Monday, August 8, 2011

Tsingtao Beer in Qingdao

It escaped me that last Friday was International Beer Day.  While I missed celebrating the holiday, I'll use it as an excuse for a belated beer post.

There is much I could say about my opinions of most beer in China (in short, largely in line with those of James Fallows).  However, in honor of the holiday I'll refrain from dwelling on the abilities of many Chinese beers to make Coors Light taste like a hoppy India Pale Ale.  Instead, I'll share some of my beer-related experiences from when I was in Qingdao, Shandong.

If you haven't heard of Qingdao, you may recognize its older spelling of "Tsingtao".  Tsingtao is the name of Chinese brand of beer that can be found around the world (particularly in Chinese restaurants) and its home is in Qingdao.  Tsingtao came into existence as an English-German joint stock company during Qingdao's German colonial period during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The beer culture in Qingdao is a bit different from most places in China.  While in most places bottled beer is the norm, in Qingdao it is common to see kegs of beer sitting outside such as at these various locations (which are much more active at night):

In general, the beer was better tasting than bottled Tsingtao elsewhere in China (which I don't think is the same as what is found in other countries).  But still, nothing to write home about.  However, not all kegs of Tsingtao are created equal:

Above is a keg of Tsingtao's Yuanjiang (原浆) beer.  I believe this counts as the first major Chinese brand beer that I've been able to genuinely enjoy.  It's rather cheap too -- this pitcher was less than US $2:

pitcher of unpasteurized Tsingtao beer

It's unpasteurized, so it's only sold fresh and locally.  That combined with the outdoor atmosphere & cheap price reminded me of the bia hoi in Hanoi, Vietnam (though I think the Yuanjiang tasted better).

Of course, I didn't spend all my time in Qingdao drinking beer.  I also decided to pay a visit to the Tsingtao Brewery Museum.  I can't say I found the museum overly impressive.  However, in the holiday spirit I'll share some scenes such as this beer-inspired fountain outside the museum:

I think they missed an opportunity by not filling it with beer.

The museum presented a lot of information about Tsingtao and how it makes its beer.  For example, you can rest assured that Tsingtao Beer is very nutritious.

The display above says (text "as is"):
Based on a professional institution's evaluation, the nutritional value of Tsingtao Beer is outstanding in the beer industry.  Tsingtao Beer contains 236.47 mg amino acid in 17 categories per liter, and other vitamins, maltose, potassium, sodium, and magnesium human body needed.  A bottle of Tsingtao Beer can produce 400 - 700 kilocalories, equaling to that of 4 eggs, one pound milk, or 300g pork.
Folic acid, pantothenic acid and α-acid contained in beer can strongly restrain pathogenic bacteria.
Well, I'm not one to disagree with a "professional institution" so, drink up!  Would you rather carry around a bottle of beer or a pound of milk?

You can also learn about Tsingtao's fascinating history which was largely affected by Qingdao being controlled at various times by Germany, Japan, the Republic of China, and the People's Republic of China.  During part of the first half the 20th century, Tsingtao was owned by Japan's Dai-Nippon Brewery.  This lead to some "interesting" beer labels such as this one:

Tsingtao label with swastika and the words absolutely pure

Apparently in its quest to be a good corporate citizen, Tsingtao shared its concerns about the environment as displayed here:

poster of kid running from polluting factory
"Black fume is discharged arbitrarily. I'll report it to authorities."

Good luck reporting excessive discharges of pollution to the authorities, kid.

As I've pointed out before, Chinese museums love dioramas and the Tsingtao Brewery Museum was no exception:

In addition to dioramas, there were also some live scenes, such as this view (through glass) of a real bottling plant in action:

I'll admit that as I walked by I suddenly heard this song in my head:

Talk about a flashback and worlds colliding.  So much that is similar, yet so much that is different.

Finally, if you are so inclined you can get a bottle of Tsingtao with your very own photo on it for less than US $5:

I am sorry to say I passed on this incredible opportunity.

Outside the museum you can enjoy Qingdao's lively Beer Street where I tried a dark beer, not at all typical in China:

It was OK but definitely no Yuanjiang.

I met quite a few people in Qingdao who were quite happy to drink a few beers with a foreigner.  Though, despite Qingdao's strong connection with beer don't expect everyone there to be beer aficionados.  Some prefer other drinks:

man drinking from two liter bottle of Coca-cola

Even in Qingdao, I guess Coca-Cola's marketing is paying off.

Overall, my recommendation is if you ever find yourself in Qingdao to hunt down some Yuangjiang beer, especially since you can't get it elsewhere.  Also, no need to spend all your time on Beer Street.  There are other places, particularly in the "old town", with equally good food & beer at cheaper prices and with a more local feel.  And even forgetting the beer, there's much worth exploring in Qingdao -- it can be a pleasant and relaxing change of pace from the bigger cities of Shanghai and Beijing.

Happy (belated) International Beer Day and 干杯 (ganbei: cheers)!

1 comment:

  1. Never visited the said brewery, but I must defend Chinese beer generally as it is dead cheap, has a clean taste and is low alcohol.
    Qingdao differs according to the local brewery and water supply.

    For my money, Qui Han Gold a Fuzhou drop is extremely good. Harbin beer is a bit too sweet, and the worst beers in the Middle Kingdom are Pearl River Lager (most foul), Snow and Kingwell.

    In pure blanket terms, US beers are tres revolting.

    The keg beers sold in Vietnamese cities are eminently forgettable.

    And I write as the person who consumed the very last bottle of the Graham Greene Special produced by Greene King the local Suffolk beer, UK. That must be why I can't produce a decent photo.

    Gotta recommend your site for your photography.