Tag Archives: Chinese Craft Beer

Tsingtao vs Goose Island

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.”

Two from Gwei Lo

Chinese is filled with terms for foreigners. Here on the mainland, you have 老外 laowai and 外国人 waiguoren. In theory, waiguoren is the more polite word for “foriegner.” I have been told that laowai is supposed to be more offensive. Yet, for all of my years living in China, I have never felt offended by laowai. Additionally, I have never felt that a Chinese person was being derogatory with me personally when they used that word. I could be wrong, but the thing with language is that it is only offensive if you let it be. Half the time I walk around oblivious to what Chinese people may or may not think of me. I simply do not care. I have more important things to think about.

Like beer! I was thinking about this recently while sipping on some Hong Kong craft brew. The term 鬼佬 gwei lo in Cantonese is supposed to be  a nasty word for foreigner. So, what did a group of Brits in Hong Kong do? They co-opted the name for their brand of craft. If you take a word away from somebody, you can both own and neuter it. It’s the same thing as naming this blog Liquor Laowai. Am I a liqour laowai? Yes, I am! Anyway. Enough of the self reference, there. I tried two of their offerings. First up was this…

Gwei Lo offer a number of drinks, and what they call their “core range” is the basic line of products that doesn’t change. This is their “hoppy wheat” variety. It has a little bit of a citrus smell and taste, but it hasn’t the bitterness the word “hoppy” can imply. Some wheat beer can also be harsh, and by that, I mean the Belgian and German ones that I have had. This is extremely mild in comparison, and that’s actually fine by me. I have never been a fan of hardcore wheat beers. Interestingly enough, this has a 4.2% alcohol level, but it actually felt like a lighter beer than that. Next up is this…

This is Gwei Lo’s Citrus Crusher. Again, it’s in their core line of products. At 3.5%, it’s actually lower in potency then the Hoppy Wheat. It’s also a little bit more bitter, despite what the IBU numbers say on either label. The citrus taste is definitely more pronounced here. If I had to pick a winner between these two, I would go with the Citrus Crusher. The flavor there is stronger and more pronounced.

Two Punches from a Boxing Cat

To people outside China, Tsingtao tends to be the most well known Chinese beer export. However, that may slowly change. AB-InBev has been expanding it’s global empire to include craft beer — this would be the parent company of Budweiser. This is how, for example, a Chicago beer like Goose Island has been showing up in Chinese bars. Budweiser owns it, now. Three years ago, AB-InBev also bought up Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery. In this regard, Boxing Cat may be one of the first Chinese craft beers that could get exported on a large scale.  As for me in China, I recently noticed Boxing Cat had two of their drinks for sale at Metro — a large German supermarket where many expats do their grocery shopping. Needless to say, getting into Metro is just another indication of AB-InBev’s clout. So, I decided to give both a try.

This first one is 第一血 diyixue, aka First Blood. It’s an amber lager that boasts a 4.5% alcohol level.

As amber lagers go, I found this light and relatively smooth. While there is some carbonation, it wasn’t as fizzy or gassy as some varieties of Tsingtao can be.  My first impression was that it tasted a little watery, but not in a way I would outright complain about. Would I drink another bottle or two of this sometime? Yeah, why not. Moving on…

This one is 搏击者 bojizhe, aka Contender. It’s an extra pale ale clocking in at 4.9%.

It has a small bit of dry bite with a slight bitter hint.  As extra pale ales go, this one is also a little light, and to my taste a bit watery. Again, not complaining. Some good tasting beers that are watery are actually easier to chug — if you’re into that sort of thing. My college student days are long in the rear view mirror, though. Again, this one felt a little more carbonated that Boxing Cat’s amber ale. Would I drink this again? Yes.

After drinking both of these, I was left wondering about one thing. Is this Budweiser’s version of Boxing Cat, or is these two actually representative of the Shanghai brew pub? As of this writing, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t visited Boxing Cat the last few times I was in Shanghai. However, these two have me intrigued, though. Draft beer is usually better than bottled. So, I have something new on my Shanghai to do list.