Since I've been working late into the evening most days on this trip, nothing seems more satisfying than collapsing on a couch at the AirBnB and throwing back a cold one. As luck would have it, there's a 7/11 knockoff on every street corner in this city...
Granted, that's nothing to brag about. Name a country where you can't find cold beer when you need one. I've been on indigenous land in an impoverished area of Panama and found entrepreneurs selling ice cold Atlas lager to the rare motorist who passes. And at fifty cents a crack, Cambodia brand beer is cheaper than water in, well, Cambodia (what did you expect?). Mexico may be the land of margaritas, but it's also the home of Corona, Tecate, Pacifica, and too many others to name. So having ice cold beer available is only par for the course, but it's still nice. Especially when you can get a 22oz bottle for 5.5 yuan (pronounced like "U.N."), or about $.88 in USD. But let's talk about what you get for your money. That's what you're here for right? A beer review. So let's go!
I've tried Tsingtao, Harbin and Tsingtao stout, and the stout is by far my favorite, but to be honest, all three are hard to digest. For me (and you? Leave a comment), sometimes drinking cheap beer, in particular, cheap lagers, leaves me feeling gross, like I'm not digesting well. Gross, right? It may be because many Chinese beers have departed from traditional German Reinheitsgebot law (which stipulated the only ingredients could be water, barley and hopes) and include rice, a less-expensive grain in the recipe.
If you're in China, I assume you'll be trying these beers, so here's some fun facts for the curious:
-Tsingtao was founded by an Hong Kong based English-German joint stock company in 1903. Capital was put up in Mexican silver dollars. It was later sold to the Japanese, and after Japan’s defeat in WW2, was turned over to the Chinese. Since then, it has been affiliated with companies like Anhauser-Busch and Asahi.
-Harbin is owned by Anheuser-Busch Inbev, which is responsible for bringing the beer to liquor stores near you. Harbin is the oldest brewery in China and was founded by a Polish German immigrant in 1900 who wanted to make beer for the Russian railway workers building the Trans-Manchurian Railway. In 1946 the Soviet Red Army captured Manchuria and took over the brewery until 1950, when Stalin returned all Chinese assets to China. During a famine in the late 1950s, Harbin then became the first beer to be brewed with corn instead of rice (because in a famine, you still need beer!).
-Snow beer is the noob on the scene, exploding onto the market in 1993 to become the biggest producer of beer in China.
Update: On my last night in Shanghai I found myself taking back streets, walking with crowds of working class locals under dripping bamboo scaffolds, dodging scooters and bicycles, wandering aimlessly. Seeing a small grocery store, I entered, and found the holy grail of Chinese beer: Snow. It was only 3 yuan for a 22oz bottle, and maybe that’s why it tasted so great, but I loved it. It was something between a Corona and a TJ’s knock-off of Corona.