How China’s Shangri-La earned a name for craft beer after 2014 fire

C&PIn 2014, a fire blazed through Shangri-La, reducing more than half of the Old Town to dust and ash.

It was a savage blow to old Zhongdian – a poor Tibetan city in a remote corner of Yunnan province that had spent a decade rebranding itself as the Himalayan paradise depicted in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.

Restrictions on logging had turned the local government’s nose towards tourism: the city’s name was changed, guest houses set up shop and hiking companies supplanted the ailing timber mills. Although nobody perished, for all who witnessed the inferno, the scent of cruel irony must have wafted among the embers.

Entrepreneur Songsten “Sonny” Gyalzur lost his restaurant, Soyala, in the fire. Instead of rebuilding, the loss catalysed the develop­ment of the brewery he’d established to produce small batches of beer for Soyala.

“I started with nothing, we didn’t even have electricity or running water,” the trim, sharply attired 42-year-old explains, as we tour his facility, a 15-minute drive south of Shangri-La. “We had the machinery made in Shenzhen, then assembled it up here.”

When one considers that Shangri-La stands some 3,200 metres above sea level, that was no mean feat.

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