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Interview: Scott Williams & Carl Oakley

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Scott Williams (l) and Carl Oakley of the Bad Monkey
Scott Williams (l) and Carl Oakley of the Bad Monkey

Since opening in 2003 the Bad Monkey has been nothing short of a drinking institution in Dali's old town. Initially a backpacker dive bar, the Monkey has steadily moved upmarket and is now a legitimate registered business. Not only does the Bad Monkey have one of the old town's most extensive drink selections, it also hosts loads of live music and has a kitchen that pumps out decent pub grub – we were very impressed by the Sunday roast we recently enjoyed there.

But there is little doubt – for us at least – that the most interesting development at the Bad Monkey in the last year has been their microbrewed beer (not to be confused with homebrew), which is produced at their brewery, conveniently located next to a 1,000-year-old mountain spring in the foothills of the Cang Mountains.

The Bad Monkey Brew House currently uses five fermenters to crank out 2,100 liters of beer each month – a stat which could skyrocket if plans to apply for a bottling license are successful.

We joined Londoners and Bad Monkey owners Scott Williams and Carl Oakley at their brewing facility a couple of weeks ago and were quite impressed with their setup. Sitting next to the Yinbo Spring (银箔泉) that produces the water for all of Bad Monkey's beers, we sipped on English tea while chatting about where the Monkey's been, and where it's headed:

GoKunming: How did you end up with the name 'Bad Monkey'?

Scott Williams: Sitting around drinking with friends and trying to think of a name that we liked. I said "Bad Monkey" and everyone liked it.

Carl Oakley: We always hoped that by the time we had made a name for ourselves and were getting interviewed we'd have a good story, but that's how we got it.

GK: What factors led to you deciding to brew your own beers?

Oakley: I had done some home brewing when I was younger... I've always been interested in beer and we've always wanted to do something to make our bar different. In the end we decided to make a brewpub with live music.

The Americans have the most amazing brewpub culture. We went to California for three months four years ago and that's when we decided that we were going to do this. It pisses a lot of Germans off when I say that America makes the best beer.

Yinbo Spring (银箔泉), the source of water for all Bad Monkey beers
Yinbo Spring (银箔泉), the source of water for all Bad Monkey beers

GK: What's the most difficult thing about brewing beer?

Williams: The ingredients can be a bitch from time to time.

Oakley: The hardest thing about brewing is consistency. Temperature, time and pH are the things you can influence most, so you must have your standard operating procedure down.

We've studied under four different brewers. For something that's only got four ingredients, there's a lot more going on scientifically in beer than people would believe. Had I known how complex it was before we started, I probably wouldn't have done it. [Laughs]

We've done 32 different brews and sold them all. The only thing we've always kept is the dark beer, because Chinese love black beer.

Williams: When Chinese come in they don't ask for Guinness or another brand they just ask for heipi [black beer].

Oakley: We didn't want to reinvent the wheel. We asked Chinese customers for input and they helped us adjust the flavor and it sold well. We toyed around with tea beer and chilli beer but the dark beer is the best seller. The wheat beer we did was very popular with Westerners.

GK: It seems you have plenty of spare room up here around the brewery, do you have any plans for some of this extra space?

Oakley: We hope to have a brewpub and restaurant open here in four months. This is not going to be the Bad Monkey people have seen, it's going to be a place to have good beer and a venison steak.

Turning water into beer: Brewkettles at the Bad Monkey brewery
Turning water into beer: Brewkettles at the Bad Monkey brewery

GK: How are Western and Chinese beer drinkers different?

Williams: Many Chinese like to ganbei [bottoms up] so they don't necessarily want a complex beer.

Oakley: China's only just getting a real beer culture now. Chinese people drink mostly strong alcohol if they want to get drunk, they're not used to drinking a beer for its complex flavors. The 10 biggest breweries in the world are now in China imitating Chinese beers. But just as you have Chinese getting interested in good bottles of wine, people in China are also becoming interested in microbrews. They're drinking it, which means there's a market for it.

Making a microbrew requires making it with love. If you want to put time and love into making something, it's going to cost more. One example is a bitter ale, which costs two-and-a-half times more to make than a lager because you need to add lots more bittering hops.

All of our malts are German, our hops are from Czech Republic, England or America and our yeasts are from Belgium and England. Our water is from China – it's incredibly good, we've had it tested. In this business, you have to do something where it's more than money that sets you apart... otherwise there's always someone willing to eat pot noodles until you go out of business.

GK: What do you think sets your beers apart from mass-produced local or imported beers?

Oakley: I think our beer's freshness is appealing to our customers. You have to sell the beer we make while it's fresh. If you were to filter and pasteurize it, it would be good for a year. Our beer is only good for three months because we don't filter it, so there's a flavor profile there that a lot of people aren't used to. I think they're impressed, the proof is they come back and drink more of it despite it being more expensive.

GK: How would you characterize the changes in Dali that you've witnessed since moving here?

Oakley: It's grown from an authentic town into a major tourist destination. There weren't many tour groups before, but now its grown into a much busier place. Five years ago I was saying that in five years I wouldn't like Dali anymore. The government here lets people do their thing and it still has an old town feel... It hasn't become Yangshuo and you don't have people being forced to dress in local minority costumes like in Lijiang. I think they've developed it better than I thought they would, but I'm not sure if I'll like it here in five years, because once development starts, it doesn't stop.

Dali got famous for a lot of the wrong reasons several years back... now all the hippie bars are gone and the government is working to change its image. We want to be Westerners doing positive things here.

GK: What were the initial steps of getting the brewpub idea off the ground?

Oakley: Our American friend Max was studying in Kunming a few years ago... we'd mentioned to him that we were interested in doing a brewpub and he said, 'Come to Cali, dude!' I couldn't believe how friendly Americans were there. They gave us lots of help and inspiration.

GK: Are there other cities in China that might have their own Bad Monkey brewpubs in the future?

Oakley: We've looked into it. Places we've looked at that we think we'd do well in tend to have established populations of Westerners. Places like Kunming, Wuhan, Nanjing and Suzhou.

Williams: We looked at Shanghai and we think that we would need to grow a bit more before moving into a market like that.

Oakley: We wanna be the Hard Rock Cafe of China, mate... a brewpub with live music, possibly franchises. We don't want to run bars forever. I'd be very comfortable running a brewery. We both see ourselves in China for a while, for sure.

GK: What's the best thing about running the Bad Monkey?

Williams: Meeting lots of people is one of the best things about our job.

Oakley: The money! [Laughs] We're both people people. You get to meet people at their best when they're on holiday.

GK: Of all your experiences during your time in Dali, what has been the biggest surprise for you?

Williams: To have come this far. We started the bar for fun, but increasing regulations have made running the bar harder, which has made us work harder.

Oakley: The fact that we've still enjoyed it as the business has actually become a business. As rents have gone up we've had to raise our prices, which pissed off the hippies. Many have said we've sold out. But we've turned something that was originally just for fun into a business and we still enjoy it – that's what's most surprising.

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hey guys finally some decent beer for us lot living in china to drink i especially liked the drunken monkey please sort your bottling license out so we can drink it in kunming or hurry up and open a bad monkey here

excellent microbrewed beers as good as any i have drunk in the U.S i cant belive i stumbled across such good beer in china, great bar fell out at 4 in the morning, no hangover and straight back for more the next day hell yeah.

i went to the old bad monkey i remember you talking about starting a brewery i never doubted you but f#%ck sake you guys really got it down congratulations with everything live music, beer and the food. you guys did it see you again sometime

best of luck morty

spent my birthday in the monkey, loved the beer "Americans make the best beer???" would that be corrs or budweiser?

good to see some laowai with some fresh ideas wish id thought of it myself more power to the monkey. when can we expect to see you opening in kunming we need good beer

I've been coming to Dali for 5 years and its great to finally have some good beer to drink in this place. Look forward to more brews in the future especially the gouji berry!!!!!

Beer with taste and alcohol in China i dont belive it i was in China last month,missed Dali ran out of time in Lijiang so flew back to Kunming i
so wanna come back.See you next time Jay

A really nice article, Chris. to Scott & Carl I'd like to say: We've been "Bad Monkeys" for quite a while. I know this article centered on the brew and the evolution of the Monkey, but I want to say thanks for all of the love & support and encouragement you've given to all of the musicians. there's nothing better than a good place, a 'real" bar that combines great beer and cocktails with live music.

In regard to the comment someone made about American beer, I'd just point out that you guys are talking about the American micro brew culture — and I'd agree — it's probably the best in the world.

See you soon for some beer, music and perhaps that venison steak!

Oh, and trust me, your first franchise should definitely be set up in Kunming!


One of the great joys of my almost ten year Chinese odyssey was discovering this cool little hole in the wall called Bad Monkey five or six years ago. When I returned to Dali six months later, Carl & Scott had expanded into the best pub/restaurant in Dali. And last Summer, I was fortunate to be there for the unveiling of the new microbrewery and the best beer I've tasted since I lived in Europe many many moons ago.

Most Americans reading this will remember the TV show, Cheers...the place "where everybody knows your name". That's the Bad Monkey! Carl and Scott are two big reasons I keep coming back to Dali.
What an incredible success story...Two guys from London come to China and carve a nitch for themselves and create the best beer in Asia.
I've got quite a few pictures and videos of the place on my Flickr page. Perhaps it will give you some idea of the fun and madness...


Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to Dali this Summer, new baby and all. Hmmm...wonder how much it costs to ship a keg or two to Zhengzhou???


these two greezy geezers. bout time they got the brewery up and running. they also have great burmese rum and beer lao and they love it when guests get behind the bar and puke.


ok i'll temper that comment above with a high five for respectability and progress. The boys have moved from a dark cave to a bad ass brewpub in the making. Truly remarkable when you consider all of the BS you have to deal with in a crazy town like Dali. The boys done good. And actually they locked me in the bathroom for puking behind the bar. so no, don't do it.


Cheers guys for making Dali the place it is to me: a place where you can get your hands in it, where you can work hard on a project and enjoy every minute of it, and learn new things along the way from all the people there, be they long term residents or just passing through. It can be a liberating place, an atmosphere they have contributed to greatly, and that is one reason why these guys have flourished there; the other of course is their imported (smuggled?) dodgy Londoner sensibilities.

I'm glad that you guys were able to make it over to Cali. You're welcome back any time...dudes. And I hope that when you do make that trip, you have some bottled samples, to show people that Tsingtao ain't the only kind of beer China is making these days. Looking forward to my next trip to Dali; I always love the surprised faces of Chinese tourists (the locals know these guys by now!) to see laowai with shovels and hammers, building something. Through hard work and dedication, that's what these two are doing: they are on a mission, and they are making the best damn beer in China.

Also, a shout out to all those musicians who rock it, and to Zhi Mei and everyone behind the scenes making it all possible. I love the pizza!


Just got back from working a 5 month stint in the monkey. Deffo the best beer in China and its only gonna get bigger and bigger! Cant wait to head back there in a year and see how much its progressed. Lets hope that bottling plant goes through so we can all be drinking monkey beer whereever we are!


Gotta give it to Scott and Carl - two very clever guys.

I've had so much fun in Dali and lots of it has been in the BM. The beer is quality and WHEN that starts selling across China then S & C can just take a bow and watch those kuais roll in.

Great owners, great bar and now it's getting some much deserved recognition.

I'll be back there on September 9th. Can't wait!


ha! need a lesson in how to roll? just follow these boys as they work their magic, turning mountain water into delicious fresh brew! sup a few down, then wait to be transported by the wings of bachus into your hop, malt and yeasty dreams - whahey!

look forward to blowing the froth off a couple soon - cheers!!


Bugger me Carley...............where's your hair going?? Towards the back of your head by the looks of it!!!

Fantastic to read about the beer and very impressed with the picture of your brewing facilities, although not surprised with your entrepreneurial skills.

I'll email you soon bruv.

be cool.


This article and the reviews reads like an ad for a new product a company is attempting to introduce to their potential and "uninformed" customers.

This place is ok. It is still very much a backpacker's dive and a popular place for locals to visit because it is considered cool and a good place to practice English. On the plus side, the music is good, the food is not bad and the micro ale is fair.

BUT, the owners have an attitude, service can be very slow (even when compared to western restaurants) and food quality is all over the place.

Chris, In the future, when you write a review of a place, consider writing the article from a secret shopper's perspective. In other words, visit the location and try the product without letting them know you are writing an article to market their bar/restaurant/store. This way you will get the true experience and not a dog and pony show.


amazing accomplishments these guys have made over the many years. Stuck to their goals and made the impossible happen. But when do we gets me bottles in kunming? Very thirsty

I am a brewer from England and cannot believe I was able to get a decent pint of fresh brewed beer in Yunnan. Nice range of beers and the guys were

really friendly when I introduced myself.

I hope their plans come together and they get to sell their beer to more people. Good luck Carl and Scott.


Great Bar with a brilliant selection of food and drinks, excellent music, good atmosphere and your always going to have a laugh talking to the two old gay English guys that run the place


tristan, not a review, but an interview. the focus of which was on the brewing side of things.


Two Bad Asses. Two Gentlemes. Two Friends. Love and Respect.
Miss to staring at the mountains from the out seats..)



hi, i'm n. i should be up there instead of that f%$&@g s. Damn it.


Stephane brew guy that blackmailed you for 80,000 yuan. That guy is made up of squash bollocks


You believed in yourself and I believe in your beer :)
Fabulous Scotty!

i am scott s mum and i just want to say how proud i am of him.
he has fulfilled his dreams. i went to china 6 years ago and was
impressed.he has come alot further now with the brewing of beer.
i hope to visit him again.and i hope he will be able to come and visit me in greece. well done scott and carl. keep up the good work

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