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October 22, 2009

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School's in for the best of some crafty beers

AMERICAN brewers of craft beers are eyeing China's market, crafting a world-class brand image and pairing beer with food. David Maguire attends a tasting. The artistry of making a craft beer as opposed to an "industrial light lager" was to the fore at a unique tasting class for hospitality industry representatives and beer aficionados with a tongue for some real malt and hops in Shanghai last week.

Hosting the craft beer master class at Four Points by Sheraton Daning was the American Brewers Association, on its third trade promotion trip to China, part of a strategy to grab a share of the burgeoning China beer market.

China has been the world's largest beer producer for the past seven years, followed by America and Germany and, as with many other foreign industries enviously eyeing the market, the Brewers Association is looking for an "in."

Association Vice President Bob Pease, a political scientist who's been in the beer trade for 15 years, presented an A to Z of beer making, highlighting the craft segment whose brewers are inspired by classic styles, love using hops, are less bound by tradition and focus on local ingredients.

"These craft, or micro, breweries are small producers making incredible beer, not just industrial light lagers which dominate the beer scene in China and the United States," says Pease of the 1,465 registered such breweries in the US, which have a 6-percent share of its US$100 billion market.

The key characteristics of these primarily ales are their use of traditional ingredients like American hops and malted barley, their stronger alcohol content and their distinctive style akin to terroir differences in wine. They are inspired by the classic beer styles of Germany, England and Belgium.

Pease introduced four craft beers - Saranac Pale Ale, Red Sea Ale, East India Pale Ale and Rogue Dead Guy Ale - ranging from fruity English beer style, through more sourto a better-balanced German-style lager.

"We take beer for granted and what we're trying to do is raise its image," says Pease, a self-proclaimed "beer appreciator, not a brewer" who has been a beer judge.

"Thirty years ago American wine was looked upon as 'jug' wine but now it's recognized as some of the world's finest. We're trying to do the same thing with craft beer.

"Beer is part of the social fabric, the thing that brings us all together. How many great life experiences has beer been a part of? For many people it's a lot and we want people to try to remember that," he says.


Pease's pitch pushed the flavor and diversity of different beers and suggested they matched better with food than wine because beer "complements and contrasts" food flavors whereas "wine only contrasts."

"The malt sweetness will harmonize with food and cut through the fat," he says.

The Brewers Association's government-funded push into China is a classic trade development activity to find new export market opportunities for its members.

"Right now there are six or seven breweries exporting here ... in five to 10 years I am sure that number could double, triple or quadruple," Pease says.

In addition to 12 styles from four breweries exporting to China, Pease showcased another 30 brands to demonstrate the flavor and diversity of American craft beer.

"The majority of them are not exported to China but want to create a world-class brand image for American craft beer and recognize the way to do that is by going out to the world and showcasing the beers," he says.

The visit involved seminars also at Shanghai Gourmet Food Show in conjunction with the Shanghai Restaurant Association, at Sheraton Four Points in Beijing and at China World Hotel in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.

The association has worked with the Four Points by Sheraton hotel group to offer a wide range of North American craft beers, each chosen for its unique flavors.

The group's hotel staff are trained in aspects of brewing and how to properly present and pour beer.

The hotels offer at least four draught beers and up to 20 bottled beers; selections are broken down by style and character to help guests pick a beer to their taste.

The Daning hotel offered dozens of American craft beers at a beer and food matching demonstration following the association's master class.

The selection coalesced food to fit the brew, so a straight pale ale suited beef kebabs and smoked salmon quiche; an India pale ale matched grilled chicken on a French baguette; a porter/stout suited roast duck and chocolate ??clairs; and a lager/pilsner fitted a fried shrimp spring roll andcrab meat balls withThai chili sauce.


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