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).
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!
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!