What is Chinese Beer?

Ask someone what is a Hefeweizen, IPA, or Pilsner, chances are they can give you an accurate enough description, since these are common beer styles stemming from long brewing traditions. Irish Stout, Flanders Red Ale, and Vienna Lager, for example, have distinct characteristics that are also based on well-established beer cultures. No matter where they are brewed—Cigar City Patio Tools Dry Irish Stout, Driftwood Brewery Bird of Prey Flanders Red, Slow Boat Endeavor Vienna Lager—they remain an Irish Stout, a Flanders Red Ale, and a Vienna Lager.

When it comes to Chinese beer, however, the answer isn’t so clear. Most people outside of Asia, when asked what is Chinese beer, will probably say, “Tsingtao”. This is likely due to the fact that in 70 countries and territories outside of China, every Chinese restaurant carries this beer. Although Tsingtao Lager is a Chinese brand of beer made in China, is the beer really Chinese? If beer has only to be made in China to be called, “Chinese”, then wouldn’t that also apply to Budweiser, Carlsberg, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Goose Island?

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2nd Edition of “How to Drink Beer in Mandarin” Updated with New Vocabulary, Breweries

How to Drink Beer in Mandarin book cover.The second edition of my e-book, How to Drink Beer in Mandarin, is now available for download. It has been updated with new vocabulary to reflect contemporary brewing trends—such as “collaboration beer”, “hazy IPA”, and “kveik”—and with a revised list of Greater China craft breweries, including Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The supplemental material has also been edited to bring industry trends and travel tips up-to-date.

The idea for this book originated with my “Mandarin Beer Word of the Day” campaign on Twitter. After extensive searching, I could find no single source of organized, standardized English-Chinese beer vocabulary, so it took me some time to compile a whole year’s worth of #MBWOTD. Then, having created a list of tweets to load into Hootsuite, I realized that they would be useful consolidated into a single glossary. But how to turn it into a more interesting book?

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Arrogant Bastards, Tiny Devils, and Greedy Drinking

In October and November of 2019, I spent seven weeks travelling from Shanghai to Shenzhen to Sanya, visiting craft breweries and brewpubs in 30 cities in the south of China. My Great Hop Forward Southern Tour began with an impromptu tasting at Stone Brewery’s Shanghai taproom of fresh hop British Columbia beers that I had imported via my luggage. Then, leapfrogging down the East Coast, I arrived in Shenzhen in time to volunteer for the ever popular 5th Electric City Craft Beer Fest.

After a week in Shenzhen—the longest I stayed in one location—I travelled north to Qingyuan and Changsha, before heading west into Guizhou. I then looped south through Guangxi and Guangdong again to finish my quest on Hainan Island. On the last day of my adventure, I enjoyed a bittersweet lunch at Steam Rhino Brewing’s new brewpub in Sanya, before heading to the airport for my flight home.

What I experienced on this trip could fill a book. However, the days since my return have been too short and you are only expecting to read a blog post. Therefore, for the sake of brevity, I’ll distill my experiences down to a handful of anecdotes.
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My Beijing Beer Quest

How I Visited 55 Craft Beer Establishments in China’s Capital So You Don’t Have To

With 35 craft breweries and counting, Beijing is clearly the craft beer capital of China. However, that’s not to say you can swing a cat and be assured of hitting a pub or bottle shop that offers something other than Chinese industrial light lager or “premium” imported suds. It’s still early days in the industry’s development. The capital city’s brewpubs and taprooms are also spread out, requiring some guidance and planning to fully appreciate the local brews without fruitless searching wasting your valuable time.

As part of my research into China’s craft breweries for my book, The Great Hop Forward, I recently visited Beijing to evaluate each of its local producers and their various branded taprooms. Beginning with 京A Brewing’s excellent 8×8 China Beer Project, I resolved to evaluate 50 establishments in 14 days. Setting aside two days for the festival, this amounted to an average of just over four stops per day.

By the numbers, my Beijing Beer Quest may not seem to be extraordinary. However, take into consideration the language barrier, the need for accurate location information, the necessary travel between stops, and having to drink for hours daily for two full weeks. It’s not as easy as it seems. As it were, this turned out to be an unprecedented achievement for even those who live there.

How did I do this? Continue reading

Getting Beyond China’s Mythical 1.4 Billion

In casual conversation with those who are interested in China’s craft beer market, it doesn’t take long before mention of China’s 1.4 billion population is made. One can take this as a pat euphemism for seeing the country as a lucrative business opportunity. It can also belie an ignorance that views the country as a monolith.

To attempt exporting on this basis alone would be to court failure. Not all of America is the same. Not all Americans are alike. The same is true of China. Sure there is a lot of capita, but what capita, where? Continue reading

TAPS and Parallel 49 Create First China-Canada Collaboration

In craft beer’s never-ending quest to create something new and different, collaboration beers began as an expression of friendship and mutual respect between two or more brewers. For example, when I learned that the brewhouse from DIX BBQ & Brewery in Vancouver had been bought by the owners of Brassneck Brewery, I proposed to their brewer/co-owner, Conrad Gmoser, that he, Derrick Franche, and Tony Dewald do a brew together on the system they had each used.

So was born the Spirit of DIXmas Past IPA, a bold West Coast IPA that DIX was legendary for. Today, it is brewed at an annual gathering of the three brewers at Brassneck, timed to come out just before the Christmas holidays. Its release at Brassneck spawns an impromptu reunion of DIXheads, the hophead regulars who held their own New Orleans-style funeral wake when the Mark James Group brewpub closed.

These days, collaborations – like brewmasters dinners and tap takeovers – have become rather everyday. To make a statement, you need to come up with a unique angle, such as the Red Racer Across the Nation Collaboration for Canada’s 150th anniversary. This was a 12-pack of collaborations Central City’s brewer, Gary Lohin, made with one brewer from each province and territory in the country, which I shared at the China Craft Brewers Conference Industry Night in Shanghai in May. Continue reading

The Dragon and the Beaver: Comparing Craft Beer in China and Canada

The emergence of craft beer is, foremost, a reaction against the excessive dominance of mass-market lager. If one believes a state of harmony is achieved with the mean, then this is but a natural reaction to restore balance with a greater degree of diversity.

While local conditions and histories differ, this only affects the characteristics and pace of change, not the fact that the appeal of craft beer is growing around the world. We can see from examples in Canada and China, the similarities in how the development of craft beer not only transforms the business of brewing but also the culture of drinking. Continue reading

CBCE Set to Become China’s Premier Craft Beer Market Place

As China’s craft beer industry grows, the challenges affecting its development become increasingly apparent. Some craft breweries may be able to overcome several of these roadblocks individually, however, many are best addressed collectively.

Attending this year’s Craft Beer China Exhibition & Conference from May 17-19 in Shanghai, the excitement of China’s craft beer industry coming together was palpable. Demonstrating the outside interest in China’s craft beer market, Bob Pease, President & CEO of the US Brewers Association, set the tone for CBCE 2017 with his keynote address, “Craft Brewers: Sustaining Excellence and Growth”. Continue reading

Cathay Pacific Launches High-Flying Craft Beer

On February 21, Cathay Pacific released Betsy Beer, a 5.1% ABV, 20 IBU craft brew specially created by Hong Kong Beer Co. for the airline cabin environment at 35,000′. With the launch targeted at Cathay’s Hong Kong to United Kingdom routes, the beer was designed to include elements of both locales. Longan (dragon eye) fruit and honey from the Wing Wo Bee Honey Farm in Shatin were added to represent Hong Kong. Fuggle hops grown in Kent, England, were chosen to characterize the destination. Rounding out the recipe is 60% wheat malt, 40% Pilsener malt, and a lager yeast.

Cathay Pacific’s ad agency, McCann Worldgroup Hong Kong, first approached the airline last year with the concept of creating a beer designed to enhance the in-flight experience. Once McCann’s Cathay Pacific Central Team finalized the concept, Cathay & McCann then approached Hong Kong Beer Co. to develop the brew. They were chosen based on their reputation and pioneering role in Hong Kong’s craft beer industry. McCann’s Julian Egli had previously worked for Liquid Assets, Hong Kong Beer Co’s former distributor, so was also familiar with their products. Continue reading

Hong Kong’s Largest Craft Beer Celebration

Beertopia 2016 PosterAsia’s first craft brewery launched in Hong Kong in 1995 when I happened to be living there. Fast forward to 2012, the city still had only one craft brewery, despite the efforts of some enterprising individuals who saw the potential. Fortunately, when Canadian, Jonathan So, discovered the lack of craft beer events and a general apathy towards beer in Hong Kong, he decided to do something about it. He started the Beertopia festival.

When embarking on a venture, you never really know what will happen. Changing culture can be a long, drawn out process or it may happen overnight. Are people ready for it? Is what you’re offering attractive? Are you engaging people with the right messaging? Can what you’ve created be scaled up and leveraged to carry the change forward? Continue reading