Watch out Tsingtao! – There’s a new kid on the block…

Qingdao never ceases to amaze me, as many times as I come here, there’s always something new to find.

A fantastic city for strolling around at any time of the year, admiring the architecture so different from any other Chinese city; it’s relaxed, laid back, no-one is in a rush and it feels like you have the all the time in the world – that is until you have to catch your train home.

And, that’s also the reason you keep coming back, you haven’t had your fill.

Now there’s yet another reason, if like me, you enjoy seeking out one of life’s greater pleasures. For, watch out Tsingtao, there’s a new kid on the block.

John has swapped the Nevada desert for the east coast of China to launch his little beer factory, Strong Ale Works, or SAW.

And it couldn’t be more different from the monolith that is now Tsingtao.

It’s tucked inside a small room, in a slightly decaying residential building, opposite the city’s art gallery on Daxue Lu. And if he wanted to throw the doors open to the public, he’d struggle to have standing room for more than five. Microbrewery? You bet.

Luckily, there’s a little more room to sit outside given fine weather and respect for the neighbours. You’re welcome to just turn up, as I did, and admire his craft whilst enjoying a pint or two.

Even with his mostly home-built equipment, he and his Chinese assistant, Jerry are turning out quality brews already on sale at around ten outlets in Qingdao and other Shandong cities.

They also appeared at Beijing’s Small Craft Beer Festival earlier this year, although only just. John tells me they had to survive a tortuous road journey after China Railways refused to let him roll out the barrel onto their high-speed trains.

I don’t have a liking for the bean, so coffee stout was not for me, but Cascade, with US hops of the same name, at 5.2% was a very fresh, fruity brew I could have missed my train for!

Other brews include Origin, Bitter, Black Ale and Wheat. He’s hoping to make more bottles available for wider distribution soon.

Daxue Lu is also worth exploring. The leafy avenue in the heart of the old town, close to Ocean University, has a growing number of cafes and laid back venues to hang out in.

Just a few hundred metres north, the U and I German café offers bratwurst and potato salad, chili or goulash to soak up the alcohol.

It also offers an imported German Weissbier, which means you can compare how well John’s brews actually match up to a country that’s been in the business a lot longer. You can make your own decision, to compare with mine, because yes, I had to dash.

G196 was all too ready to depart, so I had just time to say, auf Wiedersehen, until the next time.

Travel tips:

Qingdao can be reached from Tianjin South by D high speed trains in about 4.5 hours, 215 RMB; from Beijing South Station by G trains (fastest at 4.5 hours, 315 RMB; D trains take an extra hour and are 60 RMB cheaper.)

You’re never too old to stay at a Youth Hostel, and the Old Observatory, offers the best views over the city.

Jinjiang Inn, Zhongshang Lu is within walking distance of the train station, seafront and pier, Daxue Lu and other attractions. Rooms 170RMB – 250 RMB depending on season. For a sea view, Oceanwide Elite, 900+ RMB.

Taxis will take you cheaply to other areas such as the CBD, but there is a circular bus network around the city and coast, so even if you get on and don’t get off, you will end up where you started!

The coastal walk, more than 40 km long and Badaguan (eight passes) an historic residential area, are also top attractions.

Qingdao has its own listings magazine, Red Star, available online at

And, of course, you can also visit Qingdao’s other brewery!