Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chinese Beer, More Than Just Lagers

Boxing Cat Brewery Shanghai China

When you think of Chinese beer, you probably think of yellow, see-through beers like Tsingtao and Yanjing.  Chinese beers might not be high up on your list of favorite beers.  However, these standard Chinese beers do hold an important place and function.  What you might not know is that in addition to these traditional Chinese beers, China actually does have some really good brewpubs and craft breweries where you can enjoy more than China’s most popular beers.  On a recent trip to China we not only learned why traditional Chinese beer is good, but also where to find some excellent craft beers.

Traditional Chinese Beer

Yanjing Beer Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant Beijing China
Most Chinese beers are pale lagers.  Even if you like a darker beer, China’s lagers are actually best suited for pairing with Chinese food.  I read an interesting statement before our trip, and really found it to be true.  When eating rich, greasy foods, such as the quintessential Peking duck, the lightness and sweetness of Chinese lagers actually help cut down the grease factor, allowing diners to not to be overwhelmed by the richness of the dishes.  And in the end, who doesn’t want to be able to eat more duck?  When we dined at Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, we ordered Yanjing Beer, and it paired very well with our Peking duck.

Interestingly, traditional Chinese lagers are often brewed with not just barley, but also rice, sorghum, and rye.  Also, instead of using hops, some Chinese beers use bitter melon to provide that slightly bitter taste.  Yanjing Beer is brewed with mineral water, hops, rice and barley malt.

Beijing Beer Bars

Baby IPA by Master Gao 31 Bar Beijing China
If you do tire of traditional Chinese lagers, Beijing travelers can venture over to the Houhai Lake area where there are a number of bars and clubs.  We opted for 31 Bar where we could sit, have a drink and listen to some live music.  Surprisingly, 31 Bar serves a few Chinese craft beers.  I ordered a local craft brew, Baby IPA by Master Gao.   Baby IPA is a medium caramel colored IPA with a light taste of hops.  A few doors down from 31 Bar is a quiet bar where you can play darts and choose from an entire wall of imported beers, including a number of Belgian brews and a few familiar American craft beers.

Shanghai Craft Breweries

When researching our travels to China, I found China has a few craft breweries, including Beijing’s Great Leap Brewing and Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery and Shanghai Brewery.  We took the opportunity to stop in for lunch at one of the Boxing Cat Brewery brew pubs in Shanghai to try some more Chinese craft beers. 

Boxing Cat Brewery Shanghai China
Boxing Cat Brewery is a microbrewery with beer names following a boxing theme, so it was very appropriate that we happened to stop in while the Manny Pacquiao fight was being aired live.  While we watched the fight I had the Donkey Punch Porter, a brown porter brewed with cacao and ancho peppers.  The Donkey Punch Porter is made with six malts and three hop varieties.  It is a low alcohol dark beer with a subtle taste of chocolate and spice.  Romeo had the TKO IPA, a medium bodied IPA with a hoppy bitterness and citrus notes.

When traveling to China, a beer aficionado might not find the vast array of beers they’re used to in their hometown, but China does offer a surprising variety of beers, not only including traditional Chinese lagers, but also Chinese craft beers.  Visitors just need to do a little research ahead of time and keep their eyes open for the bars and brew pubs selling these unexpected Chinese beers.  Dark beer drinkers might even be surprised how much they can enjoy a nice Chinese lager when throwing down some crispy, greasy Peking duck and other richly sauced dishes.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.