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Beer in China: Part Three

“This Dirty Little Cup Really Sets Off the Starchy Adjuncts”

Here’s another fairly minor observation I made about beer culture in China: I’m pretty sure it’s a social faux pas to drink beer straight from the bottle there.  Every time you order a bottle of beer, no matter the size or how crappy the brew, it comes with a little drinking glass that you are to keep filling as you go.

Little drinking glass... check.

Little drinking glass… check.

I usually* just used the glass because it was there. However, some of my travel mates were out drinking one cheery night, and another table of Chinese patrons kept raising their bottles toward them and making different motions, all while laughing and saying things in Chinese to my friends.  “We thought they were just toasting us and being friendly,” one of my American friends told me (by the way, this behavior is so common there that this would have been my first thought as well), “but then we began to realize: Hey! I think they’re making fun of us for drinking straight from the bottle!” I haven’t been able to verify this idea about drinking from bottles since getting back to the states, but I’m pretty sure she was right.

And now for the asterisk part of the discussion:

A little low-rent Korean place.  Food was great, but beer came with tiny plastic drinking "glass".

A little low-rent Korean place. Food was great, but beer came with tiny plastic drinking “glass”.

*Like I said, I almost always drank from the little glass, and I do firmly believe in the old “When in Rome” saying.  However, while it may be uncouth to drink straight from the bottle in China, below are a few thoughts about why this isn’t always the most logical approach to downing a beer in the PRC:

  1. The little glasses sometimes come to the table a bit wet.  Unknown water is your enemy in China.  Short of a napkin, I’ve used my shirt to thoroughly wipe a glass dry and then let it sit for a minute or so to evaporate what moisture was left.  You know, just to be safe (or paranoid, depending on your point of view).
  2. In a very modern, mall-like bullet-train station, my two friends and I ordered 12 oz. Tsingtao bottles, and all three of the glasses that came with them were damp and stunk of stale beer, as if they had not been washed after last use.  Bottles are at least (relatively) sanitary, and these bottles had just been opened, so we went ahead and yokeled it up and passed on the glasses, thank you very much.
  3. When in doubt about the glass, remember: In China, you’re probably not drinking Old Rasputin, so glassware is often not really a necessity.  In fact, wait a minute… That’s a 2.5% abv Snow adjunct lager sitting in front of you, for God’s sake!  Who cares?



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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