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Something's brewing in the Chinese beer scene

By Mary Katherine Smith | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-10 07:01

Something's brewing in the Chinese beer scene

Leon Mickelson has turned The Brew at The Kerry Hotel Pudong in Shanghai into his "little laboratory" to test some of his most interesting concoctions. Provided to China Daily

When Leon Mickelson arrived in Shanghai to take up the role of brewmaster at The Brew at The Kerry Hotel Pudong, the country's craft beer scene was virtually non-existent, despite China being the world's largest beer market. In the three years he has called China home, the beer aficionado has helped cultivate a buzz for more artisan and specialty brews in a country thirsty for beer more interesting than what can be found at the standard convenience store.

China has the largest consumption of beer in the world, having reached a record high in 2011 with 50 billion liters of beer consumed, according to a 2012 study by Mintel, an international market research group. The US ranked second with less than half of that amount consumed, at 24 billion liters. There are also more than 500 breweries in China. It was these exciting and encouraging figures that lured Mickelson to China.

Like many things in China, Mickelson says the craft beer market has exploded. The brewer has been making specialty craft beers for more than 15 years in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, but decided to come to China after seeing a great opportunity to introduce a country of beer drinkers to more complex and flavorful brews.

His hard work in putting specialty brews on the map will reach a new milestone on Saturday at the Kerry Beer Fest, which will feature all of China's main craft brewers. There will be 14 brewers from not only Shanghai, but also Beijing, Nanjing and other cities, offering a taste of the latest creations from those paving the way for speciality brews.

In his 15 years of brewing beers, he's never worked anywhere quite as small or as niche as The Brew. But he has welcomed the smaller environment, calling his operation his "little laboratory".

It is in his laboratory that he has tested some of his most interesting concoctions. He's made beer with lemongrass and coriander, local pumpkin and longjing tea. He's even made a Chinese hotpot ale, recreating the spicy Sichuan pepper hot pot stock. "Our beer is not just easy drinking lager beer that China's known for," Mickelson says. "There's a point of difference and it has flavor and has been brewed with patience and quality."

The patience has paid off, and his creations at The Brew have even won him 14 international beer medals over the past two years from various beer festivals around the world. "Our six gold, three silver and five bronze medals have made us the most awarded craft brewery in China - something that I am fairly chuffed about," he says.

Mickelson is not the only one who is tapping into China's growing love for beer. Nanjing native Gao Yan has been brewing his own beers since 2008 after growing tired of the lack of diversity in the local market and the high prices of imported beers. Gao's love of beer and brewing led him to write China's first book on home brewing in 2011. Gao, who will be showcasing some of his brews at this year's Kerry Beer Fest, is excited by the opportunities in China's specialty beer market, particularly with the amount of spices that allow brewers to be a little more creative with their concoctions.

Something's brewing in the Chinese beer scene

Something's brewing in the Chinese beer scene

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