Dieter Vanonckelen, Belgian Craft Brewery aka Chengdu Beer
“China is ready for craft beer”
China is is by far the world’s number one beer consuming & producing country. A growing number of Chinese beer lovers is learning to appreciate special beers over ordinary factory beer. Craft beer is definitely on the up in China, says Dieter Vanonckelen of Chengdu Beer, co-founder of a small craft brewery who is also about to open its first craft beer bar in Chengdu.
Together, the Chinese consume a staggering 60 billion liters a year. Market Research Group Minto reported that China’s beer consumption is increasing by 10 to 20 per cent per year. Most Chinese beer drinkers consume cheap, locally-produced lagers like Tsingtao that cost as little as 50 cents a bottle.
For a number of years, small craft brewers in Beijing and Shanghai are attracting China’s growing middle class who like the taste of foreign beer and can afford to pay 15 times the cost of a local brand. And now, Chengdu in Sichuan is also on China’s beer map.
Chengdu Beer is one of a growing number of craft breweries in China that offer locally hand-crafted lagers, ales and stouts. In Chengdu, Belgian nationals Dieter Vanonckelen and David Lambert currently offer three kinds of craft beer in kegs. Dieter: “There is Belgian Ale, an amber-colored beer with some typical Belgian Ale ingredients. Sichuan Ale is a blonde craft beer with a local touch of subtle Sichuan peppercorn & ginger. Chengdu Beer’s Dark Ale is a dark color ale with a light body and a blend of smoked malt, even chocolate flavor.”
Dieter: “Most of our brewing is done by hand. It takes us 9 to 10 hours to produce 150 liters. Our kettles, heating units and storage facilities are located in a small warehouse. We only use natural ingredients, without artificial or chemical additives.” Though Dieter and David are keen to maintain their ‘local flavor’, Chengdu Beer uses imported malt, hops and yeast. “The quality of the China-produced ingredients varies. For now, we trust our European and Australian suppliers, but we do keep an eye on market developments. We plan to brew more local-flavor beers, using local tea, bitter melon and goji berry, Chinese medicine, among others.”
Chengdu Beer is distributed in local bars and restaurants. Opening a specialized beer bar was the next logical step for Dieter and his Chinese business partner Melon. “The bar will offer my own craft beers and other special beers from around the world, as well as good coffee, wine and whisky. Part of the job will be to educate the novice beer drinker. We will offer tastings, beer brewing workshops and special beer events. Since several years, wine has been a booming market. We think the market is now also ready for premium beers.”
The Beer Nest will open in May on Jinxiu Road 34 – 7, in the south of Chengdu near the American Consulate.