Scot Sean Brady sells suds in Shanghai with Sad Gorilla Club beer

Yang Yang
Sean Brady followed older brother and brewer Daniel to China, where the two founded beer brand Sad Gorilla Club, which Sean now owns and operates alone.
Yang Yang

Editor's note:

The beer culture of Shanghai can be dated back to as early as the 19th century, with the earliest brewery in the city founded in 1896. Today, beer is no longer just a beverage but also stands for a culture in Shanghai. In this column, "Hopscotch," we share people's stories about beer while exploring the city of Shanghai.

Edited by Yang Yang. Subtitles by Yang Yang, Bivash Mukherjee.

Sean Brady from Scotland narrates his story relating to beer in a sort of genre we may find to categorize "A River Runs Through It" or many other sibling stories – a big brother plays a major part in it.

The United Kingdom has had a consistent alcohol culture. People drink cheaper, simpler, and more easy-made lager, while they still frequent old breweries that would produce small batches of ale, Kasteel, and IPA. Notably, they want to drink beer that is made close to them, because they think it tastes better.

"So if you are in Glasgow you want to drink beer made in Glasgow; if you are in Manchester, you want to drink beer made in Manchester. There is a very drink that is from your area kind," Brady said.

In Scotland there is a local champion company called Brewdog.

"A lot of people from our area were growing up with, either working alongside Brewdog, or starting working in beer also, or they just liked craft beer. My big brother started like this and he introduced me to it," Sean said.

Then older brother, Daniel, moved to China. Sean, who was a sailor at first, ended up following his brother to China, although not for beer in the beginning. Its presence in his life here just happened.

"Daniel was already homebrewing beer as his hobby in his apartment when I first moved to China," Sean said. "Then he got a position as a brewer in a local beer company. I encouraged him, 'Please take that job, because this is what you love to do.' So he took the job."

The local beer company was Witchcraft Brewing in Jinshan District, a brand deriving from China's first self-funded township beer factory, the Donghai Beer Factory.

Sean later worked for Witchcraft Brewing as well, looking after marketing and advertising. During the process, he became really interested in the brewing process and saw great potential in the industry.

"Our group of friends would go to beer bars, not just for drinking beer, but for going and finding a beer and the stories with it. Oh, these guys were from Poland and they were using coffee in a beer, and that beer was from Estonia and had chocolate and chilli in it. Stuff like this," Sean said.

Then the brothers dreamed bigger and, after a transitional period working for a downtown pub in Laowaijie, or foreigners' street, they set up their own brand – Sad Gorilla Club 伤猩会 – in Shanghai.

Scot Sean Brady sells suds in Shanghai with Sad Gorilla Club beer
Ti Gong

Sean Brady and his friend ride a shared bike and a motorcycle, pulling a wagon filled with vanilla-flavor sour beer and Dongbeidaban 东北大板 ice cream. They gave the beer and the ice cream for free to people during a beer event in 2022.

"We started to pay attention to doing just one style of beer. We were doing well and started to have a good customer base in Shanghai and good accounts," Sean said. "Then the second wave of COVID happened in Shanghai and everywhere was shut. So during all the lockdown, I came up with this idea for 伤猩会, its design and all the concepts."

"If you look at a gorilla – I really like gorillas – they always look very sad. And I feel both me and my brother have this gorilla kind of looks. When I was a little boy, people would make fun of me that I looked like a gorilla when I was walking. And it just seems obvious if it were called happy gorilla then nobody would ask me," he added.

Daniel left the brand after about three months and returned to Witchcraft in Jinshan to focus on beer research and, from January 2022, the label became a single-person operation for Sean.

"After I did all the registration for the company, I had 50,000 kuai (US$7,000) for everything. But I love the work. I love making something interesting. I love the fact that I can execute an idea I get today by Friday, that I can make things happen quickly," he said.

He organized beer events in bars and restaurants in downtown neighborhoods in Changning, Jing'an, and Xuhui districts, where it was easy to draw a good crowd and was able to build up his brand.

"I think in Shanghai there are a lot of people who really like things that are good, and they like to know why it is good, such as for wine and for beef. I'd like to be able to do something that could help people know what's important for good beer and where are the places you can go for good beer.

"If I want to make more money, I'd have stayed working where I was before, working on the ships, working in the office with the shipping companies. But just this one little thing, like the beer thing, I can see what we should be doing. Not just my company, but other companies, like what we should be trying to do, what should it look like, what can make it better and what will make it more interesting for the customers. I can see it, just as one thing," Sean said.

Scot Sean Brady sells suds in Shanghai with Sad Gorilla Club beer
Ti Gong

Sean Brady from Scotland has his own beer brand in Shanghai – Sad Gorilla Club.

Scot Sean Brady sells suds in Shanghai with Sad Gorilla Club beer
Yang Yang / SHINE

Expats attend a beer event by Sean Brady in downtown Shanghai.

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