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People’s Republic of Beer

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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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