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People have been drinking beer (啤酒 – pí jiǔ) for thousands of years in China. As a matter of fact, recent archaeological discoveries show that villagers in China were making a beer-like beverage as far back as 7,000 BC! Beer comes second only to tea in China when it comes to beverage consumption. China also surpassed the US as the biggest market for beer with an estimated value of $80 billion. So you want to order a cold one in China, but not sure how to do it? We’ll teach you how to order a beer in Chinese in this post and go into a bit more detail about the beer scene there.
Beer is huge in China. In local noodle restaurants around lunch-time, you’ll see Chinese guys casually throwing back a few bottles while munching and chatting. In the evening, street food stalls serve up BBQ and snacks such as peanuts and green beens, while the sounds of bottles clinking echo throughout the crowd of people sitting on tiny stools. Beer is everywhere you look, and with large bottles costing a mere 3-4 RMB, it’s certainly a budget friendly choice. Here are some of the most common brands of beer:
The first modern brewery in China was established in Harbin by Russians at the end of the 19th century. They went ahead and named the beer after the city, and it remains one of the most popular brands in China. Not too long after that, Germans established Tsingtao in the city with the same name. If you’re wondering why there’s a difference in spelling, it’s because the beer brand still uses the old Wade-Giles format (Tsingtao) rather than the updated pinyin (Qingdao). However you spell it, the city hosts an annual beer festival that is absolutely wild. See what it looks like in this short video:
While both of these brands are very popular, nobody beats Snow in China. It’s the most-consumed brew in the country, with about 22% of the market share. All of these beers are widely available in China. The problem is that none of them are very good. Thankfully, the beer scene has been evolving in recent years.
When I first arrived in Beijing back in 2008, the beer situation was a sad one. As a connoisseur of craft brews, I was beyond disappointed to find the watered down Chinese “beers” to be the only option most of the time. With no flavor, an alcohol content of around 2%, and the fact that it was often served at room temperature, there was not much to get excited about. At that time, the best that you could hope for was other mass-produced beers – Budweiser, Heineken, Carlsberg, and so on. Fast forward a few years, and my how things have changed! Thanks to the success of a few micro-breweries in Beijing, craft beer is slowly but surely infiltrating the rest of China. What the guys at Great Leap (大跃啤酒 – dà yuè pí jiǔ) and Slow Boat (悠航鲜啤 – yōu háng xiān pí) started in the capital has spread not only to other big cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, but also to much smaller markets such as Kunming and Chengdu. It’s not just the lao wai (老外) drinking this stuff, either – more and more Chinese beer drinkers are happily dropping down a lot more of their RMB on a glass of craft beer.
Naturally, the burgeoning craft beer scene has led to a variety of festivals across the country. Both Beijing and Shanghai have been hosting an annual beer festival for the past few years, drawing thousands of thirsty folks looking to wet their whistle with brews that were Made in China. Check out some highlights from an awesome beer festival in Shenzhen hosted by BionicBrew in this short video:
Now that you’ve learned all about beer in China, it’s time to learn how to order one! First thing’s first – you’ll want to learn how to simply say you want a beer and whether you want a bottle, can, or glass.
Not every place will have draft beer (扎啤 – zhā pí), so you’ll probably have to ask and see if they do:
Now that craft beer is getting more and more popular in China, you’ve actually got choices when it comes to what kind of suds you’ll sip. You’ll want to know how to ask what kind of beer they have:
While you may be used to words like stout, lager, or IPA when ordering a beer in English, they usually just classify beers by color in China:
Generally speaking, “yellow beer” will be a lager of some sort. “Red beer” may be a red ale or even a pale, and “black beer” is a dark lager or something like a stout or porter.
Now you’re all set and ready to order up a cold one in Chinese. There’s just one more word that you definitely need to learn: