All the ancient sages were lonely; only the wine drinkers have left their names. Now, the Chinese people are famous for their love of craft beer. According to Euromonitor (a market research and consultancy company), China had replaced the United States as the world's number one consumer of Stout (a strong dark craft beer) in 2017. In fact, between 2008 and 2016, the total amount of Stout that the Chinese people consumed increased by nearly 43 times from 4.5 million liters to 0.192 billion liters.
Not just Stout, the Chinese people’s love for all craft beer has been soaring. Data shows that China's beer production had fallen for four consecutive years in 2017, but China's craft beer production developed rapidly at a rate of 40%. And sales of craft beer are growing by two or even three times annually.
Undoubtedly, craft beer is becoming a new force that cannot be ignored in the Chinese liquor market.
In the age of fast industrialization, mass-produced products flood every aspect of life, which dulls the aesthetic perception. Thus, more and more people begin to pursue the glamor of individuality, the warmth of "handcraft" and the label of being different. In this context, craft beer, a pup culture that originated in America in the 1980s, has gradually spread to China and developed quickly in a short period of time.
A different taste
Although craft beer has been popular for more than 20 years abroad, it is only in recent years that it spread to China. In 2012, craft beer began to rise in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu, etc. Many foreigners (especially Americans) and Chinese people with overseas learning and life experiences introduced the craft beer technology to China, which started this trend directly.
“Craft beer” is named in comparison with “commercial beer”. Craft beers are innovative and special products made by small, independent and traditional breweries that are not controlled by big liquor factories.
Compared with Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou does not have a mature craft beer culture. Fortunately, with the guidance of some visionaries, the number of craft beer bars in Guangzhou has increased from only three or four years ago to dozens now, which is a big step ahead.
In June, when the hot summer meets the quadrennial World Cup, the Tipsy Craft Beer Bar at No. 289, Guangzhou Avenue are full of customers from 6 p.m. to the wee hours. This bar, owned by seniors of the “craft beer society”, is said to have gathered 28 high-quality craft beers from all over the world (Belgium, the United States, Germany, Japan and China…), offering a variety of styles and flavors.
Speaking of the original intention of engaging in the craft beer business, sommelier Daniel said that it was purely accidental that he drank a craft beer that was ranked as the eighth of the world's best, which greatly impressed him and made him fall in love with it. So he and his friends who also loved craft beer began to introduce the best craft beer from all over the world to Guangzhou to let more people feel its charm.
What’s suitable is the best
Water, grain, yeasts and hops are the main components of craft beer. Different ingredients, different varieties and different proportions evolve into a kaleidoscope of tastes. Malt brings the sweetness, while hops offer the bitterness, aroma, extra flavors which play a decisive role in improving the taste. As a guide in the craft beer bar, sommeliers’ most important task is to recommend customers beers that are most suitable to them, especially customers who come to the bar for the first time. As Daniel said, his job is to let customers experience different craft beer and to recommend them different styles and flavors so as to help them find their favorites.
Tipsy has a wall with graffiti of various kinds of beer, from "Lager" to "Ale". But Daniel says that the classification of beer is much richer than what’s displayed on the wall. He believes that the most important thing for a beginner is to learn how to classify craft beer so as to find the most suitable one.
Craft beer generally falls into two categories: beer fermented at ambient temperature and beer fermented at low temperature. Generally speaking, beer fermented at room temperature is relatively cloudy. The two categories also use different yeasts. Even beers with the same fermentation method have difference in colors, smells and tastes. Different products also have different brewing cycles. In general, it takes at least two weeks to make craft beer. Some special beers may even take half a year or a year to let it fully ferment.
Different craft beers have different alcoholic strength, smell and taste, and even different "character". How to choose craft beer is very personal. What’s suitable is the best. What others think is the best or has the highest price means nothing to the consumer if he does not like it. Craft beer lovers generally prefer bitter and stronger beer, as they enjoy the aroma of hops, said Daniel.
The tastes of craft beers from different countries are varied. Belgium, known as the "Kingdom of Beer", is the oldest and most famous craft beerproducing country. Like champagne, craft beer also originated from the monastery. In Belgium, there are more than 3,600 large and smal registered breweries, each producing a minimum of 6 to 11 varieties. Generally speaking, the Belgian craft beer’s high alcoholic strength has influenced its popularity on the market to a certain degree. American craft beer, on the other hand, although is not as best as the Belgian craft beer in the eyes of craft beer lovers, it has the largest production and sales in the world due to the special experience it brings to the consumers. Because of their early entry into the Chinese market, German beer producers have offered a simple education to the consumers about beer classification (“yellow beer", "white beer" and "black beer"), which brings German beer high recognition and reputation in the Chinese market.
Craft beer needs time
According to Euromonitor, China consumed 50.58 billion liters of beer in 2013, the largest amount in history, and then the number declined to 45.6 billion liters in 2016. However the sales value increased at an average annual rate of 8.4% between 2012 and 2017.
This shows that more consumers choose higher-priced beer while drink less. Most of them are new young middle class in cities. They are also the main consumer group of craft beer. What attracts them is not only the unique taste but also the special feelings. Craft beer, as a niche product, serves the emotional needs of the consumers. Many people choose craft beer for the special feelings it brings. They may not know what craft beer is, but they love the special scenes and experience it offers.
However, there are a lot of problems which hinder the development of the craft beer market, such as the constraints of policies, foreign culture’s inadaptation in the local environment, customers’ blind admiration for commerce beer, and the underdeveloped industrial chain. So China's craft beer market is actually growing with plenty of hardships. "The American craft beer movement has had over 20 years of history, and many breweries have existed for over 10 year, while the Chinese craft beer market has developed for less than 5 years. Chinese craft beer still needs time to accumulate experience, including beermaking technology," said Daniel.
Refinement requires time, whether it is for beer or life. Craft beer still has a long way to go in China.