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

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

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

An Unexpected Turn

How to Drink Beer in Mandarin book cover.When I started planning the writing of The Great Hop Forward, I read that a successful Kickstarter campaign results from an audience built ahead of time. Therefore, the first thing I did was set up a Twitter account to do just that.

I like Twitter because I find it more conducive to establishing relationships than Facebook. I also like how Twitter allows you to create lists of those you follow in order to segment different audiences, communities, and information sources. And when you find suitable people or organizations to establish a relationship with, their followers are likely to be of interest to you, too, saving time hunting around for more followers.

To interest people in following you, you need to offer them something of value. My value proposition is to be the best information source in English for craft beer developments in China. I also want to encourage people to travel to China to experience the excitement of its economic and social transformation – craft beer being an interesting microcosm of that change. Continue reading