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First Sip: Daga Brewpub 2.0, The Portal To Chinese Craft Beer Of Varied Quality

By Nov 20, 2015 Nightlife


What happens to bars when they die? Do they dry up like a raisin in the sun? Do they turn to ash and then blow away in the wind? Does the ground open up and swallow them whole? Sometime in 2014, a big, unimaginative beer bar called Kiengir opened on Fuxing Lu, near Yongfu Lu, then silently vanished sometime in 2015. Suddenly, neighborhood bar Daga Brewpub, a Tai'an Lu staple, sprouted from that deathbed, sporting an imposing wall of taps pouring Chinese draft beer from cities like Nanjing, Chengdu, and Beijing. They let you sample the brews before you invest in a full pint, which is good, because many are works in progress.

Shanghai has a decent amount of decent home-grown craft beer, but foreigners handle the brewing at most of the well-known spots, like Boxing Cat (just next door to this), Liquid Laundry, The Brew, and Drei Kronen 1308. And that's fine, but much like DJs want to hear what the local kids are making, beer heads wanna sip Chinese beer by Chinese people. For that, Daga has about 15-20 draft lagers, IPAs, and even some barley wine by breweries like Master Gao in Nanjing (Update: I went to a skateboard competition in Nanjing over the weekend, and Master Gao was there giving out free bottles of their Baby IPA, which is real nice. So, big up Master Gao), and the NB Brewery in Beijing, a more locally-oriented brewery that gets overshadowed by Jing-A and Great Leap (fair enough -- the latter make better beer). NB's a fixture at the beer festivals in Beijing and around China, though, and have expanded to a number of different venues in China's capital. They're making some waves. Their label is worth searching out, if only to get a completionist perspective on Beijing's craft beer scene.

From our experience, some beers, like a summer IPA, were worth ordering twice. A beer from Sichuan infused with jasmine was interesting but still triggered memories of KTV nights. Others tasted like that time your friend in college tried to make beer. This place is like Soundcloud; you gotta sift through some bullshit, but you'll find something fresh. They do a full menu too, and that seems to work the same way. Pesto pizza with tomatoes sounds nice on paper, but, alas, bland, and not crispy enough. They would do better with a beer wheat crust, which is what you really want at a beer bar.

Last Sunday night, a few other people heading to the Dam Funk around the corner at Shelter stopped in for a warm-up pint. A nice breeze came in from the giant windows that open to the sidewalk, and a projector beamed some tennis on one whole wall (really unnecessary, TVs in the bar). A few dined in the more formal upstairs area. The playlists, like the beers, drifted in quality from new-age instrumental jams to Soundgarden. The most outgoing of the low-key staff, a lady from Sichuan, took a swig of something unpleasant, grimaced, and said, "I started drinking beer with Brooklyn Lager, and I'm still getting used to these Chinese craft beers". Me too. Other employees were nice, but weren't dropping knowledge in the way you would find at say, Jackie's Beer Nest. So, a comfortable place to come with a few friends and dig into the menu (when in doubt, always sample first), but maybe not the best to come on the solo tip looking for beer wisdom and chat. Still, the second, third, and fourth tiers flow from these taps, and that's reason enough to go.



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