By Harley Zipori. I used to consider myself a home brewer. Then I stopped brewing beer at home. The reasons are numerous and mainly include the intensive preparation I did for a new responsibility at my day job which then resulted in lots of traveling. Good for blogging about beer but lousy for brewing.
Brewing beer at home is an intensive activity that is quite physical. I do it alone and I’m not getting any younger. Lifting boiling pots with 8 liters of wort off the stove can be tricky. So I preferred to be well prepared on brewing day and try to keep a relaxed atmosphere. Besides I had collected a lot of beer over the 3 years I brewed. Surprisingly this beer held up quite well. I finished of bottles that were 2 years old and they tasted fine. Perhaps it was not as crisp and flavorful as they once were but still drinkable.
I occasionally would buy a special or interesting beer I found and I was slowly working my way through the case of Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA I received when I participated in the Sam Adams Longshot Festival.
That came to an end just before I left for vacation at the end of June. I drank my last beer. I still have a very special bottle of dark ale that Reza, from the Sma Rum pub in Gottenburg, gave me in Sweden last April and a 1 liter bottle of Mc Chouffe my boss gave me at our annual company dinner. But no regular drinking beer.
Fortunately immediately upon finishing that last bottle of Sam Adams I flew to China. Beijing to be exact. Eight days of touring on a bus full of Israelis. That proved to be enough of a distraction so as not to dwell on my beerless status at home.
Yes there is beer in China. All passable and one I tasted was quite good. And I heard there are brewpubs. But the disadvantage of a group is that it’s hard to go exploring brewpubs in a city of 22 million people that pretty much covers the area of central Israel on your own in the hour or two of free time you get every other day or so.
So no brewpubs. No microbrewed beer.
But there are light fizzy lagers as you would expect today anywhere in the world. The two brands I tasted were Tsingtao and Yanjing. These are very mild pale golden lagers/pilsners with no redeeming characteristics other than the fact that they are fairly low alcohol and you can drink them down quite easily.
Local beers are really cheap. A 330ml can of Tsingtao is just over 2 NIS in a large Chinese supermarket. A 500 ml bottle of Yanjing went for 7 NIS in a very casual restaurant frequented by locals.
This does not mean that you cannot pay a lot for beer. There was a large variety of imported beers from Europe, most of which we are familiar with here in Israel like Hoegaarden and Paulaner. Of course you can get Heineken and Carlsberg but I suspect they are brewed locally. I mean if they can manufacture Audi’s and Volkswagen Passats in China, making a beer brewed in Netanya (Heineken) can’t be too much of a challenge.
One surprise was finding a bottle of Tsingtao Stout in an upscale minimarket. It wasn’t anything brilliant but it was stout with that nice burnt barley flavor that characterizes a good stout. It was a little light in body but at just under 6 NIS for a bottle, it’s a no brainer.
I won’t go into details of my impressions of China and the things we saw there. Suffice it to say that it was a fantastic trip.
One thing that changed drastically is my relationship with “Chinese Food” and “Chinese Restaurants”. In China you have to rethink all this. Every restaurant is a “Chinese Restaurant”. McDonalds is a “Chinese Restaurant” in Beijing. Not because they server what we call “Chinese Food”. They don’t. They prepare and server McDonalds food. But it is purely Chinese with the menu in Chinese, the servers are Chinese and the clientele is almost entirely Chinese. In China, asking for “Chinese Food” is a little like asking for “food” in other parts of the world. The breadth and depth of Chinese cuisine is that extensive. Also, if you grew up in areas with large Chinese immigrant populations like New York City or San Francisco, you may think you know about “Chinese Food”. I’m not sure what you call it but what you really know about is what they serve Americans in what the Americans call “Chinese Restaurants”.
I won’t even go into details of some of the things they offered in a food market on a major street in Beijing. Those interested and not squeamish can request a link to pictures.
Prior to my travelling to China, I had a very interesting experience at the Rubenstein restaurant in Netanya. We were offered a couple of types of beer with the Jacobson label. These are beers brewed by a special brewery owned by Carlsberg to cater to the microbrewery market. I tried a pale ale that came in a 750ml bottle was served in bucket with ice like champagne. It was a very good beer. Rich and flavorful and a bit high in alcohol. It was a good thing I had a driving partner that evening.
I kind of like it when the large brewing corporations get in the craft beer business. Maybe it’s my naive belief that using their marketing muscle they can reach out to the beer drinking masses that will further expand the market for microbrewed and craft beers.
So those of you reading this who are asking what I intend to do about my beerless status, I must disappoint you. I have no clue. I do intend to brew beer in the near future. Perhaps during the holiday season coming up early in September. I can then organize myself to purchase the ingredients and find the time to brew myself a new batch of beer.
Till then I would love to get my hands on a case of Alexander Green. I have to work on making a trip out there to see about obtaining the means to quench that thirst for good beer.
As usual, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.