Dalian Beer Festival 2018 starts on 26th July 2018 and runs for approximately 12 days. If you are reading this from outside of China and have never visited, your experience of Chinese drinking culture may be restricted to the world famous Tsingtao beer. In fact Tsingtao or 青岛 – Qingdao – as is actually written in pinyin (the official system for Romanisation of Chinese characters), comes from the city of Qingdao on the east coast of China. It is no coincidence that Qingdao was occupied by Germany from the late 19th to the early 20th century. Presumably because the occupying Germans found the local 白酒 baijiu, rice whiskey, a little too potent, in 1903 they established the Germania Brewery. This later became the Tsingtao Brewery.
If you are familiar, you’ll know that Tsingtao beer does not taste like a typical German beer. It is in its simplest form a light, refreshing lager, that is typical of mainstream beers throughout Asia. It’s around 4% abv. In China, alcohol content of beer is usually given as an exceeding or equals to rather than an exact figure. Sometimes, it can feel like a kind of beer lottery.
The popularity of Tsingtao beer in China is only beaten by Snow beer. Snow beer is a very, very light beer than has an alcohol content of around 2.5% abv. This is the beer that you will usually find in most restaurants in China. It is not that the local population prefer to avoid high alcohol content, it is just that the preference for high alcohol content is reserved for the baijiu rice whiskey, and then we’re getting into very high alcohol content, usually around 50% – 60% abv. If you’ve ever been to a semi-formal or formal dinner in China, you’ll know that with the constant pressure to 干杯 – ganbei – finish your glass, of 50% abv baijiu, consumption of alcohol is most certainly not a problem.
But aside from domestic beers, it is very evident that German beers are extremely popular in China. If you visit any medium to large supermarket in China, the beer shelves will not be stocked with American or British beer, but with German beer, and with the odd Belgian beer thrown in for good measure. Pilsners and wheat beers are the most popular. Many cities will have their own German style bars, or at least foreign influenced bars with a heavy German beer influence. And then there are the festivals. The city of Qingdao has an annual German-style beer festival, and as the title of this piece suggests, the Dalian Beer Festival, a large Oktoberfest-style event is about to begin, on 26th July 2018.
So given that in China, the most popular beers appear to be the light beers with low alcohol content and very, very subtle flavours, one might still wonder why when it comes to foreign imported beers, German beers remain the most popular. Perhaps it is the Qingdao connection. Perhaps it is supply dictating demand, and not the other way around. Whatever the reason, if you want to get your fix of German beer at an Oktoberfest-style event, visit Dalian from 26th July, to the beginning of August for the 2018 Dalian Beer Festival.
If, like me, you’re totally down with the current trend for American style hoppy IPAs, then there are still plenty of craft beer bars you can visit, including Great Leap, Arrow Factory, and Slow Boat in Beijing, and in Dalian, you have Devolution Beer. These micro-breweries, and the growing number of them, are proving that the beer tastes in China may be changing. They are embracing the worldwide trend for East Coast America inspired craft ales, but with their own innovations. Many of them are adding local Chinese flavours such as Great Leap’s Honey Ma Gold which is infused with Sichuan pepper. And the alcohol levels are what you’d expect from American craft ales, typically around 6 – 7% abv.
But I will pull myself away from my preference for hoppy East Coast America inspired IPAs at least one or two days next week, and you will find me drinking a litre of German wheat beer with the masses in one of the huge marquees in Dalian’s beachside Xinghai Square, which by the way, is the largest square in Asia, and for the next couple of weeks, is totally full of beer tents.