The History of Beer in China

China is considered one of the biggest exporters of beer in the world, as the country is home to several popular beer brands like Snow Beer and Tsingtao Beer. Both of the previously mentioned beers are lager, which is made by cold brewing yeasts until they ferment near the bottom of the tank where the liquid is contained.

However, lager beer was not the first type of beer to become prominent in China, as there is one interesting beer type that has been popular in China eight thousand years ago, and through its age, you will see that beer brewing has been around in the country even before the beer in Western Asia and Europe became well-known. To know more about this beer, let us take a look at the history of beer in China.

The First Beer in China

glasses of beer in Beijing China

Researchers suggest that the ancient Chinese has been brewing beer since 7000 BC, as proven by several artifacts found in several parts of China that were once used to craft beer. It is believed that the ingredient used for the ancient Chinese beer were grapes, honey, hawthorns, and rice.

This rice beer, which was called the Lao Li, was used as an offering for the Gods and the dead during the first recorded dynasty in China, the Xia dynasty, up to the Zhou dynasty. But the Lao Li was eventually replaced by the huangjiu as the most popular alcoholic drink in China during the Han dynasty.


Huangjiu, which is translated as yellow wine in English, uses rice as the main ingredient like the Lao Li, but other ingredients such as millet, sorghum, and wheat can replace rice to suit a specific person’s taste. The drink should be aged, filtered, and pasteurized before it becomes ready to drink, and some brewers would even age their huangjiu for more than ten years for better taste.

Although the most common huangjiu is yellow in color, the drink can also come in a variety of colors depending on the ingredients used and how long it is aged. Some huangjiu variants are beige due to the abundance of wheat in the mixture, and a few can be reddish-brown if sorghum is used as the primary ingredient.

Many consider the grains to be the most important ingredient in the huangjiu, but expert brewers suggest that water should be given more priority, as the quality of water used to mix all the ingredients together before it is pasteurized should be high. In addition, the water should not contain chemicals and other substances that can ruin the overall taste of the drink.

Interestingly, people are still drinking huangjiu today, but it is not as well-received today as the lager beer that has been introduced to the Chinese during the 19th century.

Modern Beer Brewing

At the end of the 19th century, European immigrants from Poland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia have come to China and shared their expertise in beer brewing. The lager beer then became one of the most popular types of beer in China during the 20th century, which resulted in the founding and creating of several companies and brands in the country that are focused on making lager beer.

Two of the most successful beer brewing companies in China were Tsingtao Brewery and Manchuria Beer.

Qingdao the birthplace of Tsingtao beer

Tsingtao Brewery was founded in 1903 and was owned by German businessmen, who first established a company called the Anglo-German Brewery Co. Ltd. in Hong Kong. The businessmen then moved to Qingdao in the Shandong province and subsequently named their new brewery after the name of the area.

Manchuria Beer was founded in 1934 through the combined venture of Kirin Beer and Nippon Beer, two Japanese companies that wanted to expand their beer brewing business in China. The Manchuria Beer Company has gone through many name changes over the years, but the one that stuck the longest was Snow Beer, which was its name from 1957 up to 1997. From 1998 up to the present time, Snow Beer is known as Shenyang Huarun Snow Beer after the company was acquired by the China Resources Enterprise.

Shenyang the city where Snow Beer was established

Both of these beer companies produced the best-selling beer not only in China but also in at least 70 countries around the world, with Snow Beer overtaking Tsingtao as the number one beer company in China since they are able to take approximately 21 percent of the market share in the country.

Besides Snow Beer and Tsingtao, other brands have also emerged and became successful after Chinese consumers have slowly gone tired of drinking beer from the two brands. Some renowned brands or companies in China include Zhujiang Beer and China Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Microbrewing has also become popular in China during the 21st century, and many companies specializing in making craft beer such as Bad Monkey Brewery, Shanghai Brewery, and Great Leap Brewing have received acclaim from drinkers.

The beer in China has a very distinct taste that is different from European and American beer, as it has a slightly sweeter flavor that caters to the preferences of Chinese drinkers when it comes to enjoying alcoholic beverages. Foreigners have also come to love Chinese beer, as it serves as a great alternative to the sometimes tiring and redundant taste of Western beer.