Posts Tagged ‘china’

Beer Review: Tsingtao Beer

20 August, 2009

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 www.tsingtao-beer.co.uk. To save you time, the most interesting page is at http://www.tsingtao-beer.co.uk/history.

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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Beer Review: Sun Lik Beer

20 September, 2008

THIS is Sun Lik Beer. It’s from the far east, that’s for sure. But where exactly? Time to look for clues.

The whole package is building an oriental theme. But to find out which oriental country is going to need some detective work. Not being an expert on East-Asian calligraphy, the words on the neck label are a mystery to me. All I can say at this point, is that they don’t look Korean or Japanese. Does that make this a Chinese beer? The two dragons that appear everywhere on the labels don’t answer many questions either.

In contrast to the near empty neck label, the front label is busy. Very busy. There’s symbols, and writing and imagery all over the place. It’s one of the most hectic roundels you’ll find anywhere.

Sun Lik Beer front label

Around the top, they describe it vaguely as the “Premium Beer of The Orient”. At the bottom of lots of writing a can’t understand, the name that I can understand and a dragon is something else. It turns out that this wasn’t actually imported. Instead it was “Brewed and Bottled Under Licence in the UK”. I feel a big cheated by that.

It also adds another layer of mystery to this bottle. Hopefully the back label will hold some answers.

Sun Lik Beer back label

They open with a slogan: “Distilled with Life and Energy”. That’s good because I’m feeling close to death. This could be just what I need.

Then they have a couple of sentences about what the drink will be like. They describe it as “a premium quality, refreshing beer with an unmistakable Oriental taste.” Quality and refreshment are all good. But unmistakable oriental taste? All the other oriental beers I’ve had, have tasted adequate and indistinctive. So what are they on about?

In the next sentence, they cleverly incorporate a short list of their “finest” ingredients. These are malt, rice, hops and “natural spring water”. Nothing too unusual there apart from the rice. Which is a good addition. Trust me. All the other lagers I’ve tried, most of which from Asia, that include rice, taste better for it. For reasons I don’t understand, they always have a richer, better balanced taste than those that forgo the rice. See Cobra Extra Smooth for example.

This is an export bottle, so there’s a lot on there that will be meaningless to you. Carefully picking through the writing, and one part of the mystery is solved. This was brewed under license by Shepherd Neame Ltd of Faversham in Kent. The same brewer behind the very good Bishops Finger and Spitfire.

Under all the usual multi-lingual details are the vital statistics. This is the standard 33 centilitre bottle. And the drink within is the standard 5%. Both of which cause it to have 1.6 UK units of alcohol. Absolutely nothing unusual there.

Under that though, is a surprise. It has the name San Miguel Brewing International Ltd. That must be the same company as behind the bland, Spanish San Miguel. The final detail is the web address. The one printed is www.sunlikbeer.com. Unbelievably, it takes until you get arrive at their homepage before you learn the origins of Sun Lik Beer. According to their website, my hunch was right. This is Chinese. Specifically, it’s brewed under license from the Hong Kong Brewery Ltd. Chaps, this really is the sort of thing you should be printing on your bottle labels.

Enough chit-chat. It’s time to crack open this bottle and answer some questions. Questions such as what does it taste like? And is it any better, or worse, than all the other Asian, and particularly Oriental beers on the market?

Watch out for the head if you decide to pour it. It froths up eagerly. Fortunately, it settles down almost as fast. A minute later, and it’s now a thin layer of froth. As for the colour, it’s got some amber. But not very much.

It smells as good as most other Oriental or rice based lagers. You get a nice, rounded smell of malted barley. It’s much the same as other Oriental lagers that include rice. And not at all bad for it.

But how does Sun Lik Beer taste? A couple of gulps in, and it tastes a lot like any other Oriental lager that includes rice. For the unfamiliar, it tastes like lager, but richer and better balanced. There’s no flavour. Because it’s a lager. But that void is smoothly filled by a rich, bitter “bite” of an aftertaste. That aftertaste arrives smoothly. It doesn’t hit you roughly. And it leaves you with mild, lingering aftertaste.

What is there to like about Sun Lik Beer? Quite a lot if you like lager. And some things, even if you don’t. If you like lager, you’ll like the smooth, light taste. The Sun Lik take on the familiar lager formula is a good one. And it must be down to the rice. It seems well balanced and richer because of it. Qualities that make it quite refreshing and drinkable. We know that Shepherd Neame can do quality, and Sun Lik Beer maintains that reputation.

What won’t you like about Sun Lik Beer? There’s no escaping the lagery roots of Sun Lik Beer. And that means it has no taste. Sure it has aftertaste, but it has no flavour. Next, I like the taste, but it’s not exactly distinctive. It tastes much the same as other lagers, particularly those from Asia and the Orient that happen to include rice. That’s nice enough, but I’m struggling to find a compelling reason to choose Sun Lik over the competition. If won’t be because it’s easily available. And it won’t be because of the packaging. A regular green bottle and often baffling labels are a turn-off. It’s also quite gassy, judging by all my burping.

To conclude, Sun Lik Beer is an easy to drink, well made imitation of an Oriental lager. It does its job perfectly well. There just aren’t enough reasons to recommend it over the competition. This is one to order from the menu to go with your Chinese meal.

Rating: 3.05

Have you tried Sun Lik Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions, requests and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Harbin Lager

17 August, 2008

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.

Harbin Lager bottle

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…

Real Harbin front label

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.

Harbin Lager neck foil

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.

Harbin Lager front label

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.

Harbin Lager back label

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?

Harbin Lager poured into a glass

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.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Harbin Lager? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions and recommendations in the boxes below.

Protests at the Olympic torch relay along Whitechapel Road, East London (Pics Inside)

6 April, 2008

THAT was extraordinary. I’ve just got back from Whitechapel Road in the East End of London. This afternoon, after lunch and the snow showing sings of stopping, I thought it would be fun to watch the Olympic torch relay pass by. Whitechapel Road, is after all, just the other side of Brick Lane, so it wouldn’t take long to get there. Anticipating there to be huge crowds, I set off with plenty of time to spare. I used the official press release to help gauge when to leave.

Turned out, I had arrived early. And it was still cold, even though it had stopped snowing. At least this would give me a chance to stake out a good place opposite the nearby East London Mosque.

There weren’t many other people there. But there was a sizeable contingent of police. And gradually, a small crowd gathered. But it was cold, so I just hoped the show would get a move on.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. Some booming music, the distant sight of blue flashing lights and a big red open top bus with flags happily waving was spotted in the distance. The scene was that of celebration. I hope they enjoyed it while they could.

But sadly, we had to wait. For whatever reason, the red open top bus and the loud music pulled in, some distance away. And proceeded to wait there. For about quarter of an hour. While we shivered in the cold. This was my view for a good length of time.

As we waited, things around me started to become energised. The police went into crowd control mode in front of us. And there was a growing bunch of people standing around me.

Finally, things started to move. Namely, the police started to move. Here’s a picture of some police motorcycles. The Met Police force had clearly thrown all their people into this operation.

At last, the open-top double deck bus passes by. There’s some people on the top deck waving. I have no idea who they are. Politely, I wave back.

But things had changed from the carnival atmosphere when the bus entered into view. Now people had started booing and shouting slogans like “Free Tibet” and “Shame on China” and “Shame on the Torch”. These slogans would follow me, and the torch itself, for the rest of the outing.

Following the bus was a float. Mysterious addition this one. Presumably the hip-hop music and sexy dancers would have looked right if it was sunny and no one was protesting. But here, hours after the snows, in the freezing cold and among the protests; it was entirely out of place. Especially as the float drove right in front of the huge East London Mosque.

After the float with the dancers, there was a gap. Which was quickly filled by lots more police passing. Here’s some of them.

They were swiftly followed by more official and support vehicles. Here’s an official looking people carrier.

Which was followed by numerous support buses. Some of which had water for the runners; which evidently included the platoon of police and Chinese officials. Other buses were filled with Chinese officials in their tracksuits. All of which were greeted with passionate boos and a variety of slogans.

It looked like everything would pass smoothly. There wasn’t much disruption and everyone behaved themselves. Albeit, not verbally. After a Free Tibet protester passed with a banner on a trailer pulled by his bicycle, it looked like the drama was all over.

The media truck, carrying all the cameras was a sign that it wasn’t all over.

Excitement and atmosphere was electric by this point. Suddenly, the torch itself arrived into view. Well almost. If you look hard enough, you might see it behind the layers of police and Chinese officials.

As it goes by, at a fast-jogging pace, the booing, Free Tibet slogans and protest goes into overdrive. Pretty much where I was standing, the nature changed from the celebration and into the protest.

Hearing some others deciding the run along with the torch, I decide “what the heck”, and run. The new plan is to follow the protest, to photo the torch as it goes by, then repeat until I run out of breath.

So I start running. Something made easier by everyone else running with me. This is tremendously exciting. As I run along hearing the protest, some people throw things. The barrier on the kerb where I had been standing runs out. And I hear one of the police officers shout “End of cordon”, trying to get his colleagues to cover the gap. But their too late. The protestors run out in front of the torch.

Although the police manage to keep most out of the way, I see one of the protestors with a banner running directly in front of the torch bearer. Rapidly followed by a police officer tackling him, pushing him to the ground and pulling him out of the way. Amazing. This is a real protest now. And I’m all caught up in it.

I do catch the occasional glimpse of the runner herself, but I don’t recognise her. Also, the police aren’t able to keep the runner in the open for long. It’s never more than a few moments before another person tries to leap out in front of it all.

Sadly, my archaic camera phone is struggling to keep up.

All memory of the promised carnival-like celebrations are forgotten. Until we all stumble upon them. People dressed up, or operating a mechanical dragon. All very impressive. Although they look to be unsure about what exactly is going on. I quickly snap a couple of bad shots, before dashing off to catch up with the torch and the protest.

Around this time, I start seeing sign of Chinese supporters. Here’s one of many who were carrying Chinese flags.

I’m quite out of breath now. And things are changing. The torch bearer and the masses of people have stopped. Are they bundling the torch bearer and the Chinese officials into the support buses? I think they are.

The buses go past, each to very loud protest. Every slogan, plus a few more are directed at the people inside the buses.

The buses speed off. I’m much to unfit to continue pursuit by foot. And my camera clearly isn’t up to the job either. So I call it quits, and start the walk by home.

Enroute I pass more protestors. These people were carrying a Free Tibet banner between them. Although I’m at the wrong angle for you to read it. Well I was thoroughly exhausted by this time.

On the walk back, I was able to see a few more aspects to the protest. There were people from the Left List party. People campaigning for human rights from Amnesty International. There was even a fur trade placard in the hands of someone else. It was like everyone with a grievance was voicing it here. And come to think of it, some of the slogans didn’t even make sense.

The official banners strung-up by Tower Hamlets hint at what the torch relay could have been. Those plans look extremely optimistic now.

There are still a lot of people milling around. Here’s someone from Bangla TV doing their piece to camera.

Walking back along Whitechapel, and Brick Lane to return home, I’m pleased to have see it all. That experience was extraordinary. The atmosphere was incredible. The rush of chasing the torch and watching the passionate protestors. Even if some of them didn’t know what it was they were protesting about.

Well done to the police for dealing with things largely professionally. Although I did see some people with cameras getting pushed around by some officers.

What do you think about the Olympics and it’s ideals? Well it got me running. Even if not in the way the organisers would have hoped. Chasing the action this afternoon is the most exercise I’ve had in a long time. And it’s all down to the Olympics, and their capacity to ignore human rights abuses when it suits them.


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