Crisp and smooth with a sparkling golden hue, a pint of imported Chinese beer enhances the flavours of dim sum. Whether you wish to bring out the taste of honey garlic spareribs or have a hankering for a refreshing complement to spicy prawns, you have a choice of Vancouver’s popular Chinese brews: Tsingtao, Yanjing or Zhu Jiang. All three beers are lagers; though similar in appearance, they are quite distinct in taste. The well-trained palate of beer connoisseur Colin Jack discerns the subtlest nuances among the three. Jack is the owner of JustHereForTheBeer.Com, a local beer-tasting and education company. “Unlike wine tasting,” he says, “you have to swallow beer to properly taste it.” Judging the bitterness from the hops is an important aspect of beer tasting, and the part of the tongue responsible for tasting bitter flavours is at the back. Use all of your five senses to properly evaluate the beer; and to get the most flavour, pay attention to sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and savouriness.
Jack opens the three beers at once. Slowly pouring amber liquid into glasses, he observes how a thin white head dissipates and leaves a circle of bubbles around the top. He reaches for the Yanjing first, agitates the beer, and watches it stick to the walls of the glass. He scrupulously examines its appearance, making a note of the pale yellow hue and light carbonation. Giving the beer a good swirl, the connoisseur describes its aroma as fresh with a hint of sweetness and undertones of hops. Jack takes the first sip. Before swallowing, he lets the flavours fully infuse his taste buds and shares his findings: it’s light and crisp, with a sweet beginning and a bitter finish. Yanjing has a mid-range carbonation that makes the beer flavour stick to the tongue longer. As for savouriness, this beer has a distinct texture. Yangjing leaves a slight silkiness on the tongue and is not sharp and biting like some lagers.
Jack takes the last sip of Yanjing and reaches for the glass filled with Tsingtao. Performing the familiar tasting ritual, he notes the beer has higher carbonation and a shorter finish than Yanjing. Unlike Yanjing’s light, watery beginning and bitter finish, Tsingtao’s flavour stays consistent. The lingering flavour of Tsingtao is markedly different from Yanjing, perhaps because rice is not one of the beer’s main ingredients. Brewed from high-quality Canadian barley and Chinese hops, Tsingtao has a pleasant, mellow taste. It’s a beer with a long history and a big presence in its home country as well as in Canada, where this popular import has been available for more than 30 years. It’s not a surprise that the majority of Canadian beer drinkers associate Chinese beer with the Tsingtao brand.
Jack now lifts the glass of Zhu Jiang beer and goes through the same motions. Because barley is sweeter than rice, Zhu Jiang leaves a floral hint on the tip of the tongue. Its bitter finish is slight compared to Yanjing’s and Tsingtao’s. This indicates that the brewer adds hops for aroma, a process that takes place toward the end of the boiling. Hops contribute to different elements of the beer; they add a balancing bitterness when used at the beginning of the boiling, or a spicy, floral aroma when added at the finishing stages. While Yanjing is produced mostly from Chinese ingredients, Zhu Jiang’s ingredients arrive at Guangzhou Zhu Jiang Brewery from different parts of the world. Czech hops, German yeast, Canadian barley malt, and Chinese spring water are combined to create this beer. Known as the “Beer of the South,” this relatively new brew quickly established a big presence in China and now ranks among the top three brews in the country. Jack says, “You can develop a relationship with the beer by finding out a little about it. If you treat your beer right, with a little respect and understanding, the beer will respond to you.” Whether you are looking for the full culinary experience while traveling in China or sitting down to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, crack open a bottle and make your own acquaintance with Chinese beer.
TSINGTAO Teriyaki Chicken Salmon Glazed with Oyster Sauce Beef & Broccoli YANGJIN Peking Duck Walnut Fried Rice Dumplings Spring Rolls ZHU JANG Kung Pao Chicken BBQ Pork Grilled Asparagus Spicy Noodles Suggested Food Pairings