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Thirst for a heady beverage

(Shanghai Star) | Oct 15, 2014

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Shanghai International Beer Festival (SIBF) is expected to see 40,000 people attend its fourth event, which kicks off on Oct 30 on the bund. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

China is thirsty, and the world’s best brewers are flocking to the country to help quench that thirst. Belle Taylor talks to brewers, tipplers and pub-owners on what makes the beer scene here so special.

When brewer Leon Mickelson first arrived in Shanghai in 2010, he was excited to take on a job making beer in a country that drinks more of the brew than anywhere else in the world. Having worked in the beer-loving nations of New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, Mickelson knew a bit about places with a thirst for the tipple, but he soon found the market in China was unlike any other.

"The Chinese beer market is the largest in the world by a long shot and the craft beer scene was almost non-existent," says Mickelson, who moved to Shanghai take on the role of brew master at The Brew, at the Kerry Hotel in Pudong.

Mickelson found himself at the cusp of a rapidly changing Shanghai beer market, which in the past five years has shifted from being almost completely dominated by a few major domestic beverage companies, to become home to a slew of innovative microbreweries and a thriving import market for beers from the United States to Scotland.

China is the biggest consumer of beer, guzzling down about 25 percent of the total global supply, according to market researcher Plato Logic. Almost all this beer is lager — light, yellow, fizzy and brewed by beer giants, Snow Beer, Tsingtao, Harbin and Yanjing among others.

But in recent years, beer drinkers in Shanghai have suddenly been presented with a range of new options.

Drinkers can now enjoy a pint from The Brew, Boxing Cat Brewery, Dr Beer and Shanghai Brewery to name just a few.

Beer imports have also exploded. In 2009, 40,502 kiloliters of beer was imported into the country, last year that figure had grown to 182,271 kiloliters, according to the General Administration of Customs.

While the overall market percentage of these craft beers remains very small, the rate of their growth has been rapid, pointing to a huge thirst among Chinese drinkers, for new and exciting beverages.

"We were the first company to introduce craft beer to the China market," says Deane Lin, managing director of beer importer DXCEL.
"We started with four pallets in our first year, 2008. That translates to about a couple of hundred cartons. Six years on, we do 80 containers a year.

"Consumers are more and more eager to explore different types of beer from different countries." Despite the rapid growth, Lin says China "is in the very early stages when it comes to understanding beer."

Marketing and education, says Lin, is key. He says while there might be lots of fantastic beers available, if they are not correctly presented to the Chinese market they will struggle in the long term.

This is where events such as the Shanghai International Beer Festival come in. Launched by DXCEL in 2012, it’s since been overtaken by a subsidiary company BEVEX, headed by The Minh Nguyen.

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SIBF is not just about beer. The food and entertainment attracts those who may not be regular beer drinkers. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

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SIBF is not just about beer. The food and entertainment attracts those who may not be regular beer drinkers. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

With two events a year, SIBF has grown experientially. They hosted 10,000 people in their first year. Their fourth event, presented by Belgian beer giant Stella Artois, kicks off on Oct 30, and will be the biggest yet, with an estimated 40,000 people set to drink, eat and party at Wharf 1846.

It’s not just about the beer — Nguyen is keen to emphasize the food and entertainment aspect of the event, which he says is important to attract people who may not be regular beer drinkers.

"People going to a beer festival, at least 50 percent already know about beer," Nguyen says.

"So we really want to try to get the people who will be attracted by the food and entertainment, such as Chinese middle-class young professional women," he says.

In addition to the public event, SIBF will also host an industry conference dubbed Brewnetwork China, for people from all corners of the beer industry to come together, network and do business.

Nguyen’s wish list for the outcome of the festival is two-fold. He not only wants to help educate the punters about beer, which he points out, can be just as diverse and as interesting for the palate as wine, but also improve industry knowledge.

This is where events such as the Shanghai International Beer Festival come in. Launched by DXCEL in 2012, it’s since been overtaken by a subsidiary company BEVEX, headed by The Minh Nguyen.

With two events a year, SIBF has grown experientially. They hosted 10,000 people in their first year. Their fourth event, presented by Belgian beer giant Stella Artois, kicks off on Oct 30, and will be the biggest yet, with an estimated 40,000 people set to drink, eat and party at Wharf 1846.

It’s not just about the beer — Nguyen is keen to emphasize the food and entertainment aspect of the event, which he says is important to attract people who may not be regular beer drinkers.

"People going to a beer festival, at least 50 percent already know about beer," Nguyen says.

"So we really want to try to get the people who will be attracted by the food and entertainment, such as Chinese middle-class young professional women," he says.

In addition to the public event, SIBF will also host an industry conference dubbed Brewnetwork China, for people from all corners of the beer industry to come together, network and do business.

Nguyen’s wish list for the outcome of the festival is two-fold. He not only wants to help educate the punters about beer, which he points out, can be just as diverse and as interesting for the palate as wine, but also improve industry knowledge.
 

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