August 02, 2011

ARNABeer: The World of Tsingtao

Tsingtao (pronounced ching-dao) is for all intents and purposes the national beer of China. It is not the best tasting beer in China, but it is the one with the most name recognition and availability. Beer advocates give Tsingtao a 'C', griping that it is the colour of urine but grudgingly admitting that it goes well with spicy Chinese cuisine. It is not even officially the world's most consumed beer, with that honour belonging to its tastier compatriot Snow.

Fiercely potent rice wine, baijiu, has been the staple drink of the nation for generations, but now faces stiff competition from its less alcoholic brethren. Beer is steadily gaining popularity as China's middle class swells like the belly of a mother awaiting to give birth to her only child. Tsingtao is leading the way, both locally and as the leading exporter of Chinese beers. Germans living in the coastal Shandong city of Qingdao founded the Tsingtao Brewery in 1903.

Although pronounced the same, the beer and the city are spelled differently in English. Tsingtao is spelled using the old Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese, while Qingdao is the spelling using the present day pinyin system. The brewery fell into Japanese hands during their invasion of the Heavenly Kingdom, before being repatriated and privatized after the People's Republic was founded.

The original brewery in Qingdao is now a museum and visitors are offered freshly brewed beer at the end of their tour.  Since 1991, the brewery has organized the annual Qingdao International Beer Festival. Foreign friends are plied with free booze by the Chinese, if they are lucky enough to stumble into Qingdao during the summer months when the festival is held.


"Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder." ~ Kinky Friedman