China isn’t exactly known for its quality beer. Its biggest-selling beers are Snow and Tsingdao, which are both pretty awful. When I first came to China in 2010, living in Hefei, the most exotic beers around were Tiger and Budweiser. Out in the sticks – where I’m currently living – people still prefer their beer warm and with a maximum of 2.5% abv.
Yet in recent years there’s been an explosion of interest in craft beer, which has caused the bar scene in cities like Hefei to grow at an incredible pace. In 2010 there were only one or two poor quality bars and now there are dozens of great ones. It seems a new bar opens every week. You can go places where they have twenty or more beers on tap and fridges with endless stocks of obscure beers from around the world. (The best bar in Hefei, if you find yourself in the area, is Shipyard on Shuguang Road.)
It’s not just imported brews that are quenching the Chinese thirst for good beer, though. As the Chinese have gained a taste for good beer, they’re getting into homebrewing and companies are popping up all over the place. Right now the brewing scene in China is incredible, and I hope that China is soon recognized for its excellent beers. Mostly, I hope that the fondness for cold IPAs spreads into the small cities so that I don’t have to travel for a few hours just to get a beer below room temperature!
The biggest Chinese craft brewer is Master Gao, who operates out of Nanjing. He organizes beer festivals which are attended by brewers from around the country, who come to show off their creations. This year the regular beer festival was replaced by a homebrew competition, where people from all over the country sent in their best brews to be tasted by a panel of experts. An assortment of brewers showed up, too, to sell their beers. Sadly, this year’s festival was hit hard by the rain and attendance was low, but the event still proved fun.
I went along with the Calvin Beer Company from Hefei. Despite the rain, we managed to keep the crowds entertained with with two great beers – the I Pledge Allegiance IPA and the Liquid Sunshine APA – and taught the locals how to play beer pong. Is there anything that breaks down cultural barriers like beer? I don’t think so.