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Craft Beer Market in Mainland

啤酒與威士忌的前世今生

Chinese has a long history of drinking while the word alcohol has been mentioned in "the book of odes and hymns" over twenty times and other classics as well. Most people in ancient times drink rice wine and yellow wine, but today Chinese drink a wide range of alcohol and often drink accompany with meal. In contrary, the foreigners like to drink neat in the bar especially beer. In the Mainland, the potential of craft beer is huge particularly in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and other first-tier cities. There is still room for further development. In my opinion, craft beer is going to be more prevalent than wine does. Here are some of my suggested reasons:

  1. Wine culture has always been associated with the gift culture. People who are keen on tasting is only minority.  Over the years wine education has been well developed in the Mainland, but the purpose of learning is often for social life.
     

  2. Chinese people like to “Gan Bei”, but wine needs to be tasted slowly, and some wines take extra time for decanting and evolving. This is not the way Chinese drink. They like to drink unrestrained.

In Mainland (Hong Kong as well), people know little of craft beer. What is craft beer? What are the differences between craft beer and commercial beer? What are the characteristics of different beer styles? All of them are the topics people need to be educated. In the viewpoint of sales, there is a lot of challenges ahead. Commercial beers are cheap and uncareful, while craft beer are delicate. As for other fermented beverage like wine and sake, they are vulnerable to heat and light, and great care has to be taken in transportation. In a big country like China, it is not easy to build up a system. There are numerous problems in the market but lack a communication network between the manufacturers, suppliers, importers and distributors. The competition between producers is therefore far from fair and consumers would never get a guaranteed product. The chaos in the market is actually going uncontrollable - rotten wines, fraudulent wines, wines with forged label, wines bottled in China, etc.

In contrast, craft beer is growing fast in Mainland. The quality is making continuous progress. As in the United States, there are regional brands in every province. Various styles exist in the market - American IPA, English IPA, Belgian IPA, Italian Grape Ale. Consider their quality, quantity and uniqueness, why can’t we create a Chinese-style beer? Being the pioneers ahead of Mainland, we shall share our experience with them. Don’t just look at the immediate interests, but the future of the whole industry.

中國人喝酒的文化實在是源遠流長,在《詩經》中一共有二十多處有提及“酒”,除此之外,還有很多不同的典籍都曾經提到過酒。古時人們喝的大多數是米酒、黃酒,而時至今日中國人喝酒的種類已經是五花百門,而且中國人喜歡吃飯時喝酒,像外國人喜歡在酒吧剩飲,啤酒更是很多人用膳時的「必須品」。在內地手工啤酒的發展潛力相當快,尤其是上海、北京、深圳等一線城市,而且還有很大的空間發展,以筆者所見,手工啤酒的普及程度將會比葡萄酒大,原因為何?以下是筆者一點分析:

  1. 葡萄酒文化在國內的發展始終走不出用來送禮的形象,真正懂品嚐的人不多,多年來葡萄酒教育已在內地發展,但學的人目的不是為了工作需要,便是想略懂一二方便交際,真的為喜歡喝而感興趣的人不多。
     

  2. 中國人喝酒時性情豪邁,喜歡乾杯,杯杯清,相反葡萄酒需要慢慢細味品嚐,有些酒更需要時間醒酒來感受其變化,這不太合適中國人的喝酒文化。但啤酒正正可以做到,大口大口地喝,無拘無束。

在內地(其實香港也是),人們對手工啤酒的認識還是很表面,例如什麼是手工啤酒?手工啤酒和商業啤酒有何分別?不同啤酒風格有何不同特性?等等。都需要業界加強教育,而且在銷售層面也同樣很多挑戰,因一般商業啤酒價值低,儲蓄方面一點也不講究,但手工啤酒就不同,手工啤酒和其他發酵酒如葡萄酒、清酒一樣怕光、怕熱,儲蓄和運送都需要好好照顧。而且中國地方大,要辦好制度一點也不容易,現時國內充斥著水貨的問題,生產商、供應商、進口商、分銷商都沒有一套完善的關係網,對最終消費者沒有保障之餘,做生意的也非公平競爭,市場混亂對生產者也不會有什麼益處,就像國內的葡萄酒市場,壞酒、假酒、換酒標酒、來到國內才裝瓶的酒,問題多多。

反觀國內釀造的手工啤酒品牌與日俱增,質素也不斷進步,這股勢力絶對不容忽視,就如美國一樣,不同省分有不同代表,有不同的本土啤酒,百花齊放!而且當質量、產量、獨特性達至高水平更可作出口,推銷到海外,有American IPA,有English IPA,有Belgian IPA,有Italian Grape Ale,為何不能有一款中國風格的啤酒?而香港在亞洲可算是手工啤酒這股熱潮的先驅之一,也可以將經驗和國內同胞分享,打造領導的地位,希望大家不要只看眼前利益,而要為整個行業的大放向著想。