Craft beer in China is bubbling up.
After years of building, the largest beer-consuming nation on Earth finally has a multitude of beers it can be proud to call its own. After launching our own range of Chinese craft brews this year, we thought it would be interesting to look into how it all began – and where it might be headed.
There are worse places to start than with the guy that is sometimes been called the father of Chinese craft brewing – Gao Yan, AKA Master Gao. After living in the U.S. for 15 years, Master Gao returned to China in 2008 and quickly set about starting his own craft brewery. After publishing his own book – Get Your Own Brew! – Gao went public with his first bottled beer and what some have called China’s first ever craft beer, the Baby IPA.
The capital’s craft brewing scene, meanwhile, is already the turf of cult heavyweights. Microbreweries like 京A, Arrow Factory, Slow Boat and Great Leap – to name just a few – have sprung up all over the capital producing beers that could compete with the leaders anywhere in the world. Many of them now sell their bottled brews throughout the country.
And it’s not just in the biggest cities, either. Out in Wuhan (in central Hubei province) Jiang Qi, founder of 18 Brewpub, is making one of China’s finest and most acclaimed IPAs (the Tiao Dong Who) after turning down job offers from Budweiser and deciding to go it alone. Or take Wang Rui, the man behind Chengdu’s Chengdu Harvest Brewing Company (the first small brewer in China to get a keg license). Though brewers have obviously been finding ways to ply their craft for longer, that this milestone came so recently shows how young China’s craft scene really is.
Over a few short years, things have changed rapidly, too. “When we started most customers wanted stouts, wheat beers and English ales. However, that changed quickly when the IPA craze came to China,” says Thomas Gaestadius, one of the guys behind Arrow Factory Brewing (founded in 2012).
So, what does the future hold for Chinese craft beer? It depends on who you ask, but some things are pretty easy to agree on. “More Chinese craft breweries will get investment,” Tom says, “and be able to scale up with both production and distribution”.
“The US developed it’s own preferences different from European brewing and kick started its own craft beer “Revolution” and China will do the same.” There will also be some exciting variations across the country, too, he predicts. “Each region is the size of a country with preferences and cultures as diverse as Europe. What someone from Sichuan likes differs from someone from Dongbei or Guangdong likes”.
But it’s already happening. Breweries like Great Leap, 京A, Boxing Cat and more have used local ingredients like Sichuan pepper corn, red sorghum and flowers in their beers. Others, like SONG, aim to specifically cater to Chinese palates, creating light beers that will go just as well with hotpot as a Tsingtao – but pack way, way more flavor.
With so much going on, it’s hard to tell what exactly the future will hold. The one certainly, though, is that it’s going to keep tasting a lot better.