I sampled many beers during my gap-year travels. China’s ever popular Tsingtao, and also, China’s second most famous beer, Harbin. Both of which you can now get over here. And the second of which, I have here, ready to try for the first time since my travels in 2006. Here is a small bottle of imported Harbin Lager.
And it looks a bit different. The last time I had a bottle, I was not long out of Harbin, and the front of it looked like this…
Aside from all the extra Chinese writing, quite a different look I’m sure you’ll agree. But you’ve got to like the look of this one. The green glass and mostly green labels give it an excellently green look.
It’s not ruined by a tasteless piece of neck foil either. That’s because this one is green and matches everything else.
And, under the plain and simple “Harbin” banner logo are the three words that the beer adventurer longs to see; “Imported From China”. And that is welcome because of the large quantity of beer that play on their Asian heritage, but were brewed in the neighbouring postcode.
The front label is… well it’s very good. Better looking than the real thing from Harbin itself a couple of years ago.
I like it. It’s stylish and hasn’t jettisoned any Chinese-ness in the process. The little logo is an odd looking thing though. It looks like a horse pulling a cart laden with barrels, in front of what could be the brewery. Perhaps the most complicated logo I’ve seen so far.
The slogan for Harbin is “China’s Treasured Lager”. Suitably vague, but you can’t knock it for that. Around the bottom border of the roundel are what look like medals. But they’re just too small to read. If anyone out there knows anything about them or can translate any of the Chinese writing, make sure to leave a comment at the end of this post.
Back inside the roundel, and there’s a hint for the less well travelled about where this came from. That’s because this was “Inspired by the Tradition and Culture of China’s Most Northern Province of Heilongjiang”. Harbin, if you didn’t know, is the biggest city of that province. And probably for a good part of northern China too. Being so near Russia, it’s popular with Russians. But not, as far as I could tell, those with tanks. Yet.
The back label is a Post-It note sized sticker. Which means that there’s little else on there apart from the small-print. This beer from the Harbin Brewing Co., Ltd., China was imported and distributed by the always busy Anheuser-Busch based down in Surrey, England.
What else? Well, it contains barley malt. This bottle is the ubiquitous 330 millilitres. And the alcoholic volume is an unexceptional 4.8%. Not high. Not standard continental strength. And not weak either.
That’s about it. All that remains is to open up this little green bottle and try to answer some questions. Questions like will it taste familiar? Will it be better than the other Asian beers I’ve tried? And is it any good?
This is a head-happy lager. It took literally a few pauses between pours before the glass became mostly liquid. It does settle into a very good, thick, consistent layer of froth though. Not bad at all. What about the colour? Well, it’s lager. That means pale yellow and lots of fizz are the order of the day.
The smell, not normally a feature of lagers, surprisingly, is with Harbin. It smells much more of barley than most others do. And that gives it a little more character than most of the competition. Not much, but enough to count.
A few gulps in, and it’s all going down very well indeed. For a lager. The taste is of much the same blend of malted barley and hops as most lagers are. But Harbin leans a little more in the barley direction with the taste. All of which is followed by a remarkably lightly bitter aftertaste.
There’s plenty to like about Harbin Lager. I like the taste. Which is a tiny bit more interesting than I expected. I like the aftertaste. Which wasn’t as stringing and lingering as I feared. It’s not gassy. I like that it is refreshing, crisp and very easy to drink. And remembering my anti-lager prejudice, Harbin Lager has done rather well.
What about the things I don’t like about it? Well, it is a lager. And that means it will never be an interesting and delicious as other bottles on the shop shelf. Specifically the ones that are ales. That also means the taste will wear thin after a while, and quickly stop feeling so refreshing. It’s also not that easy to find. At least not here in the Britain. So far, I’ve found one shop, the Bethnal Green Food Centre on Bethnal Green Road selling it for £1.10 pence.
To sum up, I like Harbin Lager. It’s a tiny bit distinctive. It’s drinkable and a good all-rounder. I can’t report that it was distinctive enough to remember to taste. Nor that it’s much better than the shop-shelf worth of other Asian beers. But it is good enough to say that it’s worth your time and money.
Have you tried Harbin Lager? What did you think of it?
Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions and recommendations in the boxes below.