Tag Archives: Craft 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.

 

Some of the Best Draft Beer Downtown

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Here is something you will likely never hear an expat say: “Oh my god, do you know where I can find Tsingtao on draft? What about Tiger?” That’s because both are cheap and extremely common. Finding those beers is not a challenge. Let’s put it this way: No foreigner squeals for joy when they find cans of Harbin at a supermarket. Quality craft beer is another story, and downtown Changzhou recently gained a new bar that sells unique and quality draft beer.

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Bubble Lab is a well known, famous microbrewery in Wuhan. About two months ago, they opened a new bar near the Zhonglou Injoy Mall. This is in the Future City shopping complex next door. The chief difference between this bar and it’s parent location is that the beers are not brewed in Changzhou. They are made in Wuhan and shipped here. They have multiple taps and serve a wide variety. They have, for example, two stouts at the moment; one has a slight vanilla flavor, and the other has hints of coffee. There are many different types of IPAs to be had, as well as typically less bitter fare like pilsner and lager. The food is also enjoyable.

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Their cheeseburger is fairly simple, and that is not a bad thing. Yet, there are a few things that can even wreck a simple burger: bad quality beef, dry textures, and over or under cooking it. Bubble Lab’s burger avoids all of this. The meat patty is very juicy — definitely not overcooked and chewy. Truth be told, it was so juicy that it was a bit of a mess to eat. That is also not a criticism; messy burgers are delicious if done right, and this is one I would order again.

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Bubble Lab also offers fish and chips. You don’t see the fries in the above picture because they are under the fillets. Now, this should be said: this is not the type of fish and chips an Aussie or a Brit may be used to. That’s usually batter dipped and deep fried. Bubble Lab’s fish actually tastes a bit German. By that, I mean it tastes like somebody took fish and prepared it the same way you would with a schnitzel cutlet, and that involves bread crumbs and parsley. Again, this is not criticism. Not all fried fish and potato meals needs to be proper British fish and chips. I found this enjoyable, but then again, I am not somebody who is homesick and from the United Kingdom or Australia. It should also be noted that right now, their menu is fairly simple and small. Yet, new things will likely be added in the months to come.

All in all, I am very happy to see Bubble Lab in Changzhou. The city center needed another western style bar and restaurant.  Ever since Bellahaus went out of business, eating and drinking options seemed confined to Summer and a few other places. Plus, with so many Wuhan craft beers on tap, you can easily say Bubble Lab offers something you can’t find elsewhere in Changzhou.