There’s nothing as satisfying as exploring the cultures of the world, especially when it comes to their alcoholic beverages. China, for example, is widely known as one of the biggest exporters of beer on the planet. More to the point, Chinese beer is also fast gaining a reputation as some of the best on the market. The challenge is that it really can be difficult to know what to drink, and why.
That’s why we’re here.
Here’s our quick guide to Chinese beer and a few Chinese beer brands you should try!
A Brief History Of Beer In China
When a country has a history of beer brewing that stretches back to 7,000 BC, you know it takes the matter seriously. Indeed, several archaeological digs have found proof of craft beer stretching back multiple centuries.
Ancient beer of this sort was referred to as Lao Li and included rice, hawthorns, honey, and grapes. It was popular throughout the Xia dynasty and was apparently a great way to honour both the Gods and the dead.
Lao Li was eventually replaced by huangjiu, otherwise known as yellow wine. Huangjiu is also based around rice, but can incorporate wheat, sorghum or millet. Most fascinating is that yellow wine is thoroughly aged before being consumed, sometimes by as much as 10 years.
Modern brewing came about in the early 19th century, thanks to the arrival of immigrants from Germany and Poland. Yellow wine was then replaced by the more commonly known lager in the 20th century, which in turn resulted in a boom of breweries across the nation. A number of Chinese beer brands quickly rose to the top, with the most successful being Tsingtao Brewery and Manchuria Beer.
Tsingtao Brewery, run by a German, was founded in 1903. It coincided with the establishment of the Anglo-German company.
Manchuria Beer came about due to a collaboration between a pair of Japanese companies; Nippon Beer and Kirin Beer. Interestingly, Manchuria Beer has gone through many changes over the years, with some struggling to understand that the many different names all actually refer to the same company.
The most commonly recognised name is Snow Beer, although the organisation is currently referred to as Shenyang Huarun Snow Beer. Shenyang Huarun Snow Beer is owned by the China Resource Enterprise.
What Are The Major Chinese Beer Companies?
The already mentioned Tsingtao Brewery and Snow Beer are recognised as the major brewers for the country. Some others include Gleckes Beer, Hangzhou Qiandaohu Beer Co, Yanjing Beer and Zhujiang Beer.
Most Popular Chinese Beer Locally
Snow Beer sits at the top of the local charts, being the bestselling. It currently holds 21.7% of the market, having recently overtaken Tsingtao Brewery.
Is Tsingtao Beer Good?
As with all beverages, how good the beer is really is a matter of preference. But check a few professional reviews and see the ocean of descriptions like pleasant aroma, well balanced, nutty flavour, and other such adjectives.
The only real way to know if it’s good is to try it out.
Which Beer Is Similar To Tsingtao?
Tsingtao has a rather unique taste, given the inclusion of rice in the ingredients. But general consensus seems to be that the closest taste equivalent is Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager. Other similar brews include Corona Extra Beer and Stella Artois. Though this is, once again, probably a matter of taste.
Different Styles Of Chinese Beer
The vast majority of beer in China is Euro pale lager, but there are occasionally a few others, such as black beer and amber lager.
Best Beers By Style
Given that there are so few choices when it comes to style, it really is more of a question of which the best Euro pale lager is.
When it comes to black beer most consider Sinkiang Black Beer to be the best. It features a strong nutty aroma, often also said to be similar to strong brown sugar.
When it comes to Euro pale lager the competition is much fiercer.
Snow Beer is the already mentioned bestselling in the country. Though, it doesn’t always get the most favourable reviews. Many consider it to be a lesser choice, given that it is quickly and cheaply produced.
Yanjing is the more accepted of Chinese beers internationally, known for its aroma of malt and light hops, combined with a flavour that features hints of corn.
Shancheng has a history that stretches back to the 1970s. It is extremely popular in Chongqing and its surrounding areas. Recognisable for its bright golden colour, it strikes a chord with beer connoisseurs around the world.
Microbrews And Craft Beers In China
Master Gao is recognised for producing flavourful Jasmine Lager, which can be found at a few establishments around the country. But it’s best to go right to the brewery itself, located in Xian.
Strand Beer features notes of citrus and pine that truly stand apart. Why a smug goat acts as the company mascot is another matter entirely.
The already mentioned Shangri-La Craft Brewery has an excellent reputation for a reason. Fat Dolma is said to have a taste that bursts with mango and banana, backed by a strong aroma of honey.
Award-Winning Chinese Beers
Tsingtao Brewery has been pushing to increase diversity due to demand. The company’s pilsner did well in the German light beer category, winning a silver. The pilsner has only been around since 2016 but has been making waves ever since.
Inner Mongolia Steppeo Brewery managed to win bronze in the sour and fruit sour beer category, making its weisse a new player on the world stage.
Shangri-La Highland Craft Brewery is the only Chinese company to have won previously in 2016.
Best Local Beer With Chinese Food
Let’s take a look at which beers might go well with local food.
Wusu Beer, said by some to have the best hops in China, comes from a region in Xinjiang referred to as Wusu. It is commonly enjoyed with lamb kebabs, also popular in the region.
Harbin Beer is available across northern China and is often enjoyed with the local cuisine. It has an extremely unique taste due to the mix of European and Chinese hops.
Kingstar Beer is yellowish in colour and has a pleasant light taste. Pair it with a local dish for maximum enjoyment.
Best Chinese Beers With General Tso’s Chicken
Flying Fist is brewed in the style of American beer, but stands apart for its aroma of pineapple and passion fruit. A perfect pairing with General Tso’s Chicken.
Pearl River Beer, produced by the Zhujiang Brewery, is made from fresh spring water, Canadian barley malt and Czech hops. Popular in Southern China it goes great with chicken.
Tibetan Pale Ale is award-winning, exploding on the tongue with a malty, bitter taste. Have it with General Tso’s Chicken for a double taste sensation.
How To Order A Beer In Chinese
Now that you know Chinese beer brands, it isn’t much good if you don’t know how to order it.
- What kind of beer do you have? – nǐ men yǒu shén me yàng de pí jiǔ
- I want a… of beer – wǒ yào pí jiǔ
- A bottle – yī píng
- A can – yī tīng
- A glass – yī bēi
Jake has been a craft beer and homebrew enthusiast since his college days. He loves scouring Europe for unique and unusual hops to add to his beers.
Founder of Jake’s Brew Haven – he currently hosts beer-tasting sessions at select local pubs in Baltimore.
Jump To a Section Below
- A Brief History Of Beer In China
- Tsingtao Brewery
- Manchuria Beer
- What Are The Major Chinese Beer Companies?
- Most Popular Chinese Beer Locally
- Is Tsingtao Beer Good?
- Which Beer Is Similar To Tsingtao?
- Different Styles Of Chinese Beer
- Best Beers By Style
- Microbrews And Craft Beers In China
- Award-Winning Chinese Beers
- Best Local Beer With Chinese Food
- Best Chinese Beers With General Tso’s Chicken
- How To Order A Beer In Chinese