Meet Grégoire Prouvost and Cédric Bourlet, two of the coolest French guys you'll ever meet. Together with friends Alexandre Godvin and Samuel Pierquin they run a boutique beer store on Yongkang Lu called Cheers In, at the opposite end of the street to the Shaxian Snacks restaurant.
Three of the four friends hail originally from Lille, in a part of France close to the Belgian border where beer is a way of life. Passionate about beer, they were frustrated that some of the best beers making their way to Shanghai were available only in restaurants. Now they can boast the best selection in the city, with beers from twenty three countries including France, Belgium, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India.
Cédric, on the right, has the official title of 'Beer Hunter' (it's on his business cards and everything), a job I'd really like to explore. He has managed to hunt down every possible interesting beer that makes its way to Shanghai, and bring them all together in one place. "So, what do you do for a living?" "Oh, I'm a Beer Hunter." There must be queues around the block for his job. Gregoire, on the left, is the 'Ideas Brewer.'
One of the joys of Cheers In is that every beer is available as a single bottle purchase, so for the price of an extremely average bottle of wine you can sample six different boutique beers from around the globe. It's a difficult choice, given the enormous range of high quality beers, so I started by asking Grégoire and Cédric to point out thier favourites.
La Chouffe, a Belgian beer from the Ardennes, is Grégoire's favourite beer, and available only from their shop. It's a very refreshing drop. According to La Chouffe's website, this is an "unfiltered blonde beer, which is re-fermented in the bottle as well as in the keg. It is pleasantly fruity, spiced with coriander, and with a light hop taste." To my palate, it does have a very lightly hopped fruity taste, which belies the 8% alcohol which is gonna hit you about two thirds of the way through.
Cédric's nominated another Belgian beer, Orval, as his favourite. It's a beer I first tried at Southern Barbarian alongside a plate of deep-fried honeybees, which the beer matched to perfection. Orval is a Belgain Trappist beer, made by Cistercian monks and their helpers, and is so popular here in Shanghai they can't keep up with the demand. Orval has wonderful complex yeast flavours, with touches of caramel and malt and just a small amount of acidity. "For Belgians, it's the best beer in the world!" Cédric says.
Orval had also been my favourite beer, until I tried Tripel Karmeliet - still brewed to an original 1679 from Carmelite nuns. Brewed with barley, oats and wheat (hence 'tripel'), this is the best beer I've ever tasted - fruity, creamy (thanks to the oats) and with a slight citrus acidity. Those nuns obviously knew quite a few things about beer, and despite trying to make improvement the brewery has never bettered the nuns' recipe.
Vedett White is the shop's most popular beer, Belgian or otherwise. It's very drinkable, but really has none of the interest or complexity of Tripel Karmeliet, Orval, or La Chouffe.
The store has such an interesting variety of beers, like these graphically labelled ones from England's Brew Dog craft brewery. These guys are interesting - they started in 2007 with a tiny bank loan and have grown to a £6.7 million turnover in just four years, by selling equity shares to everyday beer lovers. Clever marketing aside (who wouldn't want to be able to say they own shares in a brewery??) their beer is good. Definitely worth trying.
Coedo, from a Japanese microbrewery, is extremely difficult to source, but Cheers In have managed to exclusively stock all four varieties incuding the frequently sold-out Shiro. If you love the light clean flavours of Japanese beers, you should enjoy these. Stoke Gold is a New Zealand pale ale made with organic hops.
There a couple of other organic beers available too which I'm yet to try - Samuel Smith's Organic Lager from England, and Jade, France's first organic beer.
Other firm favourites they stock include Rogue Dead Guy from the USA, Cooper's Ale from Australia, Kingfisher from India and China's own SinKiang Black Beer.
The store has such an enormous variety the choice can be a little overwhelming. If you prefer, you can use their website to help you choose (which country? strong or light flavoured? high or low alcohol? how expensive?) and have it all home-delivered just in time for Australia vs Russia in the Rugby World Cup.
25 Yongkang Lu near Jiashan Lu, Puxi
Ph +86 21 64188400
Labels: Shanghai, shop, shopping, street life, Yongkang Lu