Wuhan brewery's special craft beer tells story of Covid-19 lockdown

Founder of the No. 18 Brewery Wang Fan with one of his beers with images of the city's fight against Covid-19 in Wuhan on Nov 20, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WUHAN (AFP) - When the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan and the Chinese city went into a strict 76-day lockdown, Mr Wang Fan resolved to commemorate the turbulent period in the way he knew best - through beer.

Wang is a leading figure in the burgeoning world of Chinese craft beer and the Wuhan native founded one of the country's first specialised breweries, the No. 18 Brewery, in 2013.

But his business - which includes four bars and a brewery in Wuhan - nearly folded after the central city of 11 million people was forced into a particularly tough lockdown on Jan 23 that would drag on until early April.

Life is now getting back to normal in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected about a year ago before becoming a pandemic, but about 4,000 people died there and the mental scars remain.

That traumatic period is recalled in a beer made by Mr Wang and his team called "Wuhan Jia Ha Zi You", or "Wuhan Stay Strong".

Released in April, it was a way to "let people know our story" of what the city and its people endured, said the 36-year-old Mr Wang.

The cans have a label that peels back to reveal a chronology of those long weeks with haunting black-and-white photographs.

Pictures include medical personnel in hazmat suits, masked community workers and a deserted bridge running over the Yangtze River.

There is also a poem inscribed on the wrap-around label by the popular novelist Wang Xiaobo.

"If I can shine, don't be afraid of darkness; if I am so beautiful, then all fear can be dispelled," it reads.

"Wuhan Stay Strong" is a sweet, seasonal "sakura beer" inspired by the cherry blossom that gives parts of Wuhan a pink hue in spring.

It was devastating

There are about 30 craft-beer bars in Wuhan and the scene is growing steadily, said brewer Mr Wang.

His No. 18 Brewery is at the forefront locally and nationally, conjuring up beers that often incorporate features or ingredients that are particular to Wuhan and China.

They once made a "Breakfast Stout" that used black sesame seeds usually associated with a well-known noodle dish eaten for breakfast in the city. Another beer used Chinese tea, while another coconut.

"Nine-Head Phoenix", an India pale ale (IPA), is named after a mythical creature once worshipped in what is now Hubei, the province that Wuhan sits in.

The No. 18 Brewery sells its beer, which has won an array of awards, not only in mainland China but also in Taiwan and Macau.

But like many companies in Wuhan and beyond, the business has been hit hard by the pandemic.

For starters, they had to dump up to 12,000 litres of stock.

"It was devastating. We nearly collapsed. All of our bars were closed for more than three months," Mr Wang said.

Life resumed only very slowly when the lockdown was lifted, but the summer months brought a welcome boom as the people of Wuhan let their hair down.

All 100,000 cans of "Wuhan Stay Strong" were snapped up.

"It sold out the minute we released it because everyone wants to support Wuhan in some way," said Mr Wang.

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