It's a warm spring evening in Shanghai. I'm sitting outside, letting the roar and clang of the motorbike traffic wash over me. Michael Jordan sits across the table. Over the sizzling smell of street barbecue we clink our glasses together and sip our beers.
No, this isn't some bizarre dream. This was my life for the past two years. This Michael Jordan wasn't the MJ of NBA fame, but an American brewmaster who helped start one of Shanghai's first microbreweries. I had been living and teaching in Shanghai for two years when I decided to switch tracks. Next thing I knew, I was the managing editor of a beer magazine.
Hops Magazine began with two interested parties - a Chinese/Belgian beer importing and distribution company, and an idealistic American with an English degree (me). The magazine was written in English for an expat readership and focused on all things "beer" in Shanghai and China. Our articles ranged from profiles of microbreweries popping up in Beijing and Shanghai to interviews with European monks from breweries with 100-year-old histories to local inventive homebrewers.
I was a fan of beer at the time I started the magazine. One of the fun challenges I was ready to take on with the project was learning more about this intriguing, complex, often-overlooked beverage.
Many are no doubt aware of the microbrewing revolution that has swept across the U.S. and Europe in past years. Colorado especially has benefited from this (just look at our governor). Well, now the revolution is spreading and Asia is the place that's aflame. Microbreweries are popping up all over China, and not only in the big cities, as adventurous brewmasters seek out new frontiers and an intriguing array of unconventional ingredients (Szechuan pepper beer, anyone?).
I expected the magazine to involve hard work (and a fair amount of beer drinking), but what I didn't expect was how involved I would become with the subject. Soon I was sucked into the world of hops, malts, bouquets and a rich history spanning centuries. I learned how the word "beer" covers an incredible array of varieties and flavors as different from each other as night and day. I learned the joys and woes of the homebrewer, of the complex and intrinsic role chemistry plays in every step of the brewing process. In short, I discovered an entirely new world.
When it came time to leave Shanghai and hand my magazine over to the next generation, one of the main consoling factors was that I was heading to Colorado, home of some of America's best microbreweries. Though working in Shanghai had been fun, it was still limited by what beer was available, with only five microbreweries in a city of more than 20 million and importers struggling with a complex customs system and high import taxes. It wasn't long before I could enter any bar in Shanghai, look at the drinks list and know exactly where each beer was from, who the distributor was and which other bars carried it. Now I find myself staring at pages-long beer menus, nearly overwhelmed by the choices available.
That overwhelming feeling soon turns into excitement, however, as I start tasting new beers and learning even more. With this column, I plan to dig into the local beer scene and see what more there is to discover. With four microbreweries here in Summit County and the more than 100 others in Colorado, as well as legions of ambitious homebrewers, I certainly have my tasty work cut out for me. I also invite local and nearby beer enthusiasts not to be strangers but feel free to share with me their own beer-related experiences and suggestions.