Crafty Conglomerates

With Big Beer looming, is China’s nascent craft-brewing scene facing its biggest threat yet?

It’s the Friday before Spring Festival and around 150 people are crammed into one of Beijing’s most popular brewpubs. The crowd is roughly a third white male “neck-beards,” the rest Chinese, sinking a few pints of 40 RMB ale before they spread across the country to visit relatives who will likely have never heard of craft beer, still less tried it.

I’m drinking an Edmund Backhouse pilsner, its name a nod to the tearaway expat scholar and fabulist, whose Qing-era sex memoir was to later scandalize historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. The young academic famously investigated Hitler’s death after the defeat of Nazi Germany—the very country that helped introduce modern brewing to China. It feels like there’s history in every sip; and maybe a few pints of Backhouse will lead to some similar adventures—or, at least, loosen my tongue enough to tell some tall tales of my own.

China may be only a decade into its craft beer revolution, but this movement—as some see it—was also initiated by foreign forces. Today there are over 300 craft breweries on the mainland, and the potential for growth is huge. Several of the largest overseas conglomerates are now circling these early pioneers, salivating at the potential for growth. Some local brewers see the chance to make a quick buck, but others view “Big Beer” as the first nail in the coffin for a localized small-batch approach that’s been struggling to establish itself.

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Crafty Conglomerates is a story from our issue, “Vital Signs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Carlos Ottery is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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