A Drink With is a regular column in which we ask Beijing personalities to tell us about their drinking habits and preferences. This issue, we talk to Debbie Ma, a TCM doctor from Taiwan, and my fellow home-brewer at Beijing Homebrew Society (BHS), who has experienced Beijing in the bubbles.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what brought you here and what was that like?
I’m a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician, and perhaps the only TCM doctor in town that will discuss what new beers have been released or which breweries are good for my patients. I’ve been living in Beijing on and off for 11 years, and for the first eight years focused on finishing med school. I didn’t drink too much beer at that time. That all changed after I got my PhD and began working as an acupuncturist for a Norwegian cruise line, which opened up the world of beer – let’s just say drinking provides you with a social life on a ship! I came back to Beijing in 2014, when the craft beer scene had just started gaining momentum, and have since learned how to brew, which is now a big part of my life when I’m not at the clinic.

When did you start to brew beer?
My first batch was Dec 5, 2014, a month after I took Yin Hai’s (founder of NBeer) brewing class. I brewed a “pale pale ale” because I added too much water during sparging and the ABV ended up at only 4 percent – a bit thin for a pale ale. It still tasted nice and was good enough for a first-timer.

Best place to drink beer is ...
I must say as much as I love all the bars on land, the best place is to drink is on the sea. No one can tell you’re drunk or not when the ship is rocking, and you don’t need to drive home after drinking. But if you really want me to choose a place in Beijing, I think my favorite is Jing-A, I love their beer!

What’s your most outrageous drinking experience?
Umm, that was a random night on my first ship. I was with three other friends and we treated ourselves to sushi after work. It was still early after we finished and there was not much to do on board so we decided to do a bar crawl from deck 12 all the way down to our crew bar, six bars in total. Having made it to the fifth bar, ordering a Woo Woo shot at each stop on the way, we ended up downing 10 shots in one hour. We still made it down to crew bar to drink a Strongbow and after that night we started calling our bar crawls “a walk on the ship.”

What is the most underappreciated style of beer?
I think it has to be ginger beer. Sure, ginger beer is not really beer, but instead a naturally fermented beverage made of ginger, lemon, sugar, and live culture. Throughout my practice, I’ve seen a lot of patients in their 20s and 30s that have developed digestion problems on account of having stressful jobs and poor eating habits, which lead to bloating, constipation, diarrhea, even more stress and sleeping disorders. What does that have to do with ginger beer? Well, it contains probiotics which help your gut flora remain healthy. What’s more, ginger warms your stomach and helps to deplete excess water through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. I brewed and sold ginger beers earlier this year. Eventually, I stopped because I got too busy, but I believe it’s still a better beer than beer itself.

Normally, TCM doctors tell us not to drink any alcohol. What suggestions would you give to the drinkers among us?
Any doctor will tell you that overconsumption of alcohol is bad for you, and if you suffer from poor digestion, water retention, or even worse, liver problems, you should always listen to your doctor. If you’re not feeling as good as you used to, it’s likely to be your body crying for mercy, not crying for you to pour alcohol into it. However, as long as you’re healthy, you shouldn’t believe any doctor that tells you not to drink at all. In fact, alcohol like huang jiu (黄酒, Shaoxing wine) can be used medicinally, guiding herbal energy to those meridians in the body that are in need. As a brewer myself, I know that craft beer has loads of amino acid, vitamins, minerals, and much less sugar and calories when compared to soft drinks. In that regard, it can act as a good energy drink when consumed in moderation. As for the drunks, you can check out my post about treating hangovers via my WeChat blog (WeChat ID: docsays). I think the best remedy is to take some herbal anti-hangover pills before and after you drink, or simply just control yourselves and drink moderately! 

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of the Beijinger.
Read the issue via Issuu online here, or access it as a PDF here.

More stories by this author here.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @flyingfigure
Instagram: @flyingfigure

Photo courtesy of Debbie Ma

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