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

Where This All Began

Guangzhou street scene.

Men play Go on a Guangzhou street in 1992.

I first visited China on January 25, 1992. It was also my first time visiting a communist country. Even though the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone had been in existence for nearly 10 years, a sense of unease sat in the pit of my stomach as my train plodded through the Guangdong countryside en route to Guangzhou from Hong Kong. I suppose part of it was the butterflies one may get when venturing outside your comfort zone. The other part likely came from the staff’s uniforms which reminded me of the power officialdom can bring to bear on the perceived wrongdoer, agitator, criminal, or spy. I was going to Red China!
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