Asia Beer City Series: Our Short but Sweet Good Beer Trail in Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Guangzhou plays its part as one of China’s three largest cities with aplomb. Here the imposing roadways in central districts like Tianhe, Yuexiu, and Huangpu, lined with one towering structure after another after another, seem endless as they disappear into hazy and distant horizons. And though the city is well-connected by a comprehensive subway system, attempting in-depth exploration of more than one or two of its 11 districts in a single day feels like folly.

Located about 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong, the place once known as Canton is the capital of Guangdong Province, and with a population of 14 million it’s one of the most populated cities on the planet. It is a prosperous city, raking a GDP of almost US$320 billion in 2017, and for a long time it was an alarmingly polluted city saddled with the type of poor air quality we’ve sadly come to expect from the country’s megacities.

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Unlike peers like Beijing and Shanghai, however, things are improving on the pollution front. According to this 2017 Forbes report, today Guangzhou has the cleanest air of China’s five largest cities after reducing its PM2.5 levels by 42% from 2012 to 2016. It’s retiring all 30,000-plus of its fossil fuel-powered taxis and buses and replacing them with electric-powered vehicles by 2020. Some 100,000 electric charging ports will be installed across the city to help encourage its residents to go electric, too.

These and other sensible environmental measures are in part helping turn Guangzhou into one of China’s most liveable big cities, but Canton has a lot more going for it, too. Despite its gargantuan size and population, many of the central city areas are quite pleasant. The wide tree-lined avenues rarely feel congested, and the winding back streets are a pleasure to explore. Café culture thrives, and the food scene wins on both quality and quantity. Guangzhou, in short, has character.

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Like in China’s other Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, a growing local interest in good beer has spurred a wave of new beer bars and craft breweries in Guangzhou, too. Underground late-night institution Rozz-Tox, which closed in October 2017, reopened a few months later as a beer bar and boutique brewery. The Strand Brewery and Beer Café, the city’s oldest craft brewery, spun off two new locations in 2018 and may be increasing its brewing capacity. And places like Tipsy Bar & Restaurant demonstrate craft beer’s potential to reach a more mass-market drinking crowd.

Join us for a spin through six of our favorite places to enjoy craft beer in Guangzhou, China.

Rozz-Tox

Rozz-Tox is our favorite beer bar in Guangzhou. It’s not just because we’re a little starstruck by the fact that Lebron James once visited with his entourage. It’s also not because one of the bartenders told us a great story about how a now-disgraced American actor tried (unsuccessfully) to pick up his boyfriend here one night, then returned the next night, alone, to sulk in the corner and smoke joints. To be clear, both of those occasions came years ago at Rozz-Tox’s old spot in a gritty three-floor arts space, and before the owners transformed the place into a craft beer bar when they reopened it. (And we’re sure Rozz-Tox doesn’t condone drug use, but who’s going to tell Kevin Spacey a scummy actor to quit brooding and to stop smoking weed?)

Related: In Xiamen, Fat Fat Beer Horse Loves Beer, So They Make Their Own

We love how Rozz-Tox is as much about good art and music as it is good beer. We love the classy vibe, the welcoming staff, and the novel idea of displaying a small glass of each draft beer above its tap to show off its appearance. We love that staff beams arthouse flicks onto a projector screen in the back room during the week, and that on weekends guest DJs spin records, some (all?) of which they pluck from crates full of vinyl in the back.

Guangzhou Craft Beer
Rozz-Tox

We love that Rozz-Tox usually has at least six beers on tap from its own brewery, Good Manners Brewery, and that it tends to favor other Chinese craft breweries like Arrow Factory Brewing, Jing-A Brewing, and E.T. Brewery across the rest of its 24 taps. We love that there seems to always be at least one ridiculously strong and luscious stout on tap, like Founders’ KBS or Stone’s Mikhail.

In terms of aesthetics, we’re interested in what’s next for discerning brewpubs and beer bars. Industrial and/or minimalist looks have been done to grisly death for a long time now, and no design trend lasts forever. So what’s next? We’re not sure, but like Pijiu Bar in Bangkok, we are increasingly drawn to places that are cozy, creative, and understated–and that’s Rozz-Tox. Siyou South 2nd Street, Lane 6, #19, Yuexiu District. Open daily 5pm to 1am.

The Strand Brewery & Beer Café

Launched in 2012, The Strand is Guangzhou’s godfather of craft beer. It makes sense that after six years, and with craft catching on here and elsewhere in China, that the experimental-ish 1,000-liter brewery, still commandeered by founder David Strand, is finally expanding. Two new venues opened in late 2018—one in the historic Xiguan neighborhood and the other in Panyu—and we’ve heard rumblings that the brewery may start bottling and selling to other bars after it potentially increases capacity.

Guangzhou Craft Beer
The Strand

For now, The Strand beers are only available at its three venues. The brewery’s signature Wuyang IPA and Double Dragon DIPA are both fantastic, and look out for small-batch barrel-aged beers like the 7.7% Choco Coco Stout, which sat in rye barrels for about four months, and a 8.2% whiskey barrel-aged ginger stout. Guest beers are available, too. The Strand’s original pub is conveniently just a stone’s throw from Rozz-Tox and You Are My Vanity, below, and is the touchstone venue for anyone curious about the state of Guangzhou craft brewing. 1 Chunfeng Rd, Yuexiu District. +86 8735 7179. Open daily 6pm – 2am.

You Are My Vanity

A man who doesn’t speak Chinese walks into an unmarked bar, where a twentysomething who doesn’t speak English smiles and gestures at the rows of bottled and canned craft beers displayed on a shelving unit. The man hunts for treasures to pack in his checked luggage the next day, particularly those of the locally brewed variety.

Related: In Shanghai, Jackie’s Beer Nest is One in a Billion

The kid sidles up to the man and notes a small sign indicating a generous 40% discount for purchases of at least four packaged beers to go. The man thanks him, points at two cans, and makes the “any good?” gesture. The kid whips out his phone, punches a string of Chinese characters into a language translator, then shows the man his screen, which reads “turbid” and “muddy.” When the man points to another can, the kid does the same thing again and this time his screen shows “can you handle the bitter?” A third time, after the man picks up a bottle that looks like a stout (12.9%) and has a label plastered with Chinese characters: “This one strong flavor of Chinese medicine.”

Guangzhou Craft Beer
You Are My Vanity

Guangzhou Craft Beer

The only thing the kid says to the man in English is “so fresh, so fresh” after picking up a canned local IPA. The man buys six or seven beers, and before leaving types “what is this bar’s name?” into the kid’s translator. He shows the man once more: You Are My Vanity. Siyou New Road, +86 186 1732 6662 (maybe). From South XII, below, turn left and then take another left when the street ends. The bar is located in a courtyard about 200 feet down on the left.

South XII

Just around the corner from the three aforementioned venues, South XII scores for its handful of Christmas stickers on the walls (oh, how we do enjoy shit like that), bric-a-brac vintage decor, and patio seating. We’ve popped in twice and walked by a handful of other times, and on each occasion the place was empty while nearby joints were bangin’. Chalk it up to coincidence and/or bad timing, or maybe South XII just hasn’t caught on yet. It does look a bit drab from the street, and just as nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd, sometimes a lack of one repels it.

Guangzhou Craft Beer
South XII

For us, South XII is perfectly fine. It’s competent, like how Solo: A Star Wars Story capably gets the job done without leaving a lasting impression. The bar’s handheld flipboard menu is taped with multi-colored cards scrawled with beer and brewery names in English and Chinese, and the list of up to 14 taps tends to be heavy on IPAs and stouts, which again is perfectly fine by us. Mikkeller, Oskar Blues, Brew By Numbers, and Magic Rock Brewing Co are among those breweries we’ve seen tapped, and there’s a fridge stocked with a range of very fancy imports.

If you only have one night we suggest prioritizing the neighborhood’s other options, but there’s no reason not to stop here for a nightcap. 12 Siyou Nan Er Jie. +86 2005 0258. Open daily 4pm – 1am.

Bravo Brewing Co.

We’re not huge fans of the brewpub itself—it wouldn’t look out of a place in an American strip mall—but Bravo brews some of Guangzhou’s finest beers and they’re only getting better. We’ve tried several, including Song of Chu Single Hop IPA, Pick-Up Golden Mandheling Coffee Porter, and Hop Crusher IPA, and each of them was clean and competent. There’s a mix of beers from Bravo, local Chinese and Taiwanese breweries, and imports across the pub’s 28+ taps, including on our lone visit Omnipollo’s Nebuchadnezzar DIPA, Le Blé d’Or’s Oolong Hazy IPA, and E.T. Brewery’s Mars Juice, the latter a New England IPA described on the menu as “bringing you a wonderful melody in the party.” That it did. 6 Huajiu Road, Unit #114-115. +86 20 3809 3309. Open daily 11am – 1am.

Guangzhou Craft Beer
Bravo Brewing Co
Guangzhou Craft Beer
Tipsy Bar & Restaurant

Tipsy Bar & Restaurant

“It is what it is,” said Buddy Dyker. “It’s like watching the Detroit Lions sucking.”

The dying one-time union rep, played with remarkable gravitas by Harris Yulin in the Netflix series Ozark, grumbled these words in his dark basement bedroom. He may well of substituted the apt Lions metaphor with another one: It’s like drinking a beer at Tipsy.

To be clear, we do not squarely equate date-friendly, geared-to-mass-market Tipsy with the more than 60 years of folly to which the American football team has subjected the world. If the place were anywhere near as bad as the Lions we wouldn’t tax our arthritic hands listing it here. That said, Tipsy very much is what it is: a sporty, slightly generic place that’s more of a restaurant with a strong beer list (and good food) than a proper beer bar. You may very well get excited about what’s in your glass or perhaps on your plate here, but we’re not so sure you’ll be particularly psyched about anything else.

Guangzhou Craft Beer

Grimbergen, Brasserie d’Achouff, Brouwerij Bosteels, Rogue Ales, Firestone Walker and, yes, Carlsberg are among the mainstay breweries on the 28-tap menu. Each time we’ve visited there have been a handful of more interesting and/or high-ABV selections available, as well, like Ballast Point’s Manta Ray DIPA and the BrewDog/Amundsen Brewery collaboration Mallow Mafia, a 12% Russian imperial stout brewed with coffee, cocoa, and marshmallows. Chinese craft breweries are often tapped, as well.

Tipsy could be better and certainly could be worse. It just is what it is. 289 Art Park, Guangzhou Ave, #113A. +86 180 2721 1449. Open daily 11am – 2pm, 5pm – 2am.

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“Asia Beer City” is Beer Travelist’s running series spotlighting notable beer bars, brewpubs, and bottle shops in cities across Asia and Asia-Pacific. Each series entry is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather a curated list of those venues we feel travelers (and locals) should prioritize. We launched the series with Bangkok, Thailand.

Brian Spencer
written by: Brian Spencer
Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance journalist and the founder of Beer Travelist. Say hello at brian [a] beertravelist.com.