Why is China’s Beer So Different? - Drink China (E4)

Aug 20, 2021

Chinese people love beer so much their country consumes the most amount of beer in the world. Unlike brews the West produces, Chinese beers are much lighter and have a lower alcohol content. 

Talk about beer and you would think it’s countries like Germany, the UK or the US that drinks the most beer. But that list is actually topped by China. 

In fact, the country’s beer culture is going strong. Many provinces and cities make their own beer. Beijing is known for its Yanjing Beer. In Qingdao, there is Tsingtao Beer, while Hangzhou has Cheerday Beer, Xinjiang has Wusu Beer, and Shenyang has Snow Beer. 

Some of the big beer brands in China
Some of the big beer brands in China

Chinese beer is known for being light and refreshing. The beers usually have an alcohol content of around 3 percent to 3.6 percent, lower than the 5 percent typical Western beers like Carlsberg and Heineken contain. 

Since Chinese beer is lighter, it makes for an easy drink. People in the country especially like consuming it in the summer, often pairing it with grilled meats, crayfish, and spicy food.  

“Most people think that Yanjing beer is of the crisp and refreshing sort. That’s because of the aromas that come from the malts and hops, which isn’t as bitter as the ones used in traditional German beer,” said Wang Xin, a master brewer at Beijing Yanjing Brewery. It is one of the biggest beer producers in China with more than 40 factories around the country. 

A new spin on beer 

In 2020, mass-consumed beer accounted for over 99 percent of China’s beer market, while craft beer’s presence was close to none, according to data from Statista. But the scene is growing as more microbreweries pop up across the country. The trend started slightly more than a decade ago, when craft beer makers like Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai and Master Gao Brewing Co in Nanjing popped up. 

“When you ask people, ‘What beers are there in China?’ They’d say, ‘Tsingtao, Yanjing, and similar beers.’ But there are many more interesting beers out there. [China is] the fastest-growing beer market in the world, says Alex Acker, who co-founded Jing-A Brewing Co, a microbrewery that has been serving the Beijing crowd since 2012. 

Alex Acker and Kris Li
Alex Acker and Kris Li

Acker and his co-founder Kris Li first started making beer on the side in their previous jobs. Li said they would brew beer in small plastic barrels at home. 

Turns out, it was a success. Currently, Jing-A has five stores, 100 employees and two brewing facilities that produce about 200,000 bottles of beer every month.  


“Slowly, we built [our business] into what it is today,” Li says. 

It’s also a lot of fun, he says, as they can experiment with different ingredients. Jing-A releases about 50 different flavors of beer every year. 

“Each part of China has a different local speciality, and what we particularly like is to find a local raw material such as chilli, orange peel, tea, or mushrooms, and then we will incorporate this ingredient into our beer,” Li says, adding that he hopes his beers can tell a story. 



Producer: Jessica Novia 
Videographers: Patrick Wong, Lui Chen, Nicholas Ko   
Editor: Nicholas Ko 
Animation: Stella Yoo 
Mastering: Victor Peña