Tell us a little about the Beijing alcohol tradition.
When I first arrived in Beijing in 2007 it was still very much beer and baijiu for elaborate meals or on the street with ‘chuanr’, and big name cognac or whiskies for big nights out in KTV and clubs. Wines were for gift-giving or with fancy meals in 5-star hotels. Cocktails were seen as pussy drinks and mainly consisted of flavoured syrup-driven Appletinies and blue drinks.
What are your favourite bars in Beijing?
My favourites would include: Bar Iori – a hidden gem inside a janitor’s closet of a love hotel; Infusion for raising the bar without the pretention; Buono Bocca – a lovely hip wine and aperitif bar; and Mokihi for its homely atmosphere and solid classics.
How does Beijing differ to other parts of China?
Being the cultural and political capital of China, Beijing is still powering forward with the economy and all the changes it brings but holds fast to its rich heritage and traditions. Beijingers are known to be proud, rough around the edges yet straightforward and real.
Who and what are the pioneer bars and bartenders in Beijing?
Back in 2006 Q Bar was THE cocktail bar in town – Mojitos and Lychee Martinis galore.
Then there was Apothecary in 2012 for bringing craft cocktails into the scene and Glen in 2011 for introducing the art of Japanese bartending.
D Lounge is the coolest lounge in town; Mokihi is an understated Japanese neighbourhood style bar; Maomaochong – one of the pioneers of Beijing ‘hutong’ bars; Infusion Room’s Paul Hsu and Kevin Song offer creative, modern mixology with a local twist; Janes + Hooch has no-fuss seasonal drinks with a focus on high volume and service.
Where does Beijing look to for inspiration?
The level of bartending in terms of techniques and methods is catching up to international levels. In addition, bartenders are understanding the importance of connecting to the local audience. Ingredients and textures are definitely moving towards local palates and references, eg TCM, Chinese nostalgia, teas, local produce. It’s the fine balance of western cocktail culture with a Chinese twist.
Where do you think Beijing ranks in terms of bar scenes in China?
Shanghai is definitely leading the way for cocktail culture in China and Beijing and many emerging cities, such as Chengdu and Guangdong are quickly following suit. Beijing does not have as many bars as Shanghai but the level is definitely on a par. The market is definitely growing so we are very curious to see how Beijing moves forward.
What are the challenges for bartenders looking forward?
As it is a very young industry mentors and industry leaders are very few and may cause a lack of career education and loss of direction for young bartenders to move forward purposefully in their career. A large number of bartenders have a much too narrow view of the industry and think it’s all about looking pretty and winning cocktail competitions which is far from reality.
In addition, travel laws make it very difficult to explore other countries to learn.