Now it’s time for something positive, dare I say, historic. We don’t brag about ourselves enough at Great Leap Brewing. We don’t brag because we don’t want others to feel the way we did when we had nothing and others shoved it in our face. Many people that follow us don’t know that we win about a dozen beer competition medals of various colors and values every year. They don’t know the people on our team or how unique and important their involvement is. They don’t know the achievements we’ve made. Until now, they didn’t know the size and scope of the brewery we just built in Tianjin. They don’t know Liu Fang and I as people, and the vacuum that we as a company leave with our silence is usually ﬁlled with the inane blather of people with nothing more to do than be sad that we don’t notice or care about their opinion, (stop being sad Kyle). I remember in 2011 when our Great Wall brewery was investigated by the local authorities. We released a simple press statement that was the truth, thinking that that was enough, and then had to grit our teeth and listen to people speculate as to what REALLY happened. Even when we are excited, we’ve dealt with the realities of doing business in Beijing. This happened when we raised enough money to open our second location near Worker’s Stadium. We got excited and told some “friends” that we were about to sign a lease and renovate a location, and like a naive child I told this person the address. The next day they sent their brother-in-law to oﬀer the property owner more money than we had agreed on. Through our many experiences, we decided to let the beer speak for itself and err on the side of silence for the most part. Saying things can lead to more problems than you need.
Being silent is always… painful. When you’ve achieved something as monumental as we have in these past nine (long) years, the process of how we got here becomes harder and harder to keep just between ourselves and our team. I want to brag on my team, beat my chest, and scream at the top of my lungs that as a brand we have made history. Nevertheless, we couldn’t. Not until June 20th, anyway. It’ll make a good book one day, but our pride in our people and in their achievement needs to be shared here for at least a couple of paragraphs.
Firstly, in 2015 Great Leap Brewing was issued an approval to build a craft brewery. Not some fake-it-til-you-make-it “pilot brewery” or “draft brewery”, and certainly not a commercial brewery that is under-capacity. We were authorized – signed and chopped– to build a craft brewery with permission for canning under the NDRC minimums. This would become a lighthouse project eventually, but at the time, it was a piece of history in my and Liu Fang’s hands that we couldn’t tell anyone about. Couldn’t say a word. Someone would’ve come in like a bumbling moron and demanded that they deserved permission to, or that they were more worthy to take our place, or that if they couldn’t have one, neither should we. Etc. Etc. Etc. Therefore, we waited.
Then, in 2016, after two years of recruiting eﬀorts, Wiebke Marie Hense agreed to leave her position as manager of global brand governance at Diageo Guinness in Dublin, Ireland to move to Beijing and work on this project with us. This had never been done. No one, and I mean NO ONE, leaves Guinness for a craft brewery. You retire from Guinness. You might leave for Heineken. Most leave Guinness to open a craft distillery in the hills of some postcard paradise; you DO NOT leave Guinness to work for a husband and wife in Beijing to attempt to build the world’s most advanced and green craft brewery. It just doesn’t happen. Wiebke had to believe me when I said that we were going to change the world through beer. You can’t bullshit Wiebke Hense. I mean you can try, but you won’t last ten minutes. The level of respect that Wiebke demands in the male-dominated European beer industry is inspiring. However, the level of irritation felt by that same male dominated industry over the fact that she came to work for me – a “kid” that makes “that craft beer” in… China (???)– boiled over at the ﬁrst trade show we attended together in Munich two years ago. Like ﬁstﬁght level anger. I almost got in two ﬁghts because people I didn’t really know confronted me asking, “Who do you think you are?” They had apparently oﬀered her a job, and she turned them down. Well, bummer. She hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back. Someday she might even update her linked in proﬁle. Someday.
Also in 2016, one of the most talented auditors and quality assurance people I’ve ever met asked us for a job. Lora Tian was the Head of Quality Control and Technical Support for COFCO Malting in Dalian. Again, a job that no one leaves to work in craft beer. Talk to her for ﬁve minutes and pretend you still know anything about Chinese beer regulations. I dare you. Leaving a stable position at one of the largest companies in the world to take this journey with us is a testament to Lora’s strength as a person. The craft beer world in China already owe Lora Tian their respect. She sits with me on the China Alcoholic Drinks Association Technical and Scientiﬁc Committee and has helped draft and give input on new regulations for craft brewery governance and wastewater regulations. Sound boring? Not only is it not boring, it’s the bedrock of the entire future of craft beer in China. While lesser brewers bitch about unfair regulations on Weibo, Lora and I have eﬀected change that will beneﬁt everyone. I’ll make everyone in this industry thank her one at a time if I have to. She didn’t need to come here. Her old leader has tried to get her to go back consistently, including directly in front of me, for years. If we lose her tomorrow, my life will have been better because she was here. However, she won’t because we’re awesome and so is she.
One of my favorite stories is that of Tina Huang. Tina has worked for us twice spread across the last ﬁve years. Once for three months, and again for the last three years. When she left the ﬁrst time, I told her she would work for us again. She laughed and said ok. After two years of working on Ogilvy’s social media strategy team, she came back to run our marketing and sales department. Tina represents something that happens often at Great Leap. People leave, it’s inevitable, but the good ones come back. When Tina signed her second contract with us, I knew that our plan to make history was that much closer. You don’t achieve anything on your own. Even Tom Hanks had Wilson. Without someone to push us, we are nothing. People in our industry that spend time taking selﬁes and self-promoting almost always make shit beer. We don’t do either. It may seem odd that I’m basically advertising people to be headhunted out of Great Leap. But to that I’ve always felt the following: Good fucking luck.
(Wiebke Hense and Tina Huang)
In 2017, we put a down payment with Krones Engineering on what would become our brewing equipment for Tianjin. Ten years ago, Krones wouldn’t give a project like ours a lot of time. Anyone that has ever been to a large German equipment trade show can understand that Germans are great at developing new technologies, but not great at developing new markets. Craft beer was a bad word to German engineering ﬁrms for decades. Ineﬃcient. Unprofessional. Small. Krones was an early adapter to our market, but it still took a bit of urging. I put them through hell. One of the reasons Wiebke Hense came to work for us is her belief that I know what I’m doing and that she isn’t on her own when it comes to developing our process engineering (This is a common sin in the craft beer community. People think that you need to have money and someone that understands the technology in order to succeed. That’s counterintuitive. YOU need to understand the technology, and you’ll eventually ﬁnd both the capital and the team to help you move forward). I had already started to draw a process and implementation diagram (P&ID)* with Krones for a couple years before we signed with them. In 2015, we started what is called an engineering pre-feasibility study with Krones. I was sure they were going to think that I was crazy. A mash ﬁlter and a hammer mill? NO LAUTER TUN?!?! A custom designed dry hopping tank? Canning line? A PET blow molder on-site? No kieselguhr ﬁlter!?!? Every other engineering ﬁrm I talked to laughed at me. “This is not how a brewery is built! Where is the lauter tun? No one in China will buy cans! PET kegs? You won’t understand the technology. You are a craft brewer.” Well, in the immortal words of Max Fisher, “Fuck it. I’m building it anyway.”
When I showed this design to Wiebke the ﬁrst time her eyes lit up, “How elegant, Cahl!” (She doesn’t pronounce R’s because they are ineﬃcient). Now, I’d be a narcissist if I claimed I designed that brewery. As I said before, no one does anything on her or his own. Stephan Reischmann and I spent A LOT of time together in conference rooms over those ﬁrst two years. He laughed at me sometimes, but sometimes even he – in his Bavarian pomp – clicked his heels together and yelled, “This we have not done before, but for you? We do!” Felix Burberg also meant the world to this project. When Wiebke came on board, she had some trepidations about working with a big German ﬁrm, but after she met Felix and his team, she went all in. Dude’s a hero. Wiebke, with her meticulous-genius nature, took over and perfected every aspect of my initial layout. I’ve toured about 500 breweries in my life, including the new, impeccable Russian River facility in Sonoma County. Vinnie gave us a tour a few weeks ago that brought Liu Fang and I to tears for a lot of reasons. In our opinion, what we’ve built is on that level.
From working with the local design institute (LDI), the local construction compliance auditors, the development zone, the third-party vendors, the engineering ﬁrms, the general contractor, the ﬁre department, the EPA, and the FDA, there was not one easy day for the last 406 days. That’s how long it took from me taking my turn out of our team swinging the sledge hammer to break the ﬂoor to the ﬁnal day of scrutiny and approval. As you can see from the numbers below, we moved a mountain.
Wiebke, Lora and the team took 18,700 square meters of new, pre-built warehouse structures and beat them into submission. In terms of numbers: 8,700 square meters of concrete ﬂoor was broken to open the ﬂoor. 9,000 cubic meters of soil was moved to excavate the foundation for spot and tarmac reinforcements. 4,800 cubic meters of concrete was cast and poured. 54 channel drains and 30 spot drains, 5,000 square meters of Argelith tiles, 26 kilometers of stainless-steel piping, over one thousand valves, and 470 tons of mild steel structures were all expertly put into place, not to mention the 765 tons of stainless-steel vessels. A 120HL brewhouse capable of 14 batches per day, and 80,000HL per annum of fermentation capacity was installed, with phase 2 and 3 infrastructure already in place for expansion areas up to 500,000HL per annum capacity. Even more, a canning line capable of producing 15,000 cans per hour along with a blow molder (in joint venture with Petainer Global) capable of blowing 200 kegs per hour.
On June 20, our team led the ﬁnal inspection of our facility and were awarded approval to start production. You can look us up if you’d like: SC11512011111626.
We’ve always enjoyed an odd position in China craft – everyone else in our industry see us either as an enemy or as a leader. I’m used to it. This will only further clarify that divide. My team is also used to it. We’re just a bigger target now. However, with all that being said, I gauge our success by a conversation that Yinhai from NBeer and I had in Nashville last year, far from earshot of his fans and followers and a rare moment of egalitarian respect. We ran into each other at a brewpub where I was meeting the timeless Josh Oakes and Sunshine Kessler, two of the most well-traveled and well-respected craft beer fans in the entire world. They ﬁrst came to Beijing eight years ago and immediately asked their hotel where they could get a craft beer. We were the only choice, so it was an easy recommendation. Once they found our #6 location, they warmed the stools for 7 days in a row. When I met them in Nashville, I hadn’t seen them since, but recognized them immediately based on the OG Great Leap merchandise they were both wearing. We had a couple beers, and then Josh asked me if I knew the brand being represented on the T-shirts sitting directly behind us. I turned around and, lo and behold, there were my old friends Yinhai and Xiao Bianr. I’ve never had a problem with Yinhai. He’s weird. I’m weird. We don’t need to be friends. Yinhai is ﬁne. After initial pleasantries, Yinhai moved to sit next to me on the bench across from Josh and Sunshine. He immediately asked about Tianjin. I told him we had broken ground but it was a long road ahead. He asked some technical questions and then got to the point. He asked about our permission and our license ﬁling. “Is there the minimum?” he asked, referring to the national production minimum of 1,000,000HL a year. I told him no and that we were approved as a pathway to regulating a new future craft beer standard. Yinhai smiled, the closest thing I had ever seen to genuine joy as a reaction to anything I’ve ever said to him since we met. He said thanks, adding now they can raise money and follow our example. That might be the closest thing we’ll ever get to gratitude from our peers, I’m ok with that.
(Yinhai and Carl)