People’s Republic of Beer

How one man’s yeast research is propagating China’s craft beer culture

by Emily Hutto

Photo by Bjoern Walter

“Beer in China is like water,” types Yan Gao. It’s 2 a.m. in Nanjing, a bustling city near the eastern coast of China, where he sits at his computer at Behind the Wall Cafe to Gmail-chat with me as the mid-morning light streams through my kitchen window.

Last night was the annual Lantern Festival, a long-standing tradition of the Chinese New Year, so Gao put off chatting until today, and I assume he’s in hair-of-the-dog mode. He tells me that he’s not drinking tonight, though; he’s just a regular at this bar. A few years ago he complained to the owner that the beer they served was bad, and bragged about his own brewing skills. “The owner said, ‘If you can brew it, I will sell it.’ And that’s where we are today,” says Gao.

“I could go for a beer right now,” I reply, “but the bars here are closed.”

“Be positive,” he says. “They’re just not open yet.”

If he were in the U.S., Gao would likely be drinking a beer from Samuel Adams. He discovered the beer while he was living on the East Coast in the 90s after he’d graduated with a chemistry degree from the University of Puerto Rico, where he says the beer was also reminiscent of water.

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