Beer in China

I wanted to write something positive about drinking beer in China.

After all, they are the world`s largest consumers of beer and a major hop-growing nation. They also have the fastest-growing beer market in the world. Their beer production doubled in the past decade to around 48-billion litres of beer per year. That’s about twenty times the production of Canada, but per capita, they’re still catching up.

Sadly, my recent Chinese travels failed to unearth any stellar offerings on the beer front. The predominant brews are pale lagers that are quenching when consumed with a meal, but offer little else.

The most widely available beer in China is Tsing Tao, pronounced “Ching Dow.” It is brewed in the German tradition because the Germans occupied the Qindao area of Eastern China in the late 19th century. The Germania Brewery was created in 1903, and later became known as the Tsingtao Brewery. Exports of Tsing Tao to the United States began in 1972, and it is now the best-selling Chinese beer both in and outside of China.

The brewing tradition has been alive in China for many thousands of years, but modern brewing was not introduced until the end of the 19th century when Russians set up a brewery in Harbin. The Harbin beer I sampled was a pale lager like Tsing Tao, with even less to recommend it. Other major Chinese brews include Yanjing (tastes and smells like perfume), Zhujiang and China Blue Ribbon (no comment).

Tsingtao was my go-to beer in China, but it tasted vastly different in the bottle versus on top. In some cases, the draft was almost like a hefeweizen, with cloudy appearance and not-unpleasant spicy notes.

The inconsistency in beers was evident in the labelling. Beer labels would commonly express alcohol content as a guaranteed minimum, e.g., no less than 3.3% abv., with no mention of what the high end might be.

Although I couldn’t find any interesting beers in China, this may be changing.

Russell Brewing of Vancouver, BC, recently signed a deal with a Chinese company to brew and distribute the Russell brand. Its new brewery is in Hefei, a large city in eastern China, home to more than three million people. The beer will include the same Canadian ingredients and techniques Russell uses in Canada. Interestingly, Big Rock is also looking closely at the Chinese market. Representatives from the brewery joined a large Albertan trade mission to China a couple of years ago.

I didn’t see any rowdy drunk Chinese in Beijing, although there were a few Caucasians in the university district with heavy glows. I even took advantage of the vending machine at my boarding gate at the Beijing airport to sip on a Tsing Tao while they were on the blower calling our flight.

Land of the free? Maybe not, but the nanny-state attitude toward alcohol regulation does not exist in China. I even picked up a few beers from the grocery store and local 7-11 in Beijing to bring home.

Very civilized.

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