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Gan bei! Let’s quaff a cold beer to quell August heat

THE best beer, it’s said, is the one in your hand. Indeed, what better beverage to beat the heat and chase the summer doldrums?

Brewed from cereal grains, it’s among the oldest alcoholic beverages. Lower in alcohol than spirits and even wine, beer is an accepted drink across a wide group of people.

The recipe is fairly simple. The basic ingredients are water and a fermentable starch such as malted barley. Brewer’s yeast is added and hops are used for flavoring.

Sometimes sugar is added to create more foam. Beer can also be made from grains like millet, sorghum and even corn. Sorghum is used to make gluten-free beer.

There are, of course, many varieties of beer that flow from the recipe, and beer lovers sometimes have their special favorites, such as British stout, German pilsner, Belgian lager or American-style craft brews.

And, yes, Chinese beer has also gained an international following with the popular export brand Tsingtao.

Before the beer we drink today made its way to China, beer-like drinks were being produced as long ago as 5,000 years.

The ancient Chinese used millet, wheat, Job’s tears and some root and stem crops to make guya jiu (谷芽酒), or millet sprout wine.

But the ancient “beer” didn’t really catch on. Alcoholic drinks like yellow wine and distilled spirits dominated for millennia.

Modern beer was introduced to China in the early 20th century, starting in the northern provinces bordering Russia. Beer is called pijiu in Chinese, with pi a transliteration of “beer” and jiu the Chinese word for “alcohol.”

In 1900, the first brewery in China was built in Harbin City by Jan Wróblewski, a German of Polish origin. Its purpose was to supply beer for the Russians who came to China when work began on the Trans-Manchurian Railway in 1898.

The facility evolved into the Harbin Brewery, one of China’s top beer companies today. In 2014, the company opened the Harbin Beer Museum to showcase the history of the brew.

The 50 yuan (US$7.46) entry ticket includes a complimentary glass of cold Harbin beer.

In the first years of the 20th century, other breweries were opened in Harbin by the Russians, Germans and Czechs.

In 1903, Tsingtao Brewery was founded by British and German settlers in the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong Province.

The first pilsner was produced using imported grains, hops planted outside the brewery and fresh spring water. Today, Tsingtao is China’s second most popular seller. The company is noted for its pilsner and lager.

In Qingdao, seafood and beer complement the local lifestyle. People there prefer to buy Tsingtao draft beer sold in open plastic bags, fresh from the brewery. Some people joke that Qingdao residents drink beer instead of water.

The Qingdao International Beer Festival will kick off this Friday, a 16-day carnival that draws legions of beer lovers from around the world. The Tsingtao Brewery has also opened a museum in its centuries-old factory, highlighting the history and culture of the beer and showcasing brewing equipment and techniques.

Snow beer has more recently overtaken Tsingtao as the most popular-selling beer in China. It’s produced by CR Snow, a joint venture between SABMiller and China Resources Enterprises. It was first released to the market in 1993.

Beijing Yanjing Brewery, founded in 1980, is the third-largest in China. In 1995, its famous Yanjing Beer was designated as the official beer to be served at state banquets in the Great Hall of the People.

Beer in Shanghai

As beer grew in popularity in China, breweries opened in many cities, including Shanghai. But many of the early local breweries didn’t survive.

The first brewery in Shanghai was Shanghai Beer Co, the predecessor of a brewery founded by Germans in 1912 that marketed beer under the UB brand. In 1935, the company changed to its later name but kept the UB brand logo after being acquired by a English company. It became the largest brewery in the Far East at the time. The Shanghai Beer Co sold its products under the Shanghai Beer label. At 11 percent alcohol, it was a stronger beer than most. The factory site on 130 Yichang Road was designed by renowned Hungarian architect László Hudec.

In 1987, the first joint venture beer brand called Reeb (立波) was created. The beer was made at the then Shanghai Asia Pacific Brewery and was mostly sold in the local market.

Donghai Pijiu was also a very popular brand in Shanghai, for at least one generation. The brand was later acquired by Suntory. Other local beer brands included Guangming Pijiu, EWO Breweries, Seagull Beer and Jiangnan Pijiu. Though the products no longer exist on the market, the old labels can strike a chord for a older Shanghai residents.

Pineapple beer

Fruity beer flavors have been developed to appeal to different tastes. Most of the pineapple beers on Chinese supermarket shelves are carbonated drinks containing very little alcohol, often only 1 or 2 percent.

The sweet, very fruity pineapple beer is produced by combining the tropical fruit with the malty taste of beer. It’s popular in the summertime, especially with late night snacks.

Many children in China also drink pineapple beers, despite its alcohol content. Alcohol-free pineapple beers are also available.

Beer tips

1. Add some beer to water to soak the dark-colored clothing. It helps soften the fabric and restore faded colors.

2. If you have leftover or old beer in the fridge, don’t throw it away. Beer can be used to clean windows.

3. Beer can be substituted for yeast when making bread.

4. Beer can kill some of the insects that grow in flowerpots. Many gardeners use it to attract and kill slugs.

5. Using beer instead of water in stewed dishes makes the meats more tender and fragrant.

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