China is the largest beer-consuming nation in the world, accounting for around 25% of the global volume of beer. Whilst Snow Beer is the best selling beer in the world (around 101 million hectolitres sold globally in 2017), China has much more to offer for craft beer fans.
Writer: Malin Norman
In the recent World Beer Awards, China’s craft breweries did really well. Boxing Cat won World’s Best Hoppy Wheat, Steppeo won World’s Best Berliner Weisse, and NBeer won World’s Best Strong Wheat Beer and World’s Best Gose. In a statement Adrian Tierney-Jones, Chair of the World Beer Awards, said about this year’s winners: “Once again the winners in the World Beer Awards show an exciting snapshot of some of the best beers being brewed across the globe today.”
Claimed to be one of the first and most internationally recognised microbreweries, Boxing Cat was established in 2008 in Shanghai. It is now present in several brewpub locations, yet still believes in good craft beer, well-made American comfort food and friendly service. Boxing Cat has received plenty of awards, also for best beer selection, best brunch, and best American restaurant.
NBeer opened in the summer of 2013. Tucked away in a little corner next to a historic temple, the original flagship NBeerPub quickly blossomed as an epicenter of the burgeoning craft beer scene. Such status remains today, as it continues featuring the best in craft brewing, as demonstrated at the World Beer Awards, amongst other prominent international beer competitions.
Last but not least of the award-winning trio, Steppeo, or Inner Mongolia Steppeo Brewery, was set up three years ago. This newbie is already going strong with several international beer awards under the belt. At the World Beer Awards, it was also named China Country Winner for its Maibock and Weizen, and received silver for the Belgian IPA and American IPA.
A beery local’s perspective
To find out what the craft beer scene looks like from a local’s perspective, I talked to Bruno Cepollina, a former Londoner who now lives in Beijing.
Q: How would you describe the beer scene in China?
The craft beer scene in China is growing, mostly through brewpubs, as there are laws that inhibit small-scale canning and bottling. People in China are very open to new styles of beer. It’s even possible to find imported Belgian beer in convenient stores like 7 Eleven. This is interesting as craft beer is a huge departure from traditional Chinese beer brands, both in alcohol content, taste and price. The typical local beer is under 4% alcohol and very light in taste.
Q: Which breweries would you recommend?
In cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, there are several breweries for trying craft beer on tap together with good food. In Beijing, the best beer is brewed by Jing A, while both Great Leap and Slow Boat offer good pints and tasty burgers. In Shanghai, Boxing Cat is probably the place to go.
For sure, we can expect more innovative beers from China over the coming years in response to consumers’ increasing demand for flavour diversity.