China's Beer Culture has Arrived

When most people think of beer’s origins, they think of Germany, or at least of Europe. It is in Europe that beer became a large part of the culture at an early date, and first was produced industrially. However, the basic ingredients of beer: sugar-containing cereals, and yeast (a micro-oganism classified as a Fungi) have been controlled by cultures all over the world since ancient times, and the historical record indicates that beer (or beer-like alcoholic substances) were independently produced in various regions at different times.

Around 3000 B.C. the ancient Chinese were producing a beer-like beverage called kui. And recent archaeological findings have indicated that villages in the area we now know as China, using ingredients such as rice, honey and fruits, were producing fermented beverages even earlier – up to 9000 years ago. Since these ancient times, there has always been some kind of beer-like drink being produced in China, but until recently it was not a beverage consumed, or even known, to the majority of Chinese. Russia set up the fist modern brewery in the city of Harbin in the late 19th century, soon followed by three other breweries, also in Harbin, all produced by European States, mostly for their own ex-patriots and soldiers.

As late as 1980, Australia’s beer consumption exceeded China’s. But in the span of a few decades, the picture has changed enormously. Today, China is the world’s largest beer market, recently having surpassed the United States. Largely thanks to massive foreign investment beginning in the 1980s and accelerating through the 90s, China brews many domestic beers and serves as an important center of operations for several international brands. Tsingtao Beer, produced in the city of Qingdao (the spelling discrepancy having to do with the old system of English spelling for Chinese) has been the best selling beer in China for over a decade, claiming around 15% domestic market share. And, it is arguable the only beer produced in China that is widely recognized abroad. As early as 1982, in the science fiction film Blade Runner, Harrison Ford’s character buys a bottle of Tsingtao (although he then proceeds to drink it shot-style, like it is like a liquor). In 2008, Tsingtao won a sponsorship for the 2008 Olympics, held in Beijing. China has emerged in the modern world, and the modern mentality, as a beer-appreciating culture.

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