Q&A: Craft Beer Enthusiast Hai Yin, Beijing Homebrewing Society

Chinese President Of The Beijing Homebrewing Society

Beijing’s first-ever Craft Beer Festival was held last month (Image: Elizabeth Phung)

Though China is the world’s number one consumer (and producer) of beer, craft beer consumption accounts for only a tiny drop in a very large bucket. But owing to a steadily rising number of drinkers in China looking for higher-quality beers (in line with demand for better wine and spirits), recent years have seen a number of micro- and nano-breweries — among them Beijing’s Great Leap Brewing and Slow Boat Brewery, Qingdao’s Strong Ale Works, and Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery and the Brew — spring up along with a burgeoning homebrewing scene. This year, China’s emerging craft beer and microbrewing scene has gotten a boost from events like the first annual Shanghai Beer Week back in April and last month’s first annual Beijing Craft Beer Festival. This weekend, owing to the presence of Great Leap Brewing, craft beer will even make an appearance at the 14th China International Beer Festival in Dalian, alongside megabreweries like Budweiser and Asahi.

Recently, Jing Daily contributor Philana Woo spoke with Hai Yin (银海), Chinese president of the Beijing Homebrewing Society (北京自酿啤酒协会), which is working to raise awareness of China’s craft beer and homebrewing scene and, hopefully, convert some Tsingtao guzzlers to craft beer enthusiasts.

Jing Daily (JD): How did you get into craft beer?

Hai Yin (HY): I’ve been a big beer drinker since high school, but it was all about Chinese commercial lagers. Six years ago, a friend who is a craft beer lover introduced me to this wonderful world. I remember the first time he brought back an American IPA from the US and said, “This is real beer.” The first sip blew me away, and I’ve been in love with real beer ever since, but at the time there were limited options in the city. I spent a lot on shipping beers from overseas.

In 2008, I lived in Ireland for work for two months. I was fortunate to meet a very experienced home brewer over there, and he pushed me further into the craft beer world. Brewing is the most fun hobby I’ve ever picked up. It’s just so enjoyable and requires a lot of practice, imagination, and innovation. The final outcomes are the best reward.

JD: What is your favorite craft beer?

HY: One of my favorites is Hardcore IPA from [Scottish brewery] BrewDog. It’s such a well-balanced craft beer and combines the character of both English and American IPAs perfectly. You can also easily find it in most “beer places” in Beijing. I also appreciate a pint of authentic Czech Pils, it’s the IPA of the lager world, but very rare in Beijing. I also enjoy the unique citrus and piney aroma of craft brews from the US.

JD: Who is your craft beer role model?

HY: Michael Jackson, not the performing artist, but the one who drank a lot of beer and whiskey and then wrote a lot about beer. I read a lot of his writings when I first got into real beer. And Gao Yan, the first Chinese brewmaster I met. He started a microbrewery in Nanjing several years ago and wrote the first home brewing book in Chinese published in mainland China last year.

Great Leap Brewing in Beijing

JD: How would you compare the beer drinking culture in China to the rest of the world?

HY: Beer drinking in China is all about gan bei (干杯, “bottoms up!”) at dapaidang (大排檔, street food vendors). The domestic tasteless yellow fizzy stuff dominates the beer market and most people don’t even realize that beer can be different. To most Chinese, beer is just a cold summer beverage as opposed to something that should be appreciated.

When I introduce imported craft beer to my Chinese friends, the first reaction they always have is: “So this can taste different?!”

JD: What are the differences between craft beer culture in China compared to the rest of the world?

HY: The craft beer scene is just taking off in first-tier Chinese cities, especially Beijing and Shanghai. Many craft beer shops and bars have popped up in Beijing in the past two years. More and more people are starting to realize the beauty of real beer.

At the moment, it’s still a very small group, but they are going to define the future craft beer scene in China.

JD: Can you give us some background on the history of craft beer in China?

HY: There is no history of craft beer in China, because everything is just happening from nothing. One of the most seminal moments was the founding of our Beijing Homebrewing Society, which is the first independent not-for-profit real beer hobby club and includes both Chinese and expat members. History will be made with these kinds of clubs, when there are more.

JD: Would you say craft beer is becoming popular in China? Do people know about it? What is the profile of your average Chinese who is interested in craft beer?

Hai Yin’s Black IPA, served at last month’s Beijing Craft Beer Festival

HY: At this moment, no, even in a city like Beijing, there are only several places dedicated to craft beer, and there is only a small group of people who really like it.

Many people know about “imported beers,” but there is just too much misleading information out there. For example, most Chinese are convinced that German beer is the best because of the “German Beer purity law,” (Reinheitsgebot) which actually has nothing to do with beer quality. Yet there are so many tasteless “German beers” that are nowhere near “craft beers,” so many people gave up on trying other “imported beers.”

When most Chinese people see me pour a glass of beer and take in the aroma, they think I’m being pretentious. Most Chinese people know nothing about beer at the moment and all the beer geeks I’ve met in China are either in the beer industry or have traveled extensively overseas.

JD: What would you say is the male to female ratio for serious (craft beer) drinkers in China?

HY: Our club has more than 20 Chinese members, but only three are female.

JD: You helped start China’s first homebrewing society. How many members are there? What percentage is Chinese versus foreign? How many had been interested in craft beer prior to joining?

HY: Jacob Wickham started the Beijing Homebrewing Society in January and I was the founding member, also the only Chinese back then. Several months ago I decided to organize a Chinese side meeting. We now have over 50 members, over 20 of whom are Chinese. Many of the foreign members have previous experience about beer, but nearly all the Chinese members are beginners who are just curious about beer and want learn more about it.

JD: What’s your day job?

HY: I’m an engineer.

JD: What do you think most attracts a Chinese consumer to craft beer?

The Boxing Cat Brewery, Sinan Mansions

HY: Curiosity is the most popular reason. When a Chinese person walks into a beer bar or shop, they usually notice the nice-looking bottles. If they’re fortunate enough to pick up the right bottle, they’ll start drinking more of it.

JD: What are some challenges to craft beer brewing in China?

HY: Ingredients are a very big issue. There are no homebrewing specialty ingredients shops, neither online nor offline, because the market is so tiny at the moment. Furthermore, the quality of domestic ingredients is limited. Equipment is not an issue, though. DIY (do it yourself) is a core tenet of the homebrewing spirit!

The Beijing Homebrewing Society: http://www.beijingbrewing.com

Hai Yin’s blog (Chinese): http://blog.sina.com.cn/brewinbeijing

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