Time is a hammer, my friends.
Let me explain.
So, there's a new Beer Lady supermarket and bar, diagonal from Yuyintang, across the highway on Yan'an Lu. They never close. They never ever close. Not ever. It's Shanghai's only (I think) 24-hour bar.
Wouldn't it be funny to see if you could spend a whole 24 hours in The Beer Lady?
NO. As it turns out! EMPHATICALLY NO. Not very funny in the least!
But we did it anyways.
Presenting! The Great (Horrific) 24 Hour Beer Lady Challenge! Our journey starts on any old Tuesday at 7am...
Take my hand, Shanghai! And don't you dare let go!
The chairs are upturned, the lights are on, and Pitbull is blaring mercilessly from the speakers. It's just me, my trusty photographer / footman Andrew Rochfort, two wait staff, and one ayi. Instantly, I'm taken aback, gripped by heavy Fellowship of the Rings vibes with this rag-tag, haphazardly assembled party about to embark on this gravely important adventure. I wonder to myself who among our number might be the Boromir, the traitor, beguiled and seduced by the one ring of power?
That's what I'm thinking about right here actually in my jammy jams...
LET'S DO THIS.
Beer 1: Waterloo: Triple Blond: Beer of the Brave - 8%
“Craft beer brewed since 1446, recognized in 1815 for giving strength and courage during the battle of Waterloo. It’s triple-fermentation old-style brewing give this triple blond beer a powerful, spicy taste.”
Tasting Notes: I've... made a huge error. I don't even really like beer. Beer: it's kinda gross. The hell am I doing. The hell is this stuff? Waterloo? Beer of the brave? Brewed in 1446, my god. Why is that a good thing? Have you seen the art from that period? They couldn't even paint in the third dimension back then. Why would that be a selling point. Everyone had dysentery, plague, and consumption. That shit was RAMPANT. This tasted like Friar Tuck's spicy balls. This tasted like Friar Tuck's can't paint in three dimensions spicy, dysentery, plague, consumption balls.
And it instilled in me the opposite of bravery in regards to what might come.
Still just the original Fellowship. First pang of boredom. First Pitbull repeat on the stereo. For the last hour and a half, I've been watching the two wait staff and ayi methodically pick up, shift, and wipe down every single bottle on the massive beer shelves facing the windows and fridges. You can see them working on just that in the picture below.
I now know why The Beer Lady is open 24 hours. If they're dusting, checking the dates, and shifting all these bottles every day, they might as well be open in case anyone wants to pick up a few beers for the evening. Huh!
Beer 2: Radler Lemon - 2.8%
“A refreshing Belgian thirst quencher from Limburg.”
Tasting Notes: Immediately making the switch here from beer that tastes like beer to beer that doesn't taste like beer. Still gross. Tasted like that lime concentrate they dump in vodka sodas sometimes to give them some taste. Already starting to get bummed out on Belgium.
TOILET SITUATION UPDATE: Throughout the course of the article I shall be checking in with the toilets at Beer Lady to remark on their state vis-a-vis hygiene, cleanliness, and overall functionality. Thus, Toilet Update Number 1: Clean, functioning, not horrible. But as I pause and strain to listen I hear a disconcerting sound underlining the din from the bar outside: The gentle, foreboding whistling hum of a nuclear missile speeding along gravity's rainbow to decimate these toilets in oh say 4 hours.
Beer 3: Dark Horse Scary Jesus Rock Star - 6.5%
"Apricot Chamomile Pale Ale: A collaboration with chef Cleetus Friedman."
Tasting Notes: "Dark Horse Scary Jesus Rock Star" -- I put it to you, Shanghai. Jam band or craft beer brand? Why is it all craft beer has jam band-sounding names? Dark Horse Scary Jesus Rock Star, I don't know whether to drink you or back slowly out of the bar, away from your terrible "No Woman, No Cry" cover.
This tasted like- PLAY CREDENCE.
First customer of the day comes in. He's NOT here for the Pitbull. It's the beer. He's here for the beer. He's buying a beer. Looks like a German diplomat. I try to construct a backstory for him in my mind. Sex tourist trapped in a Trains, Planes, and Automobiles sort of situation, just trying to get back to Dusseldorf.
Beer 4: Session Lager - 5.1%
“Brewed and bottled by Full Sail Brewing co. Hood River, Oregon, USA."
Tasting Notes: This was a suitable lager. My notes read "drawing a blank on this one." I'm... drawing a blank on this one.
Ah! Adele! I love Adele! Nice. Goddamn Adele is good, I think.
Beer 5: Reberg Heey Fruit Beer - 3.7%
"The more I stay in this place the more Australian I'm beginning to feel and I don't like it."
Tasting Notes: This one was another fruity Belgian beer thing which is... hey, evidently brewed in Shanghai. Huh! Interesting! Feels pretty Shanghai, now that I think about it. It's got a cutesy bottle with a stylish and chic rabbit mascot. Tasted a bit artificial too. Shanghai: we INVENTED artificiality. (Stole it from Hong Kong.) At this point me and the photographer are bored as fuck and thought it would make for an interesting picture to pretend the bottles were light-sabres. So that's what's going on here. Success.
Starting to forget what life is like beyond those doors. How can I describe what I'm feeling right now. It's like, imagine if you yourself just sat in The Beer Lady for six hours, not really doing anything, just sort of staring at the beer fridges thinking about nothing really. It's exactly like that. If you can picture it. Hang on, let me do a bit of soul searching. Let me look inside myself:
I kinda want a really expensive smoothie right now.
People are starting to fill in. University kids from the school up the road, coming in for lunch beers and staying on into the afternoon cutting their classes (god bless 'em). It's nice to see another side to the kids, apart from Perry's. This is what the kids do when they're not in Perry's. They hang at The Beer Lady. It's nice to see and experience the diverse spectrum on their lives. Gives one hope for the future.
Beer 6: Lost Coast Sharkinator White IPA - 4.8%
"Our Great White taken to the next level by dry hopping it with Cascade, Crystal, Chinook, and Citra hops. Drink it all, we'll make more."
Tasting Notes: I've been thinking about this a lot lately: At what point is "maturity" supposed to set in? Isn't that like an essential stage of life that everyone experiences at some point? When is that supposed to happen again? Is it soon?
Hey. Don't mind me I'm just over here drinking this beer that's got a fuckin' cyborg shark on it called "Sharkinator", haaaaaayyyy.
We have our first Beer Lady sighting! She's here! The game is afoot! The lioness is most vicious when she's cornered!
Beer Lady, This is YOUR LIFE: A Conversation with The Beer Lady and the One Who Named Her Thus
A quick origin story: The Beer Lady started out on Fahuazhen Lu, right across from the police station where she specialized in two things: photocopying passports for foreigners to take across the street and selling them bottled craft beer after their paperwork went through across said street. This was a few years ago before there was a big bottle shop boom in Shanghai and it was a lot harder to get non-mainstream beers. Her noble deeds did not go unnoticed thanks to one intrepid journalist ("journalist"), Chris St. Cavish, pictured above, writing for this very website. As she had no English-language name at the time he dubbed her "The Beer Lady" in this post. (See also: The Avocado Lady, incidentally). The Beer Lady has since embraced the moniker, created a brand identity out of it, and is really running with it. To say the least. In person, The Beer Lady is a sunny, warm, perpetually smiling Shanghainese lady with a big heart and a big passion for beer -- both selling it and drinking massive quantities of it. What follows in this section is the highlights of a conversation between The Beer Lady and the one who named her thus. Chris spoke to her in Mandarin and then he paraphrased for me in English.
CSTC: "She said she’s going to pick out some good beers for you. Watch out. Hmm. What did she say. She said thanks to us, she’s become this. At this store she says she’s got 3000 varieties of beer, and the old location she’s got 1700. But over there she closes at 2am out of respect for the neighbors. But the foreigners they used to say to her over there “Beer Lady we want to keep going”. So she opened this one, which is 24 hours. She says she’s working harder and harder to become the Beer Lady, and that the article inspired her.
She says that she sources the beers from different importers. Individual reps and importers all approach her now and she gives them a place. If they sell, they sell, if they don’t, then she finds someone else. She was also saying that she’s just following demand and trying to stock what people like. If people tell her they like a certain kind of beer, she’ll get that beer for them. And that’s how she’s built up this huge thing. Also, one of her points was that she didn’t create this whole thing and hope that beer culture was going to happen. She followed later. Less the leader of it and more following the new trend.
What else. Oh yeah, one of her goals is having beer from lots of different countries so when people come in they can see their beer and feel closer to home.
[Ed's Note: Awwww.]
Yeah. So. How many more hours do you have?"
Too many, my friend. Too, too many. Time is a hammer. Time is a hammer. After Chris' conversation with The Beer Lady, he bolted into the late afternoon haze and left The Beer Lady herself to tear into us with well-meaning savagery. With a huge, beaming smile she plopped down six bottles of her (second) most expensive beer on the table. She reemerged with six bottles of her favorite beers and set them down as well. She came back a third time with a bag of each and every chip brand she stocks in the place. Never breaking the smile, she was with us for the rest of the evening, easily cracking open two beers to our every one.
She's a smiling demon, Shanghai, I'm telling you.
Beer 7: Orval - 6.2%
"The distinctive fruity and bitter taste of Orval beer means it has become a genuine reference in the exclusive world of authentic Trappist beers."
Tasting Notes: This is The Beer Lady's favorite beer. Belgian of course, brewed by friggin' Belgian eunuchs. "The Trappist Cistercian monks of Orval". That's no joke. That's who makes this. Sounds like some Umberto Echo secret society Knights Templar, conspiracies spanning generations, surging like spider webs into the shadowy backrooms of power kind of shit.
...yeah, really good beer. Tasted like champagne. The Beer Lady herself really likes the texture. She says its very cooling.
Beer 8: Westvleteren 12 - 10.2%
"Best beer in the world."
Tasting Notes: This is the best reviewed beer in the world, out of a brewery founded in 1838 at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium. Primarily brewed by monks, in order to get your hands on this stuff you have to make an appointment two months in advance to purchase a single box, and then you've got to go to the abbey yourself to pick it up from the big wooden doors of the brewery. The monks only make enough Westvleteren 12 to keep the monastery going -- Jesus frowns on profit as it turns out -- and it is thus super rare and expensive. The Beer Lady has it for around 400rmb a bottle.
Me and the photographer went to enjoy one at the overpass next to The Beer Lady to contemplate the cosmic ballet of human existence in a setting that conveyed metaphors of time, distance, change, and permanence.
Then we went to check out how the shitters were doing.
TOILET SITUATION UPDATE: Could be worse. We're starting to feel the effects of the realities of human existence and the essential daily journey of life, but it could be worse. Not wholly unhygienic.
Someone, however, has left something in one of the bowls that looks like two scorpions getting divorced.
Beer 9: More of that Wester-blah-blah-blah Shit HAAYYYY
"There but for the grace of the Beer Lady go I."
Tasting Notes: Beer Lady with the mad hook-ups, she's like, rarest and most expensive beer ever? HAVE MORE OF IT. Know what's the best chaser for a 400rmb Westvleteren 12? A 400rmb Westvleteren 12!
Fuck OFF ADELE.
Full of warmth and good cheer is The Beer Lady. A pretty diverse crowd of students, random expats, locals and foreigners of all ages all together, getting into one single line to pay for baskets full of strange and arcane beers pulled from the fridges. It's a scene, for sure. At the center of it all is The Beer Lady herself, seated at a banquet table with six or seven middle aged Chinese gentlemen who look like they spend a good amount of time figuring out ways to screw people out of their rent deposits.
What's not to like?
As she says, she's got 3000 different kinds of beers, with the majority of them in the 25-55rmb range. Even if you're broke, you can slam Asahis for 10rmb. It's egalitarian.
Beer 10, 11, 12: Some of that Premixed Jack and Coke Don't Judge Me
"I just needed something that wasn't beer, man. I need to put Belgium in my review mirror, man."
Tasting Notes: I like this stuff. God I need this sugar. I NEED it.
KILL YOU ADELE @PINIPR WIPFB BPIQ
Berrr 13: Scrimshaw Pilsner - 4.4%
"Named for the delicate engravings of 19th century seafarers, this is a fresh-tasting Pilsner-style beer brewed in the finest European tradition, with a subtle hop character, a lean crisp palate, and a dry finish."
Tasting Notes: OH YA THIS GUY. This guy. This guy. Haha. Man, had a few Scrimshaws with this guy and he wouldn't shut up, for real. Talk about hammered. Was going on and on about some app start-up company or something. Know your limits dude!
TOILET SITUATION UPDATE: I lucked out huge. The toilets have just recently undergone their hourly cleaning. The sheer economics of the Beer Lady -- a capacity for a few hundred people and just three toilet stalls to accommodate them -- has pretty much made it essential that one of the staff is on toilet cleaning duty 24/7. The lingering reverberations from the crimes of yore are still palpable though. Some things you just can't clean. Some things can never be washed away.
Feel like if I popped the chassis on one of the toilets I'd find key evidence in a 100-year-old unsolved murder mystery.
BEERRF 14: The Cheapest and Most Expensive Beers at Beer Lady
"We'll come back for that Snake's Venom. Seems like it's a whole separate article. But definitively the people have to know. They have a right to know."
Tasting Notes: The beer on your left is the ubiquitous Asahi tall-brah, the cheapest beer available at the Beer Lady, yours for just 10rmb. The beer on the right is 1480rmb a bottle. One four eight zero. Snake's Venom is evidently the "World's Strongest Beer" and the Beer Lady has a whole wall of it in the VIP lounge. The ABV on that is 67.5%. Sixty seven point five. Its made with smoked peat malt and both beer yeast and Champagne yeast. Apparently, you're supposed to split one bottle between five or six people. Drink too much of it and something important snaps in your brain and rides a river of blood out your nose.
Feels like its own separate article. Will have to come back for it.
The Asahi was bold and refreshing and tasted like an extremely valued SmartShanghai.com advertising partner. Thanks, Asahi! I recommend Asahi to all our readers! I stake my reputation on its deliciousness!
In the interests of providing more comprehensive coverage of this important challenge for the SmartShanghai readership, I GoPro'ed the next few minutes or so of my time at The Beer Lady. It's embedded here (VPN on):
BAAAA 37: Taiwan Beer - 4.5%
"It's a beer from Taiwan, hey!"
Tasting Notes: It was a beer from Taiwan.
...And right here is where I hit the wall. BIG TIME. Felling like my naked brain is sun burnt. Feeling like my soul has been stapled to the floor of a VD clinic. (ADELE WHAT NO MORE ADELE.) Losing coherence.
Some random guy was talking to me about working for Al Jazeera and I'm like: "Ohhh, ya ghai? You don't sayyy. I LOVE Weird Al Yankovic."
Thought that was the funniest thing ever.
(It's not so funny.)
TOILET SITUATION UPDATE: We're down to one working bathroom, with a pool of suspect-as-fuck liquid, stagnant and tepid encompassing the entire bathroom floor. And the one working bathroom -- you don't want to go in there.
Seriously guy, did that come out your ass or explode out of your chest like Aliens 1.
And the waste paper basket was full and over-brimming with used tissue that climbed upwards like an egregious Christmas tree. On the top, like the world's worst tree-topper: a used maxi pad.
Suckiest. Christmas. Ever.
I am beyond time and space, hopscotching dimensions, smashing the planets together with my mind, and shattering the night sky with a whisper. My world is blood. My world is fire. My world is beer. The empty cans and drained bottles, they haunt me, they stalk me, they chase me. I am running from the living and the dead -- and from having to keep scanning people WeChats.
BARF 69: Tempt Elderflower Flavored Cider - 4.5%
"Did we do a cider yet? Elderflower Flavored! Sounds... tempting!"
Tasting Notes: NO MORE. I BEG YOU NO MORE.
Adele. Kind of like this song again. In all honesty. Huh. I guess I've just experienced the entire range of human experience and emotions as filtered through the optics of an Adele song.
Life is funny sometimes.
AN"FK 3uo(#R(G: Some Shit That Looked Like a Haunted House Iono
"Feel like the chick from The Ring is going to crawl out of this fucker and make me do a keg stand."
Tasting Notes: The Beer Lady herself gave me this one. I think she was on some Black Metal kind of trip with it. I dunno. I haven't been able to taste anything since around 11:27am.
LAST CALL BEER NUMBER WHATEVER: Don't Remember But It Was the Kind Beer Lady Drinks with Her Breakfast
"I've definitely had better ideas than this. This is definitely not one of my better ideas."
Tasting Notes: Another one from The Beer Lady. The only people that were left at this point were me, this French DJ, and The Beer Lady herself, languidly sipping on a tall boy, doing her day's accounting on a simple calculator, having a lil' breakfast bite.
Done. I'm out.
I made it 23 hours. I couldn't take another minute more. I couldn't take another second more. 23. It's all I could do. I left it all there, in the beer aisles, in the bathrooms, in the seating out back, on those wooden tables. I left it all behind. All in all... eh, I've had better ideas, my friends, I can tell you that!
I learned one thing though:
Time is a hammer.
A huge thank you to my photographer Andrew Rochfort (instagram / CreativeHunt.com) for making it 22 hours with me at The Beer Lady. This, I promise, we shall never do again.