer SKU you’ve seen anywhere in Asia, plus a few hundred that you likely have not and would never expect to. Since when does Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall, Michigan, export to China?
Here there is Brouwerij Alvinne’s Cuvée de Mortagne 2015, of which only a single cask was produced and poured into 700 bottles; six of them landed at The Beer Lady and are priced at ¥798 (US$125). There is a 1.59-gallon bottle of St. Bernardus Abt 12 for ¥3,688 (US$582), and there are bottles of Brewmeister’s Snake Venom, at a farcical ABV 67.5% the world’s strongest beer. Those run ¥888 (US$140), and are tagged with warnings not to consume more than 35ml at one sitting.
Renaldo says he likes dark German beers, so as a means of apology for the VPN lie (and an excuse to not drink the spitty pale ale) I buy us a bottle of Ayinger Celebrator, one of the world’s finest doppelbocks. I grab two appropriately sized glasses from the help-yourself fridge full of differently shaped beer glasses, and we settle in at one of the tall wooden tables, all of which are preset with bottle openers. Most of the 20 odd flat-screen televisions above and around us beam Chinese cooking infomercials, which is perfect.
My new friend Leonard takes a sip of Celebrator—it’s pretty good, he says—then whips out his phone. “Do you know WeChat? I just texted my friends and I told them I found paradise.”
The Beer Lady is located at 1247 Nan Suzhou Lu in Shanghai, a five-minute walk from Xinzha Road station. +86 21 5386 3393. It never closes; here’s what one writer experienced while spending 24 hours at another Beer Lady.