Between sessions of our Beijing Invitational Craft Beer Festival, I decided it was worth doing a panel discussion about the future of international craft beer in the context of Anheuser Busch InBev’s recent acquisitions and their pledge to disrupt global craft beer’s development. An article discussing the panel discussion written by SupChina can be found here. Those on the panel represented some of the more moderate voices to some of the strongest opinions against everything that ABI is doing internationally.
Parallel to wanting education and awareness, or more simply, any conversation at all about the development internationally and domestically, Great Leap has been working to form our own future. So, I found it appropriate to use the end of our panel discussion to announce our own plans to expand Great Leap beyond our retail business model in Beijing. Four years ago, Liu Fang and I decided it was time to try to elevate our brand, and by default, our local craft beer market through the construction and commissioning of a production brewery. When I say “production brewery,” a lot of industry experts and beer watchers understand my meaning, but for the sake of transparency I figured I would use this platform and a corresponding press release to lay out what that actually means.
For the last five years, Chinese craft beer has been available via what is known as contract brewing. Simply put, brand and IP holders pay a licensed brewery or beverage production facility to produce their brands on contract. The brand or IP holder does not own the equipment and it’s incredibly challenging to control product consistency and quality. For a larger exposition on my thoughts please read here. To put it bluntly, I got into the production of craft beer because the process of creation and control was stimulating and rewarding. My opinion on contract brewing is influenced by that reality. It bores me. I’d rather create on my own terms. There are some cheats to this in the form of collaboration brewing where you brew a beer with a peer brewery and then sell that creation as a limited release on the back of their license. However, that has a limited appeal and we waited to do that until we at Great Leap knew it was a possibility to open our own brewery and control our own future.
This led us to a brief moment at our panel discussion when we finally felt it worth announcing our plans to grow. China is a hard place to hold a plan and execute a desired outcome. We learned a long time ago that it wasn’t worth sharing your hopes and dreams before everything was locked down and finalized. It gets old saying, “We’re gonna do this!” Then have whatever “this” is blow up in your face, or worse, have some morally corrupted asshole try and take it out from under you. So it’s best to just keep your mouth shut until the time is appropriate and your legal, regulatory, and engineering solutions are all locked down and double checked. When rumors start getting distracting, then it’s time to put them to bed.
That being said, Great Leap is building a production brewery in the municipality of Tianjin with a production scale that will be able to produce 500,000HL of beer when it reaches maximum capacity. These capacities were calculated based on the reality that no one has an accurate estimate of what China will have a thirst for in the future.
As with prematurely announcing a project that isn’t a certainty in terms of construction and commissioning, it’s also amateurish to set a date on which you will launch your product for sale. As a build up to our own launch, Great Leap has worked with seven of our peer breweries to create what we call our “Allied Series”. These are beers that were brewed with our friends at Pasteur Street (Vietnam), Sunmai (Taipei), Young Master Ales (Hong Kong), Baird Beer (Japan), Moon Dog Craft Brewery (Australia), Lervig Aktiebryggeri (Norway), and Victory Brewing Company (USA) that will be released on the following schedule throughout 2018. The idea is to celebrate our partner breweries and the build up to our own launch. Prime the pump, you could say. For more information on the Allied Series, please go here.
The last four years have been a challenge of patience, ability, and tolerance. When everyone tells you that you are crazy to scale up in an unproven market, it’s easy to start doubting yourself. The value add for our peers is maybe they won’t have to hear the condescension and laughter when they pitch their dreams. I hope that what we’ve endured will light a fire of real investment in the ecosystem of Chinese craft that will push us all to the top of the mountain.
Regardless, we’re ready for the challenge and are excited to add updates and physical structure to what at one time was merely a dream.