The Frank! 33-year Beijing streak endures with new craft beer joint

[Update: I went to the soft launch of Sequoia Brewing last night. Good beer, good talk, good times. Opening hours for now will be 6 PM to 11 PM on Thursdays and Fridays.]

More than three decades after opening his first Beijing bar, Frank Siegel is about to launch his latest.

Siegel will soon start selling the craft beer he is making in the ex-John Bull Pub space above French restaurant Maison Lyonnais near Ritan Park. The project is called Sequoia Brewing, will be familiar to those who remember Siegel’s chain of Sequoia coffee shops.

I’ve been by for two taste tests during the past few months and was quite impressed with the pale ale and the Czech-style lager. He also has a wheat beer, an oatmeal stout and a hazy IPA ready to go.

Given he has souvenirs from his first venue, Frank’s Place, including photos, menus and a neon Foster’s sign, as well as from John Bull Pub, including the taps, I imagine this place will have at least a slight retro feel.

Look for him to do soft opening hours in the evening hours this week. I’ll post again when I have details on the regular opening hours.

Here’s something I wrote after my first taste of the beer in November:

If you asked me to list the ten most influential people in my wine life, Frank Siegel would easily rank there. When I first arrived in Beijing nearly two decades ago, Siegel ran John Bull Pub, a venue dangerously close to my office, and one where he held weekly Friday wine tastings.

These usually featured five bottles, with a theme, such as Chardonnays or Cabernets, or New World vs Old World, or Chinese wines, or sparkling wines, or, well, I think I attended over 100 of these events.

Frank’s tastings were the first place I tried Slovenia wines. Twice. And Algerian. He once hosted an Oregon Pinot Noir tasting with a dozen-plus wines hand-carried in by the son of the state’s most important grape growers.

And I also met a lot of fun people: it was a time when the scene was small and everyone from winemakers to distributors to wine aficionados to newbies showed up on the regular.

Fast forward through the years, during which Siegel has imported wine, owned a succession of venues, including a chain of coffee shops, and done vintages at wineries in four U.S. states, and he has a new project brewing: craft beer.

He’s based the operation on the second floor of the old John Bull Pub, near Ritan Park, and in the same building as Italian eatery Cucina, La Maison Lyonnais and Penglai Bistro. And has a brewing partner with experience at several high-profile operations.

I tried his first beer today, a pale ale made with Simcoe and Mosaic hops from Yakuma Valley in Oregon, one of the places he’s made wine. (He says over 80 percent of US hops hail from there.) A Czech lager, a Belgian wheat beer and an oatmeal stout are works in progress.

That pale hit the spot. It poured with a creamy head—“ice cream”—and had an almost creamy texture, too, to go along with a slight fruitness. I have to say I was mightily impressed with this first beer even if some might say it is a bit too hoppy for a pale ale.

)I am not a “hophead”, and find a lot of IPAs over the top, but a touch of that attitude worked very well here. And what was going to be a Monday “taste test” pint turned into three.)

It was also fun to talk to Frank about his experiences in wine and beer. Making the latter is more of a “one shot [vintage] per year” experience whereas beer is more about getting into a rhythm and repeating the same trusty recipes. It was also interesting to hear his wine experiences of working in states as distant as Oregon, New York, Pennsylvannia and Washington.

In any case, it’s great to see Frank opening another venue. And who knows, maybe we can sneak a few wine tastings into the schedule!

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