Last month we embarked on an exploration of the world’s beers. Starting the taste adventure in Europe we introduced you to porter and stout, saison and bock beers.
Let’s continue our journey into the origins of beer and the discovery of different types of beers from around the world, with a spotlight focus on China’s favourite brews.
BEER IN CHINA
The Chinese have been producing and drinking beer for almost 9000 years! Recent archaeological discoveries show that Chinese villagers were brewing beer-like alcoholic drinks as far back as 7000BC, for personal consumption. These beverages were made with rice, honey and grape, and hawthorn fruits, and the brewing method used was similar to that of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Fun Fact: A brewer from Delaware recently recreated the same beer that was consumed in ancient China, using a formula from archaeologists that had analysed the residues of pottery jars found in a late Stone Age village in northern China.
Historically, in Ancient China, beer known as Lao Li played an important role in ancestral worship and funeral rituals during the Xia, Zhou and Shang dynasties. Eventually Lao Li was replaced by a type of yellow wine made from rice during the Han dynasty, and this remained the most popular alcoholic beverage in China for 2000 years until the end of the 19th century.
Modern beer brewing was introduced to China, not by Europe, but by Russia. Russians were the first to establish a brewery in Habin, with the Germans and Czechoslovakians following thereafter. Today Chinese beers often contain rice, sorghum and sometimes rye in addition to barley. The Chinese also add their own unique twist to the recipe as some beer is produced that uses bitter melon instead of hops as the bittering agent.
China’s most widely exported beer was first brewed in 1903 by German and British brewers. It’s a pale pilsner-style lager created from hops, barley, rice and spring water from Laoshan Mountain. It’s said that its mild flavour lends itself well to pairing with Chinese food, particularly when eating rich, fatty foods (like Peking duck) as the lightness and sweetness of this lager helps to take the edge off the fattiness of duck meat.
Golden to light amber in color with a rich white foamy head, white beer has been dubbed the albino cousin of stout. It’s made using wheat, which lends a crispness to the brew, as well as acidity. On drinking, you might taste some of the hop flavour, but this beer is said to be less bitter.
A recent trend in China has seen fruit beer growing in popularity. Modern breweries may add only flavoured extracts to the finished product, rather than actually fermenting the fruit. Popular flavours in China include pineapple and lemon beer.
While the beer purists might argue that this isn’t beer in the true sense of the word, 23% of China’s consumers choose to drink fruit beer. That’s a massive section of the market, when you consider that China drinks more than 50 billion litres of beer annually.
BEER DRINKING ETIQUETTE IN CHINA
It’s polite to wait to be seated by your host. When it comes time to do toasts (and the time will come, it’s customary!) you’ll need to get involved. Grab the bottle and top off everyone else’s drinks first, before your own.
Always toast the host. In China it is rare to split the bill. Instead, one person will usually sponsor everyone, do the food ordering and pay the bill. Since the host is paying, it’s expected that you’ll stand to offer them your first raised glass and a few kind words, while maintaining eye contact.
When you clink glasses with another guest, you acknowledge your status as a guest by placing your glass slightly lower than theirs. This is a sign of respect and you’ll remain standing until all guests have presented their cups for the toast.
There are two different types of toasts that require different amounts of drinking:
Gan bei: Literally meaning "dry glass, " a call for gan bei means everyone should finish their beer. It is appropriate to make this toast on the first round of salutes, and is optional for the rest of the meal. Down your beer and turn your glass over to show there is nothing left.
Sui yi: means “up to you.” As the call suggests, sui yi can be as little as a sip or as much as the whole glass.