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An American made good in China with pub brewery

The love for his Chinese wife pushed Carl Setzer to transform into a Chinese craft brewing pioneer.

Publication Date : 24-08-2014


Carl Setzer's transformation from mid-Western information technology guy to Chinese craft brewing pioneer can be attributed to one thing: love.

He moved to the mainland in 2004 and married his Chinese wife, Liu Fang, shortly after. He worked as a "semi-successful" security analyst, and for a few years, life was good.

"I liked the job for a little while, but towards the end of my career, I resented it and didn't want to do it anymore," the 32-year old American says. "So my lovely wife suggested I come up with a hobby to distract myself from it."

In 2010, Great Leap Brewing was born. But at first, it seemed the business might be short-lived.

Adhering to China's strict quality assurance and control, dealing with "greedy" landlords and scrambling for ingredients was a headache he probably would not have had in is native land, Seltzer says.

"Starting a business in China is very chaotic and confusing, and pretty much everything is a struggle," he says. "Every step of the way we have had setbacks and struggles but also opportunities to learn from mistakes and make the brand and business plan better."

Liu remembers the obstacles they encountered during their first years of operation. For a while, taxi was the only means of transferring materials to the brewery.

"We would have to sit in a taxi and go all the way south of the Fifth Ring in the middle of nowhere to pick up ingredients by ourselves," she says. 'We put 100 kilos of hops in the trunk, 50 kilos in the front seat and another 50 between Carl and me."

The hardships, however, have afforded the business some of its most valuable advantages. Instead of merely introducing the culture of craft beer, Seltzer blended it with local culture to create new, yet still traditional, products.

The company fosters an "all-local" philosophy, which extends to ingredients and overall atmosphere, says Setzer. They use Chinese hops and locally sourced spices, teas, sugars and other adjuncts.

Ingredients like Sichuan peppercorn and Iron Buddha tea are infused into the flavor of some beers, making them a staple for many Chinese locals.

"Some people think that locals only want imported beer because it is better than the domestic," Seltzer says. "But I thought that for a country so proud and nationalistic, that cannot be true."

When the restaurant first opened, its customers were overwhelmingly expatriates, says Lucia Wang, who handles public relations for the business.

But now, she explains, about 55 per cent of customers are Chinese. She says locals usually come to the brewpub for lunch or dinner, while expatriates often frequent on the weekends.

By about 7 pm on most days, finding a table can be difficult, and it becomes evident why the company is expanding.

"Before we started, nobody knew what potential the market had in Beijing," Setzer says, now in a half-yell as he contends with the sounds of a crowded bar. "We are kind of like a flag bearer."

With plans to open his third Great Leap Brewing location in the Chaoyang District, one might consider Setzer a quick learner. The bearded, heavier set mid-Westerner never envisioned himself brewing beer for a living, much less doing so in China.

"The economic situation in America is horrible if you ask Americans who've never left, but it's wonderful for those who have tried to start businesses overseas," he says.

"Unfortunately, the majority of Americans have not and will never leave America, so it's easy to say the system is broken and weighted against entrepreneurs."


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