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Beer in China: Part Two

Craft Beer in China and My Accidental Adventure

In my last post, I referenced a great article about beer in China.  I found this article in an issue of HOPS Magazine, and I found HOPS magazine by (almost literally) stumbling into it.

HOPS is a publication (I got a copy of both their Chinese and English versions) dedicated to Chinese beer culture, with an emphasis on craft and high-quality beers.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that they were at a pretty significant Shanghai beer event known as Sinan Mansions Beer Festival.  What did surprise me, as I walked down Chongqing South Road in Shanghai at about 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, is that I was heading right for a beer festival!  In China!  Where I hadn’t had any Chinese beer stronger than about 4% abv in over two weeks!

I had a couple of hours to kill, so it popped into my head to check if Untappd worked and see if I was close to any good beers.  Untapped does work in China, and I was fairly close to Boxing Cat Brewery, which I had read about stateside.  So I headed that way.

Just roll with it, OK?

Just roll with it, OK?

When I arrived, a big banner on Boxing Cat’s block announced that the Sinan Beer Fest was going on right there on that block.  I went straight for the tents and started navigating the crowds (which were significant but not on the scale of the Oregon Brewers Festival). In my excitement to find good, strong beer, I bought a Chimay on the spot, which, in retrospect, was a mistake, as I only had limited cash on me and there ended up being a lot of Chinese craft beer options, toward which I should have devoted all of my resources (I was in China, after all!).

I was also able to try a number of the Chinese beers, though.  I had East City Porter by the superbly named Great Leap Brewing, Buckwheat Ale by Le Ble dÓr’s Suzhou facility, TKO IPA by Boxing Cat Brewery, as well as a few other samples here and there. To get a good, quick overview of craft beer in China, I, again, recommend the HOPS article, but here are a few of my own observations about craft beer in China:

Sainan Beer Festival

Happy Drunk People

  • The mix at the brew fest was about 60%-70% white expats, and most brewers and brewery booth staff were expats as well (though this wasn’t necessarily the case for distributor/retail/publications booths).  Craft beer seems to be very expat-driven; however, the article notes that “now Chinese now outnumber expats in the Beijing Homebrewing Society”, and I agree with the author that this is a good sign for the future of the Chinese beer scene.
  • I hate to be a critic in matters like this, but the beers I was able to try were, overall, pretty good but not great, and not to the level of what we’re used to in, say, Oregon.  As the article notes, brewing (including access to supplies) is a tougher go in China, and it this may play a part in many a finished product.
  • Like craft beer scene in America, the scene in China seems to be fun, dynamic, and energetic.
  • It would be very exciting to be associated with one of the craft brewers in China right now. From what I’ve seen and read, I think it could be argued that the industry has developed enough steam to move past being characterized as “nascent” and is now better described as “burgeoning”.  Further to this, the growth of incomes, interests, and Western tastes among China’s local citizens (urban ones, at least) bodes well for places like Boxing Cat Brewery.

Boxing Cat


Beer in China: Part One

General Observations

I recently returned from a trip to China, and while it was very interesting in many ways, this is a beer blog, so I’m going to talk about the beer of China over the next few posts.

Actually, I’m going to first refer you to this great HOPS article on the current status of beer in China – both mainstream and the emerging craft beer movement. My experience in China almost completely falls in line with what the author details in terms of typical super-light, watery, adjunct-style lagers being the only option in most run-of-the mill restaurants and bars (though some bars [even non-Expat] offer some pretty good Western beers by the bottle if you’re willing to pay for them).

Hot fish, hot tea, hot room, and slightly cool Snow Beer.  Actually, a really good experience.

Hot fish, hot tea, hot room, and slightly cool Snow Beer. Actually, a really good experience.

Really, if you can’t read the beers on a Chinese menu and the server doesn’t speak English, your best bet is to just say “Tsingtao”, because it’ll most likely (though not always) be the most robust thing you can get (in Suzhou-Shanghai, at least). Oh, and though this kind of beer is obviously best served cold, it often comes to your table just semi-cold (more like a proper ale temperature at first, only to warm in the hot air if you dally). But hey, this beer does go great with a lot of Chinese food!

Sinkiang Black Beer at a Muslim Restaurant in Suzhou

Sinkiang Black Beer at a Muslim Restaurant in Suzhou

Every once in a while, though, there will be an oddball Chinese beer that holds some interest. Sinkiang Black Beer was a nice change of pace. It was a dark beer – the only dark Chinese beer I found outside of the craft scene – yet still a bit on the weak/mild side for a dark beer (tasted maybe like a dark lager with some strange backflavors?) It’s from the Xinjiang (heavily Islamic/Uyghur) region of China, so look for it in Muslim restaurants.

I also liked the above-mentioned article because it does a good job of laying out the history of the industry and reflects so much of China’s business and economic culture at the moment. I was in China as part of an MBA “China Studies” program, and I’ve spent a lot of time lately learning about Chinese history, culture, and business. The beer scene in China could make an interesting case study, as it is in many ways a microcosm of what’s happening in China in general: changing consumer tastes, Western influence in an increasingly open China, the emergence of new industries, the governmental and infrastructure challenges of the existing system, etc. Cool stuff, and very exciting times for beer enthusiasts in China!

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