Beer Review: Tsingtao Beer

BETTER late than never, here is my review of Tsingtao Beer. This one is from a convenience store in Shoreditch’s Kingsland Road in London. No, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to it either. It marks a full-circle for me. When I was gap-year travelling in China during ’06, this stuff weaned me off vodka screwdrivers. In fact, it kick-started my curiosity in beer that led to this very blog. And I haven’t tried Tsingtao Beer since leaving the Middle-Kingdom. So what will I make of it now?

Tsingtao Beer bottle

It looks a lot like other lagers on the shop shelves. Keep your wits about you, or you’ll accidentally pick up a bottle of something run-of-the-mill from the Continent.

Tsingtao Beer neck and shoulder of bottle

Looks a little closer and you’ll spot the name “Tsingtao” embossed on the shoulder. You’ll also see those attractive yet baffling (for Westerners) Chinese characters. Translators, do please leave your translations of these and anything from the labels in the comments at the end of this post. Another thing you might notice is just how transparent it is. Either the glass or the drink within is very clear indeed.

Down on the front-label, and we’re treated to a traditional, yet crowded roundel.

Tsingtao Beer front label

Starting on the outer border and working inwards (you have to start somewhere), the first detail you notice is “Since 1903”. Compared to European beers, that’s nothing. But Asian beers, that’s impressive.

Then there are some very welcome details. This is the genuine article; not a licensed rip-off. It was brewed and bottled by Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao in China. Very nice Chinese sea-side town, is Qingdao. Go there if you get the chance. But you might be wandering why Tsingtao is spelled differently to Qingdao. Well it’s simple really. The city changed they way its name is spelled in the English alphabet. You say them both in much the same way.

The little logo featuring a pagoda is a good touch. Qingdao has more than it’s fair share if I remember rightly. Just guessing, but I think the red border represents the flame emblem of the city. Can anyone confirm?

Then, for some reason, they cram the ‘story’ onto the front-label in tiny text. Regardless of that, squinting reveals that the classless Communist society has produced a classy beer. It tells of how since 1903, Tsingtao has been “internationally recognised as the finest beer in China” and how their fine ingredients have produced an “award winning beer”.

Under that, in writing so small you need an electron microscope to read it, are details about those awards. First of which it won shortly after birth in 1906, when it won the gold medal at the Munich Beer Expo. Then a gap until 1961-1987 when it was “winner of major American beer competitions”. Sure, it’s not the full picture, but it’s better than vague statements such as “award winning” that you find on some bottles.

Around on the back label, and the awards picture unfurls still further.

Tsingtao Beer back label

Right at the top are two medals not even mentions on the front-label. It seems to have won one of the prestigious Monde Selection awards in 1994. That’s one of the few names I recognise. Can anyone confirm what it won exactly? Whatever it is, I’m impressed.

Besides that, the back label is the usual bare-bones export version label. The ingredients are water, malt, rice and hops. And that’s interesting because of the rice. All the smooth lagers that I enjoy contain rice. It would explain why Tsingtao Beer in China persuaded me to give beer a second look.

4.7% alcoholic volume is middle-of-the-road and a bit shy of the continental standard 5%. In this small 330ml bottle, it weighs in at a light-weight 1.6 UK units of alcohol.

Down in the small-print are a final few nuggets of information. It was imported to the UK by Halewood International. And the UK Tsingtao Beer website is at To save you time, the most interesting page is at

What will I make of Tsingtao Beer after all this time, and after sampling hundreds of others beers from around the world? Will it remind me of backpacking and partying or of being lost and ill? And, the reason why you’re reading this, what will it taste like and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Tsingtao Beer poured into a glass

Be careful while pouring, but only for about five seconds. After that, the frothy head completely vanishes. What you’re left with is a very fizzy, pale amber, Pilsner lagery looking drink.

Does Tsingtao Beer smell lagery too? Yes it does. It has that light malted barley blend familiar to anyone who’s drank a Pilsner style lager beer before. That said, this is different. You can smell something else. And I think that something else is the rice.

What does Tsingtao Beer taste like? On the first sip, my ever-so-slightly chilled bottle tastes like the sum of its parts. It tastes like a lager smoothed, softened and rounded by rice. Being a lager, there is no flavour to bother the taste buds. What you need to look at is the taste and aftertaste because that’s where Tsingtao Beer impresses.

What you taste is the usual lager blend of malt and hops, plus a hint of rice. Probably because of that rice, there’s no bitter aftertaste “bite” to scare you away. What you get instead is one of the smoothest and easiest to drink lagers around.

What do I like about Tsingtao Beer? I love how smooth and easy to drink it is. No wander I got through so many big bottles of the stuff while I was out there. I like how you can taste the rice more so with this than most other rice-based lagers. That gives it points for distinctiveness. I like that there’s nothing about the taste to offend even the most timid drinkers. And I think it’s produced to a good quality. Particularly for an East Asian beer.

What don’t I like about Tsingtao Beer? The drinkability comes at a price. That price is watery-ness. Sure, that means you can drink it like water, and, in a country where you can’t drink tap water, this is a good alternative. But, if you want something to get your teeth into, look elsewhere. The taste will stop feeling refreshing after a few bottles. And it’s on the gassy side.

How can I sum up Tsingtao Beer? It’s a very drinkable, rice tasting and smooth, if watery lager. Probably excellent with hot food or if you just want to cool down on a hot day. If you’re in China this is your enjoyable default choice. The closest tasting rival I can think of is Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer, though you can probably name more. In a sentence, Tsingtao Beer is an Asian lager, but quite a good one.

Have you tried Tsingtao Beer? Can you translate anything from the bottle and labels? Got any extra facts, trivia and corrections? Do please leave your opinions, translations, comments, recommendations and places to buy, here.

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37 Responses to “Beer Review: Tsingtao Beer”

  1. Paul B Says:

    Were you paid to write this review? I have just tried Tsingtao and found myself thinking that I would rather be drinking sump oil. As soon as I opened it the smell was terrible. Upon tasing this poor excuse for a beer I found that it tasted like a good beer that had been left in the sun for about a week and then chilled. If it tasted that bad ice cold, I could only imagine what it would taste like once it was off the chill. The taste of chemicals was very offputting and thought that if this is China’s best beer then the others must be not fit for consumption.

    • Paul Says:

      Stick to your Alcopops then pal. The smell reminds me of the great home brewed beers we make in the village. Read the ingredients list, no chemicals, unlike a lot of western lagers. I’m not being paid to write this either, I just like good beers, and this is one.

  2. Hans S Says:

    Lots of westerners tend to slam Chinese beers as being sour and watery. I find this to be the case when I drink the bottled stuff here in the US. However, we were in Qingdao just last week and ate on Beer Street right across from the brewery. All of these seafood restaurants are fabulous by the way (Qingdao is on the Yellow Sea and where the last Olympic sailing took place). These restaurants have the advantage of having huge stainless steel vats of fresh beer delivered to them from the factory – the biggest surprise was the fresh unfiltered version of the beer – slightly lemony, very effervescent, and perfect with the spicy fish dishes. Those pitchers of beer were one of the highlights of a great trip!

  3. Weijie Says:

    Hi, I accidentally found this interesting article. I am a Chinese and I saw from the picture that Chinese characters appear in three places on the bottle: one on the front-label, and two on the back label. They are just the Chinese characters corresponding to “Tsingtao Beer “.

  4. Johnny Hoodoo Says:

    I found this beer on special offer in Aldi’s.My usual swill is Tennents lager.I really like it.640ml bottle is a good size.7 or 8 of them is a good amount.Compared to my usual beer this stuff is great.I also like the Blackwytch stout.mmm.Have you reviewed that.

  5. johncraven Says:

    the characters says 青岛啤酒

    青岛 = QingDao -> literally means Green Island
    啤酒 = Pi Jiu -> Beer, literally means Beer Wine

  6. Tim Says:

    Had a couple last night at a Chinese restaurant which is why I looked it up and found your review. I agree with your findings. Excellent light beer. Crisp, easy to drink. Complements the meal nicely.

  7. Jas Says:

    I agree with your review.
    It’s a nice clean, crisp beer, especially good with food.
    I like it, as there is no bitterness to the after taste.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    When I tried this stuff in the states, I was greatly unimpressed.

    When I tried it in China… I loved it.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    drinking it right now,fucking awesome! I really enjoyed the review. Well written.

  10. Karen Says:

    Love Tsingtao. Discovered it Hong Kong and it was perfect with freshly cooked seafood sitting by the water. Doesn’t destroy the delicate food flavours.

    Although I have noticed there are various ‘versions’ – the export variety, made in China, and the locally-licensed version. The latter is very disappointing, but most places here seem to stock the import version, thankfully.

  11. bbbalazs Says:

    Great beer, i was a bit scared to try it but as it was on sale at asda 640ml i thought i will have a go………what a great idea it was!!!
    very easy to drink, great for any occasion

  12. Drew Says:

    Tell Paul B to stick to his PBR and stop complaining.

  13. Robert c Says:

    Having it now at a Chinese restaurant very new smooth beer really enjoyed must buy a tray of it home I get home

  14. charles Says:

    Obviously you never been to Germany and never tasted what the real beers are..this TsingTo beer taste shiit. Obviously this article is paid and some comments here are paid too.

  15. Guest Says:

    Tsingtao was founded by Germans, ironically enough.
    The yellow and red border around the logo is, I believe, meant to be a grain of some sort. Barley, perhaps? It’s slightly similar to the wheat and rice border around the national emblem of China:

  16. Shel Says:

    I grow up in the city of Tsingtao. I don’t know if it is still the case now, but 30 years ago the water used was from spring in the Lao mountain near Qingdao. After living abroad for over 20 years and tasted countless types of beers, I still like this one. It is best to go with shellfish, such as clams.

  17. Joe Says:

    I have had this beer a few times and keep returning to it because I have been trying to place that ‘skunky’ aftertaste that some people report. The best I can describe the taste that turns some drinkers off is a slightly rotten tomato taste. Does this description match anyone else’s taste buds?

  18. Pam Says:

    I have tried Mexican,European and American beer and this one it’s quite good. Thanks for the review!

  19. Lex Says:

    it’s no good,tastes very bitter.and is over priced in the uk,

  20. Rice Says:

    I must admit that this is a great beer. A little pricey in Washington at 17.99 a 12 pack, but to meet its smooth refreshing taste is well worth it. It is now the only beer I enjoy!

  21. malibusurfer Says:

    TSINGTAO BEER is very good beer ! I love that beer ! The writing on the bottle means many beautiful Chinese girls .

  22. Tony Lynch Says:

    Why in China is it 4% alcohol?

    • griffith_101 Says:

      alcohol by weight vs alcohol by volume. The ABW of a beer is roughly 4/5 of the ABV. I suspect in China that they use the ABW.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    johncraven is right, The first 2 characters mean green island. But the second two are just a Chinese borrowing, an attempt at writing the sound “beer” in Chinese characters and it came out as pijiu. And for the second of these two characters the character for “wine” was used to give a hint what pijiu is intended to mean.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Your a damn fool, this beer is great!

  25. Ming. B Says:

    I grew up in Qingdao. My suggestion is only drink beer in its birthplace. Any Tsingtao made in other places are simply gross and stupid. Trust me, I have tried one Tsingtao made in other part of China, annouced using a good quality of water, but it is just bad…Beer is picky with water source and the way they made. Our local beer fits to our culture, our mood, our food and our season.

  26. matt Says:

    Hi there,

    i currently drink tsintao and love it, the one question that i have is are any of the ingredients genetically modified

  27. Pintsize Pete Says:

    This review is very accurate. I have been drinking Tsingtao for a few years and it is a very smooth brew compared to some European lagers. I am enjoying one at the monent whilst eating my evening meal. I bought it at Morrisons in the UK. Big bottles….smooth taste.

  28. Duaneos Says:

    Hey good reviews just having one now in Hong Kong.Nice refreshing beer , Paul can you review Steinlager classic, is a New Zealand beer?

  29. gabriel Says:

    Very good beer. Does it have rice in its composition? It tastes like weiss beer at The end of a tip. R$2 here in Brazil, something like U$6 for 330mL.
    Great review!

  30. Michael Willems Says:

    Ha. I’m just having a Tsingtao as we speak. I like this beer. And I know a lot of beers, from all over the world. Belgian beers being my favourites. But when I want a refreshing beer that has a little of that lager bitterness without the aftertaste, I reach for a Tsingtao.

  31. Ray W Marshall Says:

    I am pretty sure the building is the pagoda at the end of the Qingdao pier. I lived in Jinan, not far from Qingdao, and always found this to be an enjoyable beer.

  32. ChingDo Says:

    I drink Tsingtao 2000 now. It doesn’t give me hangover no matter how much I drank. I switched from Heineken and never looked back ever since!

  33. Jose Mortellaro Says:

    There was a point in my life, that I wanted to taste as many foreign beers I could get my hands on. During those adventurous years I tasted Ching Tao. I found it to be one of the best beers I have ever tasted and I still call it my favorite beer.
    Thank you for your article it confirmed for me that I have good taste in beers.

  34. Keith Says:

    The Germans occupied Qingdao on the eastern coast of China in the 1800’s. Of course wherever the Germans went breweries were sure to be started. So when they vacated the region, they left the brewery to the locals. I suspect this is when RICE was introduced to the formula. And I also suspect that the German legacy is why this light lager (Pilsener) style of beer is so extraordinarily good. I hold Tsingtao in high regard for its thirst-quenching quaffability. And the rice flavor is very fitting for a beer produced in Asia. Long liver and prosper Tsingtao!

  35. Anne Cochrane Says:

    I’ve been drinking it as an alternative to red wine or other beers it’s not acidic or to gassy and I like the thought that it doesn’t have chemicals in it

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