China has given the world many great things – pork chow mein, Lucy Lui, a big wall – but not many people realise it is also home to the world’s second best beer, Tsingtao.
When I picked this top ten, I felt a little guilty at choosing just the one German beer – the 7th best beer in the world, Kolsch – but believe it or not, Tsingtao is pretty German. The brewery was founded in 1903 by German settlers in Qingdao. This port city, on the north east coast of China, hosted the sailing events at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and has always had a German heritage in the same way that Hong Kong has had a British connection from its days of being a British colony.
The German expats mixed their nation’s famed brewing expertise with the finest ingredients in the orient to create a beer primarily for westerners living in China. Despite its traces of rice, locally-produced hops and water from the Laoshan mountains, Tsingtao has the taste of a European lager.
During World War I, disaster struck – the Germans lost control of Qingdao to the Japanese, who stole the secret formula which they used in their Asahi and Kirin Ichiban beers.
It’s now the leading beer in Hong Kong – I fondly remember my first visit there as a poor backpacker. I bought a six-pack of Tsingtao with old-school “tear-off” ring pulls, and settled down with a dim-sum takeaway on a bench overlooking Victoria Harbour. There’s a free light show with classical music every night called Festival of the Lights with lasers shining on the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island, which I enjoyed while getting merry on the world’s second best beer.
I was reunited with Tsingtao on my honeymoon in Hong Kong – after a day of culture in the intense summer heat and humidity there, a cold and refreshing bottle or two is just what the doctor ordered.
It is a dream of mine to visit the home of Tsingtao in Qingdao one day, where you can buy the beer in see-through plastic bags, and drink it through a straw after piercing the bag.
The only way to get hold of Tsingtao in the old days in the UK was to visit your local Chinese supermarket or restaurant. Now part of the evil Anheuser Busch empire, it’s available in most mainstream supermarkets and bars, and is the perfect accompaniment to Chinese food.