Exporting Craft Beer Culture to Asia
In Asia, craft beer has been experiencing what most people would consider a great success. The barriers to entry for new countries, those in which beer isn’t the traditional alcoholic beverage of choice, to get involved with craft beer are relatively low. The brewing know-how, the materials, and the market are ostensibly all that is required. Craft beer varies from wine, coffee, whiskey, and other intoxicants in different ways, but one of the most easily distinguishable fashions is that of culture. There is no inherent culture required for a country to be great at craft beer.
The argument can be made that there are traditional beer countries, but in reality, these traditions and entrenched culture are often what’s holding the country back from craft beer. The obvious example is Germany, and its Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law. This dictates that the only beer that can legally be called beer is that which includes only malted grains, hops, yeast, and water. This law in and of itself isn’t the problem that Germany has. One may even argue that this law is irrelevant to craft beer culture being stunted in Germany, but nonetheless it still exists, and isn’t likely to change soon. It’s an artificial constraint that has become a source of cultural pride for Germans. This said, It’s not hard to convince anyone who’s cracked a bottle of craft beer in the last year that any number of beers that use adjuncts like fruits, herbs, spices, or even vegetables clearly fall under the category of beer. But not in Germany.
In countries like China, Korea, and Japan, where craft beer is experiencing a boom, it’s easy to see why. There isn’t that cultural hump to overcome. Drinkers of Asahi, Tsingtao, and Hite aren’t (and frankly would have little reason to be) proud of their choices. These people, with a little bit of motivation, can be pushed towards quality craft beers fairly easily. Recently in Japan, most of the big 4 breweries have some sort of craft offering on the shelf; Beers offered under their parent names, or through recently-purchased craft breweries in Japan or neighboring countries. For a country largely created by and still strongly identified with it’s zaibatsu, typically notoriously slow to accept new ideas and react to the market, Japan’s major breweries have been surprisingly agile in craft beer uptake.
Unlike the worlds of wine and whiskey, where the air is thick with bullshit, craft beer’s atmosphere is relatively breathable. Prices are almost universally affordable and the proof is in the bottle. The plethora of available styles and the variations therein make for a much more comfortable drink. There’s no right IPA, except the one you want to drink. Unlike coffee (and wine again), where the soil, climate, and harvest all strongly affect the end product, beer is impervious. American 2-Row Malt, the backbone of the majority of beers on our planet, is cheap, and plentiful. Hops are generally widely available in most countries, with the added benefit of having a few specific varieties that only grow in certain countries.
With many new countries adopting the style, It’s easy to see that craft brewing is the future of beers. The variety, the approachability, and the relative ease of making craft beer make it the clear choice. What’s not so clear is which type of country is going to win the space race.