In anticipation of the full moon in September, which marks a very important holiday in Asia - Mid Autumn Festival - otherwise known as the Moon Cake Festival - I invite you to the "amber trail".
Not the one you are thinking about. There will be nothing about amber.
This will be my "amber trail", a short trip through the Asian beer market ...
As you know, my adventure with Asia began with a visit to Qingdao. As it turned out, Qingdao is home to the largest brewery in China, with around 15% share of the Chinese beer market. Moreover, TSINGTAO is basically the only beer brand known all over the world.
Visiting Qingdao for the first time, I was interested in where the beer with eminently German roots came from so far from Europe.
At the same time, already living in Asia, wandering through many countries, from Japan to the southernmost point to Indonesia, each time I saw a local beer that was worth trying and compared to the first one, TSINGTAO.
All these brands had in common that they are very known and liked by local residents.
And this is how the idea was born to introduce you to the main brands of beer in Asia.
I invite you to the "beer trail".
When I flew to Qingdao for the first time, I had no idea that this city is so famous for its beer production. After arriving in China, I started searching for curiosities that could be remembered later.
This is how I found out that in Qingdao, in August, the largest beer festival in China takes place. Due to the huge number of visitors, it is also one of the largest if not the largest beer festival in the world.
It was the beginning of our acquaintance with TSINGTAO beer.
The history of the brewery dates back to 1903, when German settlers associated with the German Navy base obtained a license and built the brewery. The establishment of the brewery was dictated by the fact that the founders decided to produce traditional German beer for the Germans and other Europeans who settled in China. Interesting idea. The company was named Nordic Brewery Co. Ltd.
The history of the brand of this beer is equally interesting. Initially, it functioned under the name Qingdao. However, at that time, in the Far East, it was common to use the transcription of local names, prepared by the French school of the Far East - L`Ecole Francaise d`Extreme-Orient. Following this logic, the name of the beer was translated into TSINGTAO.
The brewery uses this name to this day.
The fate of this brewery was different throughout its history.
During the Japanese occupation, it was confiscated by the Japanese and was in the hands of the Tsui family. After the end of the war in 1949, he was adopted by the Chinese government.
In the early 1990s, the brewery was re-privatized and the name changed from Nordic Brewery Co Ltd to Tsingtao Brewery Company Limited. Since then, beer has been re-produced under the TSINGTAO brand.
It probably comes as no surprise to you that a brewery in a country with more than 1 billion 350 million inhabitants is not able to meet the market demand by producing beer in one plant.
So the brewery started to expand its production capacity in several provinces of China, opening several plants under the same brand, supplying local markets.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this decision.
Beer lovers will certainly not be surprised by the fact that the water used for beer production has a great impact on the quality of beer, in addition to the process of weighing, aging, filtration and bottling. As it turns out, Germany has confirmed its primacy in the production of high-quality beer.
The decision to locate the brewery in Qingdao was not accidental. All thanks to the water flowing from the nearby Lao Shan mountains. Yes, these are the mountains I wrote about in one of the previous articles. In this case, we are dealing with a certain phenomenon. The site was chosen just at the foot of the Lao Shan Mountains, minimizing the flow of water through pipelines. It is the spring water that flows from these mountains that determines the success, high quality and unique flavor of the beer produced in Qingdao.
If you were interested in the history of brewing in Poland, you probably already know that, for example, the Żywiec Brewery or the BROK Breweries in Koszalin have their own, protected water intakes, thanks to which they receive a stable and unique quality of their products. Water plays an enormous role in the production of beer.
Of course, the process of brewing and aging beer, along with its filtration and bottling, has an impact on the quality. However, it is water that is the foundation and is the basis of the uniqueness of a given type of beer and a guarantee of an unusual, subtle taste.
And it is the water from the Lao Shan mountains that has such a significant impact on the quality of the beer produced in Qingdao.
Chinese beer lovers did not miss it. They noticed a subtle difference in the taste of beer produced in the heart of Qingdao, based on Lao Shan water, and beer produced in sister breweries. I can confirm that there is a slight difference between them.
The main product of the breweries is TSINGTAO Beer, a typical Pilzner with a high hop content and 4.7% alcohol. Initially, the beer was produced according to the German regulations of the Reinheitsgebot purity law of 1516, which is grown by many Polish breweries.
According to this law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer are barley water and hops. However, after privatization, the desire to lower the price meant that the beer also began to contain an admixture of cheaper rice added to the malt.
This, of course, changed the taste of the beer and, for me, the quality of the taste sensations decreased.
In addition to the main product, several types of beer are also produced with a higher malt and alcohol content. For example, the popular in China Tsingtao Dark Beer with an alcohol content of 5.2%.
There are also special editions of seasonal beers sold in cans and aluminum bottles distinguished by a special graphic design. The unpasteurized version of TSINGTAO is called Draft Beer. There is also a version with spirulina - Spirulina Green Beer, a green beer with an alcohol content of 4.5%. In short, the TSINGTAO beer shelf is quite diverse.
Finally, the Qingdao Beer Festival itself. An event with a long tradition, for Chinese realities, somewhat modeled on the Oktoberfest festival. The first Qingdao Beer Festival was organized in 1991. Here it is, it's already the thirtieth anniversary of this festival.
The main sponsor is the city of Qingdao and it is held in huge tents in the eastern part of the city. Apart from TSINGTAO, all beer brands from China, Asia and the world are present.
Getting there is no problem. In the second half of August, every taxi driver knows what to do with the slogan "piju pinda".
Individual brands promote themselves in tents, where the stages are full of musicians and the beer is flowing in streams.
But beware - beer costs a lot of money during the festival. Suffice it to say that you have to pay PLN 50 for a glass of beer with a capacity of 1 liter. In my opinion this is an exaggeration but of course the atmosphere is fantastic.
In addition to d beer, the whole gastronomic offer is available, mainly all kinds of meat served on the grill - all on sticks. After a few glasses of beer, the company has the fun of sticking empty sticks into any soft surface. In this way, hundreds of characteristic "beer hedgehogs" are formed.
So does TSINGTAO beer have any competitors in Asia? If so, what and where?
Crossing Asia from the north to the south, I can say that there are quite a lot of these competitors.
So let's go on the "amber trail" - from Japan to Indonesia and see what we can meet along the way.
In Japan, we will meet Asahi and Sapporo, who is my chosen one on the islands.
The very characteristic shape of the cans is impressive. The name and taste, which is a bit spicy, reminds me of samurai and winter.
Going further south, we reach the Philippines. Like the Philippines is San Miguel beer that was brought by Spanish colonizers. Widespread throughout the archipelago and the San Miguel Light version is currently one of the best-selling versions in the Philippines.
This type is also available throughout Asia. We can also enjoy San Miguel Pale Pilsner, a bit stronger in flavor. I also like the San Miguel Negra version - a fantastic red beer with a dominant roasted malt flavor. Perfect for a late night out. For me, San Miguel is associated with sunset and sea breeze. It tastes especially beautiful when you admire the view of the setting sun in the Manila Bay or on the Palawan island.
Moving southwest, we reach Vietnam.
Here, the king of local brands is "Saigon Beer".
Beer that has recently been refreshed in terms of marketing. All thanks to investments from Thailand. The aesthetics and colors of the labels have been changed. The cans and bottles have gained "dignity" and the appearance gives the feeling of reaching for something special. For me, the best beer is “Saigon Special”, Pilsner with a beautiful green graphic design combined with a golden dragon on the label. New is "Saigon Chill", which is a response to San Miguel Light and Tiger Crystal - cold filtered types of beer. When I drink "Saigon Special" I associate the taste with the activity of the dragon and youth.
We're going to jump a bit west now, to Thailand. The Singha brand builds the power of the beer market in Southeast Asia. It was Singha who invested in Vietnamese breweries producing “Saigon Beer”. Hence the convergent marketing communication of both brands with the image of the golden dragon on the label. The second favorite beer of the Thai people is Chang. As for me, a bit not very expressive in taste. For me, Singha from Thailand is a very subtle and calm-tasting beer, which I especially recommend to ladies. White label and gilding give the bottles and cans lightness. My association with this beer is a delicate mist and wind wishpers.
As we approach the equator, we reach Malaysia and Singapore. Here "Tiger Beer" reigns. Especially in the "Crystal" version. Tiger is a local brand from Singapore, currently conquering Asia. If you visit Kuala Lumpur, it is worth drinking Delirium Tremens - lattice beer available in the Petronas Towers beer bar, served in fancy glasses. For me, the Tiger Crystal brand tastes best and the taste of this beer reminds me of wildness and freedom.
Crossing the equator we find ourselves in Indonesia, the island powerhouse of BINTANG beer, which is Heineken's investment in Indonesia. It does not surprise me. The Dutch influence in Indonesia goes back hundreds of years, which you can read in my article about the Flying Dutchman.
BINTANG is very popular all over the archipelago, but… in most shops you will only get it in a non-alcoholic version. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, religion forbids the consumption of alcohol.
Bali is dominated by the famous Bali Hai beer, a local brand that accompanies almost all tourists resting in Bali. Indonesian BINTANG is an association with the starry sky and the evening breeze from the ocean.
Beer consumption in all Asian countries is basically similar.
Beer is served well chilled, served in frosted mugs or glasses.
The so-called beer towers, i.e. well-cooled, 5-liter containers for serving beer from a tap. Thanks to this, you can enjoy fresh and well-chilled beer in a larger group of people.
What distinguishes the way of serving beer in Vietnam is that beer is served in mugs containing a large block of ice, filling almost 50% of their volume. Such local folklore. On the one hand, the beer is always cool, on the other hand it is slightly diluted.
While in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and China it is customary to drink beer in a beer hall, pub or bar, in Vietnam there are tradition of beer streets full of low tables and chairs. The flagship example is the famous "backpackers" street in Saigon - Bui Vien or a beer corner in Hanoi. In addition, hundreds of beer gardens on almost every street of the city, offering countless beer and of course food.
Beer and heavy spirits in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are sold at very inflated prices and are generally hard to find. An interesting fact that you will see in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore is the netiquette on the fridge or on the beer shelf informing that it is forbidden to buy beer or any alcohol to local Muslim residents. If the seller is unsure, he will ask for an ID card. Against this background, Bali, as an enclave of Hinduism, looks like a beer paradise.
It is worth mentioning that "craft" beers are very fashionable in Asia at the moment. Brewed on the spot, in a variety of styles. A very popular and famous place is Pasteur Street Brewery in the city center, where you can drink around 30 kinds of beer. A similar place is Saigon Craft in District 7, serving over 15 different types of draft beer and the same amount from bottles and cans. Near me, in the Thao Dhien district, there is a brand new Belgica local brewery run by a former pilot who brews Belgian style beer.
Characteristic for the whole of Asia is the use of cans and bottles with a capacity of 0.33 liters. While Europe is dominated by a half-liter bottle and can, in Asia, 90% of beer is sold in bottles and a can with a capacity of 0.33 l.
This may be related to some difference between Asians and Europeans. Well, I don't know if you know, but Asians don't have one of the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol, so they can't drink too much. Smaller packaging capacity gives you slightly more chances of enjoying the beer for longer.
I had the opportunity to test Asians' resistance to alcohol myself. I was "challenged" to a duel in one of the local bars in China. The bar guy started boasting about how resistant he was to alcohol and that he could drink a lot. He entered the competition full of hope for a win. First round, 10 0.33l bottles of beer per person. Imagine my surprise when after the sixth bottle of 0.33, when I was slowly starting to take in flavor, my opponent was slowly sliding down from the chair to the floor ...
Thus, the amber route led us from the far north, from Japan, to the far south to Indonesia, to the rhythm of the toast raised by the Vietnamese ...
... một hai ba dzô that is, one, two, three ... cheers!