China's young raise a toast to craft beer
THE taste for craft beers has taken hold in China in the past few years and shows no signs of abating.
The country is awash with beer, mostly mass-produced industrial types.
More than 47 billion litres of beers were produced last year, more than in any other country, said the National Bureau of Statistics of China.
But young consumers are switching from dominant mass-produced varieties to imports and local craft versions.
At the Fourth Beijing Craft Beer Festival held earlier this month, which attracted at least 8,000 visitors, an aficionado from Tianjin said: "China has so many beer brands like Tsingtao, Yanjing, Zhujiang, Snow and Harbin. But essentially they taste very much the same.
"That's why I love trying craft beers - the fact that you can experience so many different tastes."
Since 2012, imports of foreign beer in China have risen by 737 per cent. At the same time, many local craft alternatives have emerged.
When Gao Yan, 48, founder of Master Gao Brewing Company of Nanjing, tried to sell his first batches of hoppy bitter barley brown ale and IPA (India pale ale) in Nanjing in 2008, it was like "crying out in the desert".
Nobody in China had a clue what craft beer was, he said.
This year, he forecasts sales of one million bottles of Baby IPA and two million bottles of Jasmine Tea Lager, his two flagship bottled craft beers, among more than 20 brews under his Master Gao brand.
"There has been a craft-beer movement in China since 2010," he noted.
These days, small-scale pubs are popping up, selling imported and local craft beers.
"In Chengdu alone, more than 300 pubs were selling foreign bottled beer last year," Mr Gao said.
Despite the frenetic growth, craft-beer sales in China account for less than 1 per cent of the total beer market, industry experts said.
Li Wei, president of the Beijing Home Brewing Society, said: "Even though a lot of pubs have beers on tap and a myriad of new pubs have emerged, there are only six serious local craft-beer players in Beijing."
He estimated that China produces about 100,000 tonnes of craft beers a year.
The rising disposable incomes of Chinese mean the likes of craft beer, wine and Western spirits are becoming more accessible to them.
More people would also come across craft beer when they are abroad.
In China, the definition of craft beer is hard to nail down.
But there is a consensus that three key ingredients are independence, diversity and innovation, something said to be lacking in industrial beer.
Craft beer also tends to combine local culture and ingredients.
American Carl Setzer, who opened the first microbrewery in Beijing in 2010, Great Leap Brewing, said Chinese-style IPA should use all Chinese ingredients, especially all Chinese hops.
At Jing-A Brewing, there is the "Airpocalypse Double IPA" - the worse the pollution in Beijing becomes, the cheaper the beer will be.
Said its American co-founder Alex Acker: "We are using incredibly interesting Chinese ingredients that have never been experimented with before. We share a perspective and culture of China to the world."
ASIA NEWS NETWORK