Beer and China are perhaps two ideas not often put together.
Maybe you’ve heard of Tsingtao, a beer from the city of Qingdao. It’s China’s answer to Budweiser, Tennent’s or Fosters.
By that I mean, it’s cheap and you’ll find it everywhere you go, but lacks a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
However, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a really solid craft beer scene all across China.
From Hohhot to Chengdu to Guiyang to Wuhan to… well, you get the picture.
My beer connection
Before I continue, I should probably state that I am by no means a beer connoisseur.
I enjoy a good beer, I like a fun flavor, but I can’t tell you all that much about the technical aspect of it.
Hops and stuff, right?
Anyway, I’m going to give you an introduction to craft beer in China as well as share some of my favorite local beers and breweries – all from a beer enthusiast’s point of view.
(I should also point out that the legal drinking age in China is 18.)
So, what’s wrong with normal Chinese beer?
It depends who you ask.
It maybe goes without saying, but the rise of foreigners in China creates a rise in demand for foreign things – food, entertainment, clothing… beer.
Now, that’s not to say there’s something wrong with everyday Chinese beers, the kind you find in most convenience stores. They’re fine. Usually around 3-4% and all a bit, well, samey.
But isn’t that true of most mass-produced beers?
About 10 or so years ago, a select few people, mainly Americans, tapped (pardon the pun) into this gap in the Chinese market for unusual and unique beer.
Since then, the Chinese craft beer industry has taken off.
Of course, you also have to consider the influx of foreigners in China creating a higher demand for quality brewed beer.
The rise in the standard of living has also allowed younger generations of Chinese to travel more extensively, picking up some foreign habits along the way.
And, China often picks things up that are popular in other countries, and puts their little spin on it (Christmas in China is a good example of this).
There are probably many more reasons why craft beer has taken off here, but one thing is for sure, I am not complaining!
How do you know which Chinese craft beers to try?
My absolute best piece of advice to you is to find a taproom in the city you’re visiting or living in.
Here, you’ll be able to sample beers from a variety of breweries. A good taproom will have clued-up bartenders who can recommend beers for you to sample and point you in the direction of local breweries.
If you haven’t brushed up on your Mandarin prior to visiting, you can always use a translation app to get by.
(You should check out the best travel apps for China before your trip.)
In bigger cities, usually there will be someone who can speak a bit of English or at the very least, some written information about the beers in English.
Remember, just like in the West, you can always ask for a small sample of a beer before committing to a full glass.
My local beer scene
In Shenzhen, where I live, I can think of at least three local breweries off the top of my head.
We also have a taproom that showcases Chinese craft beer from all across the country. It’s aptly called Keg Room and has two locations – one in Shuiwei and another in Shekou, a short walk from Sea World.
And, we’re lucky enough to have a yearly beer festival. It’s called Electric City Craft Beer Fest, and it brings together brewers from all over China and drinkers from all over Shenzhen.
The festival is the first weekend in November and it’s now on its seventh year, but I’ve only been going for three.
With close to 30 breweries in attendance, this is by no means the biggest beer festival in China. But it’s one I can personally vouch for.
My recommended Chinese brewers
It wouldn’t be like me not to add in my ten cents’ worth in terms of which beers are best, despite me not being a professional beer taster.
Yes, I truly suffered for my art here and I would probably do it all again.
After working my way through most of the breweries showcased at the Electric City Craft Beer Fest, it’s hard to only pick a few.
But I’ll give it a shot!
1. Bionic Brew, Shenzhen
It would be rude for me not to mention this brewery as it’s my local.
Their newest location is a mere 10-minute bike ride from where I live and they’re also the organizers behind the beer festival. Without them, this post wouldn’t be quite as well… eh, researched.
Bionic is Shenzhen’s original craft brewery and has been loved by locals since 2014.
The taproom has around a 10 beers on at any given time. This is a brand well-loved and established in Shenzhen.
2. Dangge Brewing, Beijing
I’d like to just take a moment to appreciate this brewery for providing me with the taste of my summer 2021.
Their coconut-pineapple Berliner weisse is simply incredible.
Now, I don’t really like coconut or pineapple flavored things, so God only knows how I ended up eventually trying this beer.
For my uncultured pallet, the best way I can describe it is as follows: the smell of Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil in beer form.
It literally tastes like the smell of being on the beach!
I was sad when my local taproom took this off the menu, and not just because it meant that summer was probably coming to an end. However, given its dangerous level of drinkability maybe it was for the best.
But this brewery isn’t just loved in China.
Dangge even won ‘Best Specialty Flavored Beer’ for their Vanilla Coffee Imperial Stout at the 2021 Australian International Beer Awards.
Based on my experience with their beers, I can understand why.
I think this also says a lot about how the craft beer industry is evolving and expanding, not just within China.
3. Tripsmith Brewery, Guiyang
Now, I was actually certain that I had paid a visit to Tripsmith during a trip to Guiyang earlier in the year. I hadn’t.
I had, however, been to a taproom in Guiyang which sold their beer, attended a Tripsmith tap takeover here in Shenzhen, and devoured many pints of their pale ale and IPA at various bars across China.
In just over 10 years, Tripsmith has grown from a tiny brewery in an alleyway to a 1,000-ton capacity brewery which is well-loved all over China.
4. Slow Boat Brewery, Beijing
This one I have been to in person. Definitely.
Slow Boat was founded by two Americans back in 2011 when the pair seemingly built a friendship around their love of craft beer, and endeavored to share that appreciation with locals.
The beer is “proudly brewed in China” according to their marketing, but they still hope to create distinctive Chinese beers using American brewing methods and techniques.
They currently have three locations in Beijing and various deals throughout the week.
I enjoyed a lovely few hours at their Sanlitun location, sipping on some beer and playing cards on the eve of my birthday!
I didn’t try the food, but it looked like good snacks and burgers.
Fun fact: the name of this brewery is apparently inspired by a song from 1948 called “(I’d like to get you on a) slow boat to China”. I can see what they did there.
Miss Piggy famously performed it with Sir Roger Moore, and Paul McCartney also covered it, if that helps to ring any bells.
Anyway, the beers at Slow Boat Brewery change regularly. Last year alone they brewed over 50 different beers, so there isn’t really a set menu or a go-to beer I’d recommend here.
To me that would mean, try as many as you like!
5. Xian Brewery, Xi’an
On a recent trip to Xi’an, with our final night ahead of us and no plans, my boyfriend and I realized with horror that we had yet to visit a local brewery.
We messaged the group chat for our local taproom telling them where we were and asking for recommendations. Shortly after, we found ourselves seated in a cozy bar with two strong brews in front of us.
This place has charm. Aptly called Near Wall Bar, it’s nestled just inside the old wall of Xi’an, near the south gate, and honestly, if I hadn’t known it was there, I would’ve walked right past it.
This place was also the first of their four locations as it opened back in 2014. And they also boast being Xi’an’s first craft beer brewery.
6. Chaba Brewing Co, Kunming
These guys only started selling their own beers in 2021 but were a big hit at the beer fest.
Maybe it had something to do with the temporary tattoos…
Their brewers take inspiration from Yunnan culture and create beers infused with local ingredients.
They seem to have the recipe for success down as two of their beers recently won gold awards at the Asia Beer Championship in Singapore!
Apparently, their taproom also offers delicious Dai-style food which pairs superbly with their beers. Urgh, one day I will get to Yunnan!
Come to China for the craft beer scene
While there are a million reasons why you should visit China, maybe the enticement of craft beer will be enough to make you book that ticket. Hey, if you try a few of the stronger beers you may not want to leave!
The beer community in China, although growing, is a relatively close-knit community. Somebody always knows somebody else. One brewery is always happy to recommend another.
In a big, bustling country, it can be nice to have that common thread tying you together with people in each city you go to, and bringing you closer to strangers who just aren’t friends yet.
Craft beer aside, I do still have Tsingtao’s brewery in Qingdao on my China bucket (pint?) list, but in the long and hot Chinese summers a cold, decent beer is very much appreciated.
Do I recommend trying all these beers in one sitting? I probably shouldn’t. Do I recommend giving them a shot if you can? Absolutely!
If you do make it over to China, make sure you learn the Mandarin phrase for ‘cheers’, which is gānbēi (干杯).
It literally means ‘dry cup’, so you may be expected to consume your entire drink if you propose a toast.
And with that final tidbit, I bid you farewell and cheers!
I hope you liked my article about craft beer in China. Make sure you check out the article about the most popular drinks in China (not just beer) too.
FAQ about craft beer in China
What’s the craft beer scene in China like?
It’s a tiny but growing industry. There are some amazing craft breweries in all the big cities. Head to a local taproom and get advice from the bar staff.
What are the top craft beers in China?
There are too many to name. In Beijing, try Slow Boat Brewery, or in Xi’an, try Xian Brewery.
What is the most popular beer in China?
Snow is the most popular beer in China. It’s mainstream though and not a craft beer.
What does craft beer in China taste like?
Each beer brand has lots of different flavors, so there’s no one distinct taste. Try a sample and if you like it, buy a full glass!