When it comes to considering a Chinese IPA against an American one, this pair popped into mind as a no brainer. Frankly, it goes far beyond both names having island references. Tsingtao is made in in the city Qingdao 青岛 — 岛 dao meaning island. Tsingtao is actually the older name for Qingdao; this was before Pinyin became the mainland standard. Both are mass-market corporate beer companies. Wait you might ask? I thought Goose Island is craft beer? Yes, it is. It’s a mass market craft beer, because AB-inBev (Budweiser) bought it back in 2011. It’s the same thing, basically, that happened with Shanghai’s Boxing Cat. Tsingtao, on the other hand, is now completely Chinese owned. At one point, Bud had a stake, as did Asahi, but those got sold off. Now it’s just a private partnership with a state owned industry. Enough about that, let’s get to drinking!
By the way, this is what the bottle looks like as an outside-of-china export. Honestly, I haven’t tried that version. So, I can’t say if there is a difference in taste with the domestic, which I bought at Metro.
Some IPAs can be brutal in their bitterness, and this is so not that. When I poured it and the other I just had, there is not much of head. It is also not at all watery, which is something I feel can be problematic with a lot of Chinese beer. This is also 5.2% ABV, which is a lot better than some of the 2.5% travesties you can find in Mainland China. It’s decently carbonated without overdoing it. While there is some complexity to the flavor, I would say this is a middle of the road thing. It tastes like “craft” without being overtly “crafty” — which is something you might expect from a giant corporate brand. OK, so now it’s time to refresh my memory with Goose Island.
But, before we consider it as a beverage, let’s take a look at the back label. There is something telling here, and it’s highly important. Notice that it’s completely in Chinese. This means that, technically, Goose Island is not in import in China. When you import food and drink, there has to be a white Chinese back label slapped over the original. That’s the law. Essentially, this bottle of Goose Island came from a batch domestically brewed on the mainland. This is another way you can see the finger prints of AB-inBev on this particular IPA. It’s also why Goose Island is so easy to find in China. Now, onto the beer itself.
Again, you can see Chinese on the label, so this is technically a “domestic import.” Lot’s of “foreign” beers are — Pabst Blue Ribbon, for example. You can almost tell immediately from the color that Goose Island is a lighter beer. The bitterness is there, but seems to a very slightly lesser degree than Tsingtao. It’s odd it feels that way when the 5.9% ABV is actually higher than Tsingtao.
So which one wins? This is quite close, actually, but I’m inclined to go with Tsingtao’s IPA on this one. Goose Island doesn’t seem watery, and the flavor is there. However Tsingtao has more of a bitter, hoppy vibe. Don’t get me wrong; both are middle of the road. It just seems Tsingtao’s IPA is better at being “decent.”