Tag Archives: Beer

The Real Changzhou Beer

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This is a no-holds barred death match between two Changzhou beers.

 

If you would like to get a stern lecture, tell a drunk Australian that their country makes great beer. Then, cite Fosters — not Little Creatures — as an example of a great Aussie brew. They will inform you that 1) it’s not made in the Down Under, and 2) depending on where you buy a can, the rights are actually owned by Heineken or Miller. Fosters is Aussie in name only. There is a parallel that can be drawn to Changzhou, here.

Tianmu Lake Beer claims to be from Liyang City, which is part of greater Changzhou. The claim is that the beer itself is made from Tianmu’s water. So, while it’s made locally, it does have a claim to being a local beer. However, its actually owned Chongqing Brewery, which was is basically Carlsberg. The Danish brewer bought an ownership stake because it wanted entry into the rapidly growing Chinese beer market. So, Tianmu Lake Beer is NOT locally owned.

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Psst! Hey, you! That bottle of Tuborg? It’s brewed and bottled in China by the same company that owns Tianmu Lake Beer. So, it’s not actually an import. That’s why it is so easy to find. 

 

There is also nothing unique about Tianmu Lake Beer. It’s bland, it’s watery, and it tastes just like Snow and most other Chinese beers. It comes in with a 2.5% alcohol level, so if you actually drink a bunch of these, you would feel more bloated than drunk. That is likewise true for Snow and a lot of other Chinese beers. They tend to be flavorless. The truth is this: Changzhou recently got a better beer, and it has a greater claim at being truly local. 

Riguli is launching a line of craft beers. Right now, they offer an urban wheat beer, and they have IPA coming out very soon. So, what about this wheat beer? Any good? Well, you can easily say it’s 10,000 times better than Tianmu Lake. But then again, every craft beer made in China is better than Tianmu Lake.

The easiest comparison would be to Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale out of Chicago. Both that and Riguli’s 0519 Urban Wheat Beer have a smooth, easy-drinking taste while still maintaining a complex flavor profile. If I was forced to compare the two, Goose Island is still the better beer. Riguli is still very enjoyable. You can draw a very subtle connection between the two by way of labeling and branding. The numbers can be taken as a homage and a nod to Goose Island. In Chicago, 312 is a phone area code. In Changzhou, the area code on landlines would be 0519.

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Riguli 0519 at OK Koala in Xinbei. I don’t know if other bars are stocking this.

Both beers have another distinction. European wheat beers, especially German ones, have a very powerful taste. Some people, myself included, have developed an aversion to those wheat beers over time. As a flavor, I have found that people either like it or dislike it with no middle ground. Both Riguli and Goose Island does not taste that way, and both are proof that you can’t judge a beer on the word wheat alone.

Since Riguli is still in its launching phase, it does not have wide distribution. Personally, I tend to drink it while at OK Koala in Xinbei. They have a wide and international selection of craft beer. However, since this is China, the easiest way to buy Riguli is through their store on Taobao.com.

 

The Not-Quite Belgian Beer Bar

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When I was 13 years old, I walked into a bar and was served my first beer. This was in Mons, Belgium — where drinking laws regarding age practically do not exist. Attitudes regarding alcohol, in general, are different than in the US. This was in the late 1980’s, and the bar stood right outside of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe’s (SHAPE) rear gate. SHAPE is the military headquarters of NATO, and my high school was on that base. And with that first sip of Stella Artois, a life-long love-hate relationship with beer began. Specifically, the love was with Belgian and Dutch brews. I can’t take a sip of Chimay or Duvel without feeling nostalgia for my teenage years.

One can easily imagine how excited I would get upon hearing about a new Belgian beer bar in Changzhou and Xinbei in particular. Now, imagine that I can walk to it from my home, and you can understand how even more excited I would be. You mean I can have Chimay on tap? Hoegaarden on tap? So, one night, I went there with two friends. And it is hard to say I walked away from the bar happy. I wasn’t.

It wasn’t the decor. The inside of the place looks great and spacious. It wasn’t the location, either. Being next to Monkey King Pizza and Candles Steakhouse makes it really easy to find, even if you are taking the bus. My problem is from their main selling point: the beer itself. Now, keep in mind I walked in wanting to like this place very much. I love Belgian beer, and they serve it. It’s not hard. It’s not rocket science.

So, I ordered a Chimay, a Hoegaarden, and a very “not Belgian” Guinness on tap. All of them tasted slightly off. My two friends were drinking Becks — also as drafts. They complained about the same thing. The beer tasted slightly off and mostly flat. Take Guinness, for example. The whole selling point of having it as a draft comes down to carbonation, bubbles, and a thick head. These drafts had none of that.

In the end, I think something is wrong with this bar’s system of taps. I doubt the beer was flat when the kegs were delivered. The problem was just consistent with too many beers that they offered. In the end, that may be a good thing. Draft systems can be fixed, and when this bar fixes their taps, I will go back, drink Belgian beer, and be very happy. But only then. Paying lots of money for a flat Chimay is just a non starter.

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One badly carbonated Irish Guinness … at a Belgian beer bar