Big brands like Snow Beer and Tsingtao dominate the beer market in China. Their standard, industrial lagers are light, easy-to-drink and not very distant from, water. The lager-making monsters have been defied for some time now by a small, but tenacious threat: local, craft breweries that are changing the way beer is made, and also altering people’s perception about it.
China is thirsty for something new. And it might be ready for a cold, hoppy one.
Paul Gelinas, General Manager in China for Stone Brewing, admits that there has been a big craft beer boom in the country, notably in the last few years. And it’s just getting started, “We’re definitely in the early stages” claims Paul.
You start to notice local and imported craft beers here and there but picking up a good example is more difficult than it seems. Craft beer is quite pricey, and it’s often way past its due date. Even specialized retailers struggle to preserve the perishable drink in acceptable conditions. Bottles might sit on a warm shelf for a few years in this so-called craft beer specialty stores. There just isn’t enough demand to get things going.
Paul has been living in China for eleven years, originally from Brooklyn, he had his first approach to the country at a young age. He developed a personal bond between him, China and the country’s peculiar ways. Paul also grew to love beer, especially new world, hop-centric styles. He naturally ended up working at Stone Brewing, the all-time top brewery on planet Earth according to Beer Advocate.
Some said Chinese people would never drink coffee or wine; both sectors have skyrocketed since then. People just need to come out and try the beer. “Once you’ve been exposed [to something better] it’s hard to go back,” says Paul with confidence.
Stone Brewing is truly a unique brewery. It started out in a humble industrial space outside San Diego in 1996. Two gentlemen, Steve Wagner, a homebrewer, and a geeky entrepreneur, Greg Koch partnered up with an ambitious goal in mind: making great beer like it had never been done before.
Their super premium, fresh, quality craft beers soon got noticed. Pushing the boundaries and never settling down, Stone Brewing created one of the first Russian Imperial Stouts and the third commercial Double IPA. When they announced they were opening a brewery in Berlin, the spiritual home of traditional beer, it was madness. Opening a non-classic brewery in Germany was unthinkable. But there’s always the opportunity to bring something new, there will always be people interested in trying a double IPA. Even in Dutchland. “Challenging convention is something we take very seriously, it was always part of the Stone ethos,” affirms Paul.
This year they’re doing it again. Guided by Paul, Stone Brewing will open a taproom in Shanghai. They will offer 30 different beers on tap, and none of them will be ordinary.
Supplying the beer properly is the first step to ensure that their beer shows its best. They will ship the beer just days after being bottled and send it in refrigerated containers equipped with GPS thermometers. This is a painstaking process. It’s a big investment too. But that’s the Stone Brewing’s way.
Getting people to taste super fresh beer, something unattainable until now, will be the game changer. “We’re trying to really set the bar way beyond where it’s been set so far for quality” states Paul. People will be able to taste fresh beer from their breweries in Berlin, Napa, and Escondido. 30 different taps pouring endless, fresh, hoppy beer is an exciting thought. But are Chinese people excited?
Chinese beer drinkers are not big fans of IPAs as a whole, but Stone is determined to bring that option to the market. Some said Chinese people would never drink coffee or wine; both sectors have skyrocketed since then. People just need to come out and try the beer. “Once you’ve been exposed [to something better] it’s hard to go back,” says Paul with confidence. “I can’t wait until we’re open, because I think many people are going to be experiencing this kind of stuff for the first time.”
Stone is an inspiration for craft brewers in the country. Paul vividly describes Stone Brewing founder’s determination, and he sees the same look in the eyes of the enthusiastic craft brew entrepreneurs in China, “It’s exciting. It’s an exciting industry to be in”.
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Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer