Beijing’s first craft brewers talk entrepreneurship within China

Global Business

It’s no accident that the first craft brewer in Beijing is called, Great Leap. Not to invoke a painful period in China’s past-but to capture the spirit of leaving safe careers to start something new.

“[It] means take a great leap when you’re young and fat. Or take a risk that you can absorb,” explained Entrepreneur and Great Leap  co-founder Carl Setzer. Their leap began in 2010 when Carl and his wife, Liu Fang, left the board room, for the brew room. Carl is from Cleveland, Ohio and worked in IT. Fang was a government consultant.

CGTN’s Jessica Stone interviews the entrepreneurs behind the craft brewery.

In the years since, their craft brewery expanded from this 110 year-old courtyard in Beijing to three locations in China’s capital. Great Leap employs 125 people. It specializes in craft beers made with Chinese ingredients like Sichuan peppercorns and Shandong honey. It’s been a hit with Beijing’s young, middle class.

“By contrast, Great Leap uses local hops and highlights a range of Chinese ingredients, from Sichuan peppercorns and Yunnan coffee beans to organic honey from Shandong province and a variety of teas. You don’t have to import quality,” Setzer said.

Great Leap Brewing hasn’t had to buy a single advertisement. Their marketing strategy Word of mouth – a popularity that’s spread one glass at a time. But it was a battle. It took three years to source a local supply of malted barley and four years to locate a Chinese supply of hops. When he started, health regulations for craft brewing, didn’t exist.

“The original license that we had – which was totally compliant for the location was the same license you would give a Starbucks. Hot and cold beverage production. No other way to define what we were doing.”

So, they worked with government officials to craft rules, as well as beer. Beijing now has a license for craft brewers.  Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to “inspire and protect entrepreneurship.”

It’s an important message, China expert, Cheng Li said. “We will inspire and protect entrepreneurship, and encourage more entities to make innovations and start businesses. They are crucial and it’s very important for next Chinese step of economic development.”

The brewmaster behind beers like Iron Buddha and Little General isn’t worried about competition. The market, he said, is big enough for everyone. “Beijing is a city that represents 22 million people and all of them want something better, Setzer said. 

Carl and Fang said whether it’s through local partnerships or government incentives – supporting “something better” for consumers isn’t just a great leap for brewing, but for China itself.