Dandong Beer Festival

Last time we were in Dandong we saw an advertisement for the Dandong Beer Festival. We planned to finish our holiday with some excessive beer consumption.

After returning to Dandong we rested up in our hotel for a short while. The we headed over to Peter’s for some food. Over lunch we realised that none of us knew the address to go to the Beer Festival. A frantic search over the wireless internet didn’t turn up anything.

We decided to just go to a taxi driver and tell him “pijiujie” – Beer Festival. The taxi driver smiled when we asked – he knew where to go. We hopped in and he took us to the other side of town. Before we got out he offered to take us back and gave us his number.

Before us lay a glowing neon sign. In both Chinese and English it declared “Dandong New District International Beer Festival”. Several of the locals had set up market stalls selling souvenirs and toys. People were going back and forth to and from the entrance of the festival.

It didn’t take us too long to find tickets and get inside. Once inside we saw a corridor lined with tents. Tents that weren’t selling beer. They were selling property. It turns out this whole thing was a set up to get people to invest in Dandong New District.

We hastily made our way past the property market and made our way to the large beer tent ahead. Buying a beer proved to be rather difficult. They had a system where you had to go to one place and get tokens then come back and fight your way to the front of the crowd at the bar then shout loud enough that the bartenders would pay you attention and finally tell you that they were out of beer.

It was a little annoying.

We moved past the first big tent and on to the next tent. There was a live music performance here. We finally managed to find a bar that would sell us beer. They had cheap wheat lager for sale. We paid up and stood impatiently as they took forever to pour our drinks.

Finally we got a taste of beer at the Dandong Beer Festival. It tasted stale. We stayed for a while watching the music and forcing our beers down us. It was clear that we weren’t going to have a good time here.

We decided to leave after our first beer. We called the taxi driver who had offered to take us back. He was surprised to hear from us – he had expected us to take much longer. He had taken another fare so it took him a while to come back for us.

In the meantime we looked through the wares being sold outside. There were Transformer rip-offs and dolls and other cheap toys.

Our taxi driver arrived and we went back to Dandong Old District. We returned to the bar we went to on our first night and knocked ourselves out with some real beers.

More choice than the festival
More choice than the festival

New Town Clubbing

It was our English tour guide’s birthday and he decided he wanted to go out in Lhasa’s New Town to celebrate. Our tour group gathered together in our hotel’s lobby and we laid out a rough plan for the night: we would have a few drinks in Old Town then head to a club in New Town.

We found a small bar across the road from our hotel and sat down in the hopes of a nice cold beer. We were still learning that cold beer was basically impossible to get in Tibet. They offered us an alternative – warm beer and a glass with ice.

Drinks in Old Town
Drinks in Old Town

We had a couple of rounds of drinks then went out to get a taxi to New Town. Our tour guide knew a club, but he couldn’t quite remember the address so he gave us a street nearby to meet at. As we drove out of Old Town and into New Town I noticed that the city seemed to morph into a generic Chinese city – lit up skyscrapers and dark streets. They had preserved Old Lhasa and just built a city around it.

When we all finally arrived at the meeting place, we walked over to the club. If you’ve never been to a Chinese night club before, it is a very strange experience. When you go in you are given a table, but you are expected to spend a certain amount of money to sit at that table. When we walked in to the club they instantly gave us one of the best tables in the club.

Then we had to order drinks. Obviously we all wanted to order individually, most of us wanting a beer. They only wanted to sell us overpriced champagne or a crate of dozens of beers, however. This led into the most complicated attempt to order alcohol ever – they didn’t seem to understand why we didn’t want to buy overpriced alcohol we weren’t going to finish. Eventually they realised we weren’t going to spend stupid amounts of money and moved us to sit at the bar.

The club was typically chinese. Everyone was seated at a table where table service was provided. There was a dance floor that was full of clubber dancing to cheesy pop-dance tunes like “The Happy Birthday Song” and “Merry Christmas”. Behind the dance floor was a stage where professional dancers would come on and perform.

New Town Club
Professional dancers at a New Town Club

We were at the bar struggling to get the attention of the bartenders. We had no trouble getting the attention of people in the club however – foreigners aren’t very common in Tibetan clubs. We had now been in the club for over an hour and still hadn’t managed to get a drink.

We eventually did get their attention and the drinks started to flow. We got drunk, danced with the locals and finally stumbled into taxis and handed them our hotel’s business cards. There’s a reason I generally don’t like Chinese night clubs.

Shanghai International Beer Festival

In its third year running, Shanghai has been running a beer festival on Wharf 86. With a great view of the Bund you can listen to live music and drink the best beer China has to offer. You will be surprised not only at the import beer, but the home brew beer that can be found here. Most of the beer tends to come from local Shanghai pubs, however there are some Beijing pubs with stands here as well.

The lights point you towards the entrance.

One of my favourites this time was the Pochos stand – they had a good atmosphere going and were serving beer mixed with tequila and lime (or tequila and spice if you’re really brave).

A view of the infamous Bund from the beer festival.

After having drank enough beer you can dance the night away and hopefully remain sober enough to stumble into a taxi on the way home.

A small tip: the nicer beer tends to be the locally brewed beer. I decided to get some London Pride for nostalgia purposes and it tasted awful.

The Shanghai International Beer Festival runs once a year during beer week in Shanghai.

Dive Bar Graffiti Artist

There’s a dive bar near my place of work in Shanghai known as C’s (not sure what the C stands for…).  In my first month in Shanghai I went there with my girlfriend where she taught me the infamous DICE GAME that rattles across many pubs in China.  It was your typical dive bar:  low maintenance, cheap alcohol, and plenty of graffiti scrawled across the wall in marker pen (mostly black).

Recently the bar has decided to redecorate, and has adopted a brilliant idea for doing this with minimal effort: once a month they buy a bunch of paint and provide paintbrushes and people turn up and paint the walls.  The bar gets redecorated, people get to express themselves, and there’s plenty of cheap alcohol.  Everybody wins.


We decided to go ourselves and contribute our creativity to the walls of this dive.  Unfortunately I had a kind of stage fright, but my girlfriend was quick to gather some paint and pick up a brush.  So I wandered around drinking cheap beer and observing what others were painting, whilst my girlfriend created this masterpiece:


That’s her pet fish on the right.  It has legs.

C’Scape runs the second Tuesday of every month at C’s. See you there.

Amsterdam: Beer and Horse Piss

An obvious aspect of Amsterdam we wanted to explore was beer.  If you walk through Amsterdam’s city centre for more than a minute you are bound to see a bar with a Heineken sign sticking out of it.  So we decided to visit the Heineken brewery.

The place was obviously not a real brewery.  It was more designed so that tourists could see, feel and taste each stage of the brewing process and their resulting states.

We saw how it started with malt barley mixed with hot water (mashing) in a mash tun.  Mashing generally takes a couple of hours.  The ‘mash’ is then washed to separate the liquid (wort) from the spent grain.

This sweet wort is then placed into a giant kettle, known as a ‘copper’, and boiled for around an hour.  The water evaporates during this stage, and any leftover enzymes from the previous stage are also destroyed.  At this stage hops is added to the mix, and it is this that gives the beer its bitter taste.  The more hops added, the bitterer the beer.

After this the hopped wort is cooled and transferred to a fermenter (essentially a large vessel for the beer to ferment).  Yeast is added and the beer is left to ferment for any number of weeks, depending on the kind of beer desired.

The last stage of the tour is a demonstration on how Heineken is served.  It was explained how the head is important in keeping the beer fresh; the 250ml glasses mean the beer doesn’t get warm before you finish it (unlike pints or, if you’re in Bavaria, litres); and how slicing the head of the top of the glass with a plastic spatula soaked in water helps to seal the beer.  We were all given a glass each and sent on our way after we finished.

One thing I noticed about this area was that there were two taps with a bar surrounding them.  The first bar was where the demonstration was performed, but the other tap was dripping beer, and was surrounded by flies.  This seemed weird, but I didn’t think to ask about it.  I just thought the place wasn’t being run properly.  But then I noticed it in all the bars.  Every single bar would have one tap, beer dripping from it, surrounded by flies.

I finally found out why:  beer flies are a real problem in certain parts of Europe, so every bar has one tap that is purposefully left with beer dripping from it.  This way, the flies are attracted to this one tap and happily buzz around it doing what flies do.  The rest of the taps (and everyone’s beers) are left alone, and remain uncontaminated.

Another place we heard about was Brouwerij ‘t IJ (IJ Brewery).  It was a brewery and pub attached to a windmill.  It’s own beers are more expensive, but a lot stronger, and a lot tastier than the beers brewed by larger companies.  We didn’t get to do the tour, but it is definitely one of the better places to drink beer in Amsterdam.

Being in the games industry I work with a lot of Europeans.  I have since learned from my Dutch friends that Heineken in the Netherlands is like Fosters in Australia.  No one drinks it.  In fact, they call it ‘horse piss’.

You’re better off buying Grolsch.