Organizer Candice Lee On Growing Consumer Interest, Artisanal Brews, And The History Of Beer In China
After clearing up an LGBT booth controversy created by a disgruntled venue employee earlier this week, the second annual Beijing Craft Beer Fest is ready to kick off at the newly built Zaha Hadid-designed Galaxy Soho building located near the city’s east second-ring road. The brainchild of Great Leap Brewery’s Carl Setzer, Liu Fang, and Liz Phung, the two-day festival will bring together six breweries to welcome over 1,500 of Beijing’s craft beer enthusiasts.
Prior to the event, Jing Daily caught up with event organizer and Beijing-based cooking instructor Candice Lee to learn more about beer culture in China and the growing popularity of craft beer among both expats and locals in Beijing.
Can you provide some background on beer-drinking in China? What type of beer is popular there, and what are general attitudes toward craft beer?
Beer has been around for a long time in China. It’s common to see people sharing beers over lunches and dinners. Domestic beers tend to be a bit weaker in China (2-3 percent) and are casually drank with meals. The beers that are most commonly drank in Beijing are Tsingdao and Yangjing beer, with very few specialty beers. Beer is not always drank for its taste but more as a casual, refreshing drink. Craft beers are still quite a new concept in China.
In Beijing, there are less than 10 craft breweries. The flavor and the alcohol content of craft beers are generally higher than those of large domestic beers, not to mention the price difference. I find that sometimes the strong flavors of beer and the price difference are what the Chinese population is still not quite used to. Buying a bottle of commercial beer on the street is about 4 RMB, whereas craft beers generally range from 25 RMB to 60 RMB. The culture behind drinking beer for Chinese is also being able to continuously drink through dinners and special events as a gesture of friendliness with other people. In Chinese culture, people drink full (small) glass after glass of Chinese beer over the course of several hours, which might be tough with a stronger beer. Chinese people currently still largely prefer domestic beers over craft beers, if not for the price and taste, for the culture.
What is the history of craft beer in China? What are the major breweries there right now?
I’m not sure when craft beer started in China. From my understanding, there are breweries in a few Chinese cities such as Dali, Shanghai, Suzhou, Dalian, and Qingdao, but I’m sure there are more popping up every year. Homebrewing is happening all over China, and there several homebrewer societies in Beijing alone. In Beijing, the commercial brands of Chinese beer are usually Tsingdao and Yanjing and the foreign brands are Carlsberg, Budweiser, and Heineken.
Who attends the craft beer fest?
People of all ages attend the beer festival. Not only is there beer, but there are plenty of amazing food vendors, live music, and a bouncy castle. Beijing is a very international city, so many different nationalities come to enjoy the beer.
What is the turnout like this year compared to last year in terms of number of guests and brewers?
Last year, there were five brewers and this year we have six brewers: Great Leap Brewery (Beijing), Slow Boat Brewery (Beijing), Jing A (Beijing), Arrow Factory Brewing (Beijing), Boxing Cat Brewery (Shanghai), and Le Ble D’Or (Suzhou). Last year was mostly foreigners that attended the event, but this year, we plan to have many more Chinese nationals coming to experience craft beers.
Is there a market for craft beer in China? How is the craft beer culture in China different compared to the West?
There is definitely a market for craft beer in China. It’s still new and just starting to make waves, but every year there are more and more brewpubs and homebrewers all over China. By building this community of brewers and people that appreciate craft beers, more and more people are getting excited and experiencing great craft brews.
How many craft breweries are there in China, and what cities are they in?
I’m not sure how many craft breweries in China, but there are more and more every year. Right now, from my knowledge, there are maybe 15 craft brewers in China, but it’s really hard to say because China is continually growing and independent brewers are popping up all that time. There are a few beer festivals around China, but there are only a couple of craft beer festivals that I know of.
How popular is craft beer in comparison to other alcohol and spirits?
Domestic beer and baijiu (Chinese grain alcohol) are still the most popular alcoholic drinks among Chinese people (though it also depends on region). Craft beer comsumption is very little amongst the Chinese population.
Is there anything unique about Chinese craft beer compared to Western counterparts?
There is no difference for Western and Chinese craft beers, except for the local ingredients ad flavors. The brewing process is generally the same but we have a lot of amazing flavors and fragrances here. For example, Great Leap uses domestic grains and malts and add such local flavors as Sichuan peppercorn (Honey Ma beer) and Cassius bark/rock sugar (Cinnamon Rock Ale).
What is the profile of your average Chinese beer drinker? How much is the market growing among Chinese consumers?
Mostly overseas Chinese that have experienced craft beer before abroad are the most likely to come in specifically for the beer, but Chinese people are starting to get more and more curious about the beer. The ones that are purely curious about the beer are generally young professional Chinese that hear of our brand through the internet. The potential of creating unique beer in China is huge and we are just starting to dig in. It’s getting exciting here!