Published: May 11th 2010May 1st 2010
Fresh and Cool
'Fresh and Cool' is actually code-speak for "these kegs sit in the sun and we use a spicket, not a kegorator, so it may be a bit flat..."
Nestled into the hills and sitting on the coast of the Yellow Sea, Qingdao offers wonderful reprieve from China’s polluted urban interior. Home to China’s 2008 Olympic sailing events, at least one generation of Germans (they caught whiff of subtle hints and left post-haste during the Revolution), and China-famous Tsingtao beer, Qingdao made for an excellent sensory recharge before plunging into the final six weeks of our work here in China.
At the turn of the past nineteenth century China sat ripe for the plundering by outside interests as internal power struggles slowly weakened imperial rule. Thanks to Lonely Planet we learned that in 1898 German forces got busy in taking over the exceptionally ideal harbor and after the murder of two German missionaries, and a bit of military huffing and puffing, the harbor town was seeded to German rule for the following ninty-nine years. Germans flooded the small port town and along with their lederhosen and blue eyes brought traditional architecture, Christian faith, and God’s greatest gift - beer. Within five years the crafty Anglo-Saxons had built a European-style train station, multiple administration buildings, a full-scale university, and also laid the foundations for a street-grid still in use today.
Built in 1903, the German governor built this as a replica of a German palace. It cost 2,450,000 taels of silver (apparently a lot of money) and Kaiser Wilhelm II sacked the guy after receiving the bill.
They also electrified the city and developed infrastructure to manage sewage and drinking water - something almost completely lacking in the Middle Kingdom at the time. By 1903 the settlement had a well-established community complete with its very own brewery and by 1908, with saving always following sinning, a proper Protestant Church printed weekly church programs. The German government established a town mayor complete with hill-top mansion, and a military garrison of some 2,000 men found themselves deployed to protect the 502 square kilometers of sovereign territory known as the Jiaozhou Bay Concession. As a result of all these foreign efforts and interests the Old Town portion of the city resembles an otherworldly establishment, and has often been called the “Switzerland of the East.” Thanks to the Germans, a once-quiet fishing township South/East of Beijing steam-rolled its way into the 20th century toting the name based on a German-Romanization of the Chinese characters,青岛, Tsingtao
, meaning, “Green Isle”.
All sat well in little Tsingtao until 1914 when the Japanese decided they also wanted a part of the pie and successfully bombarded the city into occupation lasting through 1922 when all was given back to the Chinese only to be again
Sitting in the heart of the Old Town of Qingdao, this beautiful old Catholic Church complete with "Long Live Chairman Mao" painted on sides of buildings just across the street.
occupied by the same Japanese crowd from 1938 to 1945. Queue Revolution. Queue foreigner deportation. Queue angry peasants...
Only after the Reds took power, and then some twenty years later in 1958, did the development of a standardized Romanization or pinyin
hit the streets; shortly-thereafter officials baptized the once innocuous-gone-Protestant fishing village with the name Qingdao
. This renaming process occurred across the boards in China, updating countless city names originally hailing from a pseudo-arbitrary phonetic version of Chinese characters used in a 19th century European postal map. Now nearly every city, province, street sign, bridge name, and police car have Romanized writing directly under the Chinese characters to the tune of a national certified standard -- thus altering Peking to Beijing and Nanking to Nanjing, etc. a discussion about beer.
In 1903 a German-British company opened the doors to Tsingtao Germania-Brauerei and offered two types of beer - a Light Pilsner and a Munich Dark. The brewery operated under European standards and, to this part of Asia, introduced the Reinheitsgebot
, the time-honored German beer purity standards stating that only water, barley, and hops could be used in the production of beer. Brought in from the nearby Lao
Tsingtao Beer Factory
The old brewing vats inside the beer factory.
Shan (Old Mountain), natural mineral water comprised the base of all brew in Qingdao. When the Japanese rolled into town they quickly took over the brewery, renamed it Dai Nippon
and as far as beer is concerned, this was not a bad thing at all. The famous brewery stayed in Japanese hands until the Revolution when all private interests found their names scratched from the board meeting list. Slipping of standards for this famous oat-soda occurred during China’s intense period of isolationism in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in which nearly all imports ceased and domestic self-reliance swept the nation; Socialist interests overrode the five-century old Reinheitsgebot
and in the classic style of low-tech innovation so common to China, the state-owned brewery substituted large portions of barley with rice as a considerably cheaper (and a bit more local) mash ingredient. Even the best Commies can periodically slip and indulge a bit - and it’s a good thing too - during the following three decades, Tsingtao dominated China’s export scene and accounted for nearly 98% of all product leaving the P.R. of China (thanks Wikipedia).
As Deng Xiaoping arrived to the political scene saying, “Poverty is not Socialism… To be
Street beer with some freshly steamed dumplings.
rich is glorious,” the markets slowly opened up and in the early 1990’s Anheuser-Busch dipped their proverbial ale pale into China’s beer market, buying up some 27% of the company’s interest. Apparently, however in a recent “all must go” sale, Anheuser-Busch raked in $902 million as they sold off their shares back to domestic Chinese ownership.
Visiting Qingdao for beer felt similar to visiting a very mellow frat party that never really started nor ever really ended… Sitting outside of many street-side restaurants with kegs stacked high and in the sun, Qingdao shopkeepers gladly offer any-time-of-day fresh Tsingtao beer. Usually local patrons take one of two approaches to public imbibing: either pull up a tiny stool and fill a pint glass right then and there or grab a plastic bag for the hauling and pour carefully. For a little less than $2 dollars one could walk away with a full gallon, ½ gallon bag in each hand, open-topped and sporting two handles like a grocery stack. The bags worked well for transportation while walking home, could be hooked onto bicycle handlebars, and also waited on a looped finger while hanging hip-side on the bus. Imagine a kid walking home
"Raw Broth" Beer
Enjoying a pint of unpasteurized, unfiltered, fresh beer.
with a pet-store purchase of a new gold fish; now replace the child with a thirty-something unshaven Chinese man and substitute the gold fish and water with a Light Pilsner.
Outside of the brewery many restaurants and road-side kegs offered a very unique beer called yuanjiang pijiu
literally meaning “raw broth beer”; translation: extra-fresh and extra-delicious. For a few extra RMB, and only within a very small radius of the brewery, one could buy a pitcher (or bag) of this unpasteurized, unfiltered brew. A serving of this Chinese hefeweizen doppelganger and a stick or two of roasted street-side lamb kabobs offered much appreciated and quite temporary relief from nearly nine months of drinking the same warm, watery, hop-less beer for which China is so famous…
There are more photos below