Selling China’s beer history

By Luke Corbin Source:Global Times Published: 2015-8-20 13:58:01

The widely anticipated 2014-15 Barth Report has been released, and once again China leads the world in total beer production. In 2013-14 China produced 506,500,000 hectolitres, followed in second place by the US with 225,270,000 hectolitres. However, overall China's production declined by 0.6 percent, implying a possible hiatus in the nation's recent enthusiastic and unprecedented uptake of beer. (In 1978, China had only 90 breweries and its beer production wasn't even in the top 100 nations).

Rice wine is China's most well-known indigenous alcohol, and the country is not considered to be a traditional beer-drinking nation. But there is much linking beer to ancient China. Archaeological evidence points to beer in the form of liquor, made from malted grains, consumed as far back as 7000BC. Pictorial representations of beer can also be found inscribed on Shang Dynasty (C.1600-1046BC) tortoise shells from approximately 2000BC. 

The early forms of beer in China were not produced using hops. The technique of boiling hops in wort to add bitterness, aroma and flavor, and to enhance beer's preservative and antibacterial properties, was developed later in Europe and introduced to China through trade. Hops are now a vital ingredient in global beer making, with a substantial proportion of the world's crop grown in China - the only country where all three species are found in the wild, giving credence to theories that the plant in fact originated here.

The most commonly used yeast in beer is also claimed to be of Chinese origin. Research this year suggests that its progenitor, S. eubayanus, evolved on the Tibetan plateau (not, as previously believed, in Patagonia).

Although China's beer production contracted over the last year, it is highly unlikely that China has met its ceiling on production, and its export potential is yet to be fully realized. While beer consumption continues to decline in many wealthy, traditional beer-drinking countries, China's southern neighbors such as Vietnam and Myanmar are only drinking more and more beer. In Vietnam, 97 percent of drinkers choose beer over other alcoholic drinks; Myanmar tripled its per capita consumption of beer from 2010-13.

The challenge for China is that these nations' markets are dominated by strong national beer brands sitting alongside brands perceived as high-quality and European. The Chinese brewing industry needs to market its history if it wants to penetrate these countries further and capitalize on their growing economies and beer consumption.

China's beer civilization is all around us if we care to look. Europe, Africa and the Levant all have serious, rich and proud beer cultures. It's time for the beer drinkers there and elsewhere to recognize that China is also on that list.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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