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

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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

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

The Challenges for China’s Craft Beer Revolution

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Xian Brewing brewer, Jon Therrian, adds malt to his brew kettle.

As in North America, the craft beer phenomenon in China is not a fad. it’s a cultural transformation being driven by a generational shift in the consumer market. With the growing influence of urban Millennials in the marketplace, their needs and preferences are increasingly driving trends.

Craft beer is an aspirational lifestyle product that is attractive to China’s new middle class. It’s an “affordable luxury”, as Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing is fond of saying. Although craft beer lacks the status of wine or Scotch whisky, its appreciation requires all the sophistication of wine tasting but at a fraction of the cost.

Product novelty is important to Millennials. Therefore, drinking a generic light lager designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator holds little interest. Small-batch brewing, on the other hand, embraces continual product innovation. You might say, then, that macro beer is a gastronomic cul-de-sac, craft beer an adventure. Continue reading