D2D 01: The Brickyard: Quanzhou's First Microbrew Pub

D2D 01: The Brickyard: Quanzhou's First Microbrew Pub

Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China.  Located in southeast China between Shanghai and Hong Kong, Quanzhou is a traditional port city just across the sea from Taiwan.  Often known for its light lagers, Tsingtao, Snow Beer, and others, China would seem set in their beer ways.  However, times are changing, and among the vast traditional landscape a craft beer movement has emerged, and it is gaining traction quickly.

Enter The Brickyard: Quanzhou's First Microbrew Pub.  Appropriately located on "bar street" in a downtown area of Quanzhou, the westernized pub provides a home away from home for those passing through on business.  Visitors and locals are greeted by Canadian owner, Chris St. Jacques, and a welcoming staff.  The Brickyard is quickly becoming a hotspot for craft beer discovery and western pub fare among a sea of traditional Chinese establishments.  Chris started brewing beer for his pub in 2015, and the hype has been growing steadily.  We had the opportunity to catch up with him to talk about how design and problem solving impacts his day to day brewing for the Brickyard, as well as the experience he strives to provide for a range of diverse customers.

Read on for the exclusive interview, or listen to the full discussion below!

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Chris, thanks for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk design with us.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  My pleasure, thanks for having me.

DESIGN TO DRINK:   First thing's first, how long have you been running The Brickyard?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  The Brickyard was opened on the 24th of December, 2011.  So, Christmas Eve.

DESIGN TO DRINK:   And you have just started brewing beer for The Brickyard recently, right?  Within the last couple of years?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:   We opened the brewery about a year and a half ago on the 21st of September, 2015.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  From the looks of it, it seems that you have been growing steadily.  What drove you to start brewing craft beer for The Brickyard, and why did you feel that now was the time to introduce that concept to Quanzhou?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  (Laughs) First and foremost, a lack of good beer.  As you know, Quanzhou is a small, yet blossoming city in Fujian Province.  There's a lot of foreign business coming into Quanzhou these days because of the shoe industry and a lot of other industries opening up.  Therefore, there has been an increase of an international community.  So a lack of good beer, more of a demand; these are all things that got us to start thinking, lets brew our own beer.  At this point, in terms of suppliers, Quanzhou is still somewhat limited.  You get your basic, generic types of alcohol, but other than that it's very generic, very commercial, very boring really.  The good stuff, more microbrewery-type styles of beers are ones that you need to import from the bigger cities and it becomes really expensive, so brewing your beer is a logical step.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Design To Drink is about design conversations within the adult beverage industry and I'm aware that you don't package your beer for distribution, so there are no labels to design yet.  Despite that, there are still problem solving design decisions that go into your brewing process.  Is there a design philosophy or mentality that you live by day-to-day?  Is that something that ever crosses your mind?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Right now, I would say that we are still in an experimental stage, and I think that's what is driving us; that creative process.  I don't claim to be a brewmaster.  I am still very much an amateur and I think that this, especially in Quanzhou, has given me the opportunity to take my baby steps and move at my own pace.  It's the fact that I have this freedom and this ability to take my time and experiment to see what I come up with, that's inspiring me to become more creative.  If I were in a more pressure-filled environment, if this were in a business where you have to output your product immediately in order to sustain yourself, I think that pressure alone would keep me more on the safe side of things, where as I find here I can go a little crazy.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  It sounds like you have full creative freedom.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Yeah, that's what I'm loving about it, that creative process and experimentation.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Let's talk about the beer itself.  Where or how do you collect inspiration for your beers?  I'd imagine that there is a lot of inspiration in Quanzhou, being a more traditional city.  Does that come through in the styles that you choose to brew?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Not so much at this point.  What I really want to get into in the future is using local products, local produce, or at least do a series of beers that are more or less local.  Right now I am basically taking what I have learned in the past as a home brewer, and am referencing things that interested me when I was back in Canada.  Before I left Canada, I had just gotten into the microbrewer scene and I was crazy for it.  I mean, any type of brewery we heard was opening we were just immediately going there to test out their new beers.  Unfortunately, I left shortly afterwards, and you know, it's that crave for those beers that you've left back home, and you're stuck with what they have here unfortunately, not being very good beers -- so a lot of the time, I try to make beers that I can remember off of my previous experiences, and it has been an interesting process.  I think I've hit the nail on the head of a few of them, but in the future what I really want to do is local stuff for sure.  I think that will attract more of the locals, at least.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  I know that out here in the US, a lot of the breweries that are starting smaller often use their own ingredients that they grow at their own facilities or there are specific areas in the country that are better for hops, better for malts and such.  You touched on the ingredients, so what I want to know now is being in China, and maybe not having all the access you want to the local ingredients yet, what are some of the challenges that you run into?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Well yeah, that's the problem, sorry.   When I spoke of ingredients, I didn't mean any types of barley or wheat or any types of hops.  China just doesn't have it right now; and if it does, it's just not as accessible as it is back home.  A lot of my ingredients are definitely imported.  Things that I brew with locally are added ingredients.  So if I'm doing a fruit beer, or a honey-brown or something like that, I try to stick to local ingredients regarding the honey and the fruits.  But in terms of hops and malts, those are definitely all imported.  The reason being that you know what you are getting -- the quality -- you know it's up to standard.  When I first found my equipment, the manufacturers of my brewing equipment supplied me with Chinese ingredients.  Just by looking at it, I knew it wasn't to the standard we're accustomed to.  I literally threw most of it out.  The rest of it is on display to show the public what barley is, what hops are -- but other than that no, definitely not using any local ingredients in terms of malts and hops.

DESIGN TO DRINIK:  Do you have to treat your water?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Our water is filtered.  When I first started brewing here I was trying to negotiate getting fresh water from a local well up on one of the mountains over here.  But that just became a logistical problem in terms of how much water you had to bring, so we do use municipal water but it is treated.  Ideally, you want to go for a fresh natural source of water, but you're in a city in Quanzhou, and it's just impossible to do.  Maybe in the future, if we were to expand, then we would definitely look into opening up near a fresh water source.  Obviously, water is probably one of the most important things to beer, right? (chuckles)

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Right, definitely.  In terms of some of the other ingredients that may be non-traditional brewing ingredients, can you give us an example of what may substitute one of those ingredients?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  To be honest, nothing right now.  All of my beers are still very basic.  Just some local fruit that you wouldn't find back home, but otherwise, no, very basic.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  And remind me where you try to import your ingredients from?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  The majority of our imports are either from northern Europe, or America.  The majority of our hops are American hops.  The grain and the malts, a lot of it is European.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  So what does your current lineup look like right now?  What are you brewing the most of, what are you experimenting with?  Anything that is rotational that you offer all the time?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Our biggest seller is the Hoplite Lager that I've got.  The grain bill is a mix of a pilsner and an ale malt; obviously lagered, and hopped more like an ale, hence the "Hoplite Lager" name.  This has had tremendous success, and is something that I try to keep on tap at all times.  I think the success of it comes from the fact that the Chinese primarily just drink light lagers.  So if it's your Tsingtao or your Snow Beer, the majority of beer in China are lagers, so it is something that they are more used to.  Obviously it's different with the amount of hops in this beer, so it's a lot more hoppy and aromatic, but the Chinese are very much taking to it.  The other beer that has had extreme success, to our surprise, is IPA.  We thought IPA might not be a big thing here, that they may be too strong, but they are very much appreciating them, more so than some of the foreigners you get coming in, which is nice because IPA's tend to be my favorite.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Any crazy experimental beers you've got going on right now?  Or any in the works?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  No not really.  I just brewed one yesterday, an IPA.  The week before I did a saison, which I peppered with green peppers.  I want to see how that reacts with the Chinese palette.  Yeah, green peppercorns (laughs).  Very similar to their Sichuan peppers so I'm kind of interested to see how they react to that.  Fruit beers are big too.  I did an apricot beer the other day and got my apricots from XinJiang Province.  An amazing, amazing beer it turned out to be.  It was a pilsner wheat malt base with fresh apricots, and that was a winner for both foreigners and locals.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  So your pub, The Brickyard, is this home away from home.  It's "westernized" and maybe some of those western people from the US, Canada, and Europe are already beer connoisseurs.  You mentioned the Hoplite Lager being so successful among the Chinese population.  Is that how you generate interest with the locals?  I'd imagine that there is an educational learning curve for them having experienced mostly light lagers up to this point.  Now, you are putting something completely different in front of them.  Is that how you educate them and turn them on to craft beer?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  The great thing about China is that the people here are very open to new things and new ideas.  Since China has opened itself much more to the international community, so much has come in since, including various types of alcohol.  It seems like every year you are seeing more and more products coming in, and you see the locals drinking more of a variety of things they have never consumed before.  They seem to appreciate it and accept it, so I am surprised at how well our beer has been received here, especially since it's so different.  Sorry, I don't know if I answered your question there.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Yeah, you did.  I was basically trying to get at, you know, you have this home away from home for westerners, and they may already be familiar with the concept of craft beer and the experimentation...

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Well definitely, definitely.  The locals see us, you know?  Quanzhou being a small city internationally, you definitely get a lot of people interested in the Brickyard scene.  This is definitely a platform for locals to come in and broaden their palette.  So yeah, this local community is definitely helping to promote our beer.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  So that begs the question, is there an expansion on the horizon?  Are you looking to distribute through bottling or canning since your customer base is expanding?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Bottling is something very different.  Unfortunately, China doesn't have a real law for microbreweries.  I'm assuming this will change in the future.  However, there is a distributing law and you need to be able to produce a certain amount of bottles per day, and it has to be one-hundred percent pasteurized, which is something that a lot of micro brewers don't like to do.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Right.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  So that is an issue.  At this point, bottling is somewhat impossible unless you are selling in your own establishment.  You can't distribute it though.  Obviously that is where the money lies, in distribution.  But at this point right now, I'm much too small.  I don't have the man power and because of that it is just impossible unless you own a massive factory or have connections with the right people.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Do you offer take-home beer in the form of growlers?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Yeah, we had growlers for a bit, but they were not as popular.  However, it is something we want to push again very soon.  Locals like to drink their drinks and leave their drinks here.  The foreign community here, a lot of them are just passing through so it's not like they have a home where they will bring their beer back to.  They often times won't bring it back to their hotels, unless it's a souvenir.  The majority of the rest of them are teachers, and they tend not to be the biggest microbrewer fans (laughs).

DESIGN TO DRINK:  (Laughs) Not yet anyway.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Yeah, not yet anyway.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  So let's think hypothetically for a second because I'm a sucker for good label art and design.  It is absolutely exploding in the US.  These microbreweries are taking art and design very seriously so you are seeing really clean artwork on labels, you're seeing these crazy illustrations, you know, beautiful imagery.  So let's think hypothetical for a second, and let's think about The Brickyard, and if you were to ever bottle or can your beer, what might that look like?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  I don't know, but I definitely would want to keep it theme-based, and with a very Chinese twist to it.  What I would love to see is a storyline.  So with every bottle, or every series that I make, I would really like to see it stay within its theme, within The Brickyard theme, that uses a Chinese inspiration.  Something very artistic I think.  There are definitely a lot of artists around here, and I'd like to do something with them for sure in the future.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  So I only have a couple more questions for you.  My first question is if you have any advice for aspiring brewers out there?  You touched on it earlier that you started with home brewing back in Canada and loved it.  You moved to China and built your own brewing business essentially.  So let's say there are some people who are going to be listening or reading about our conversation today that want to do what you're doing.  Do you have any advice, recommendations, or words of wisdom for them?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  I'm not sure how it works back home, there's probably a lot of obstacles you have to jump over.  I'm fortunate that I live and operate in a part of the world where I get to develop with it in a sense.  Back home, I'm sure it's a lot tougher and things are a lot more expensive.  I would just say, that if you've got the will, theres definitely the way.  You just have to go for it.  It's tough to try and translate my experience to someone living back home.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Well, would you encourage somebody that may be intimidated or set back by the expense in the US or Canada to pick everything up and move to a place like China where it may be less expensive?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Definitely, China is amazing for this.  China is -- and in fear of making people upset or anything like that back home, China is the new America in the sense that the opportunities here are endless.  It can be so easily done if you've got the drive and the passion.  You don't need to have much money here in order to be successful.  That's what I love about it; those opportunities, and to essentially be the first person to do it all.  Back home it's got to be tough, but I'm sure there's a way.  It's just that you have to stick to your ambition and just keep going for it.  Back home the industry is saturated, so China is the place to be, or Asia in general.  I know there are other places like Vietnam that are just starting to kick off as well, and the Vietnamese are big beer drinkers, so the market is definitely here, and the opportunities are definitely here.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  That's great.  I mean, I don't think that would make many people upset.  I actually think it is kind of true.  I've watched this industry grow over the last number of years and it is definitely on its way to being oversaturated.  I don't know the exact statistic, but there are hundreds that open every year, and somehow, at least here in New England, most of them are thriving and need to find ways to expand.  But I agree with you that Asia, in general, is such a big market, and with craft beer not really being there yet, it definitely seems like a good opportunity.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Definitely.  Like I said before, the Chinese are very open to trying new things, and that has been so helpful for us as a bar, and now as a brewery.  So I just see good things coming out of this.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  The last question I have gives you a chance to plug your bar and brewery.  Why should beer connoisseurs from the US, Canada, Europe, and other craft beer hubs travel halfway around the world to drink your beer?

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  (Laughs) Because you'll never get it anywhere else.  It's a one of a kind beer in one of the oldest cities in China.  If the traveling experience to Quanzhou isn't enough for you, then this beer will be.  It is in a setting that is literally out of this world for us, and is part of a society that is one hundred eighty degrees different in a lot of ways, and in other ways it is the exact same thing as it is back home in terms of culture and people.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  I would fully expect that after people read and listen to our conversation today that you will find yourself serving some new customers in the near future.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  I hope so.  That would be nice.  If there's anyone listening out there that wants to learn how to brew, come on down to China.

DESIGN TO DRINK:  Well, Chris, thank you so much.  We appreciate your time.  That was some awesome content right there, really inspiring stuff that you don't read about every day.  Cheers man.

CHRIS ST. JACQUES:  Absolutely, thank you Isaac.  Cheers buddy.

 

I'd like to thank Chris for a great, inspiring discussion.  Check out The Brickyard on Facebook and stay up to date on all of Quanzhou's First Microbrew Pub's happenings!  Or visit for yourself and get the full Brickyard experience in person!

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Until next time, Cheers!