Last month in Guangzhou, China, the Brewers Association, an organization representing over 5,300 U.S. craft beer breweries, hosted a reception for more than 50 representatives from high-end bars, restaurants and hotels, followed by a U.S. craft beer-themed pairing dinner for 20 food service managers and chefs from five-star hotels. The gathering took place at the American-run The River House restaurant. Participants learned about contemporary U.S. craft beer offerings and tasted firsthand how these beers can be deliciously paired with Chinese cuisine.
Despite the presence of many high-powered figures from the Guangzhou culinary scene, the star of the dinner was undoubtedly the six brews from the United States, which ranged in style from a hazy IPA to imperial stouts and a fruited sour, running the gamut of the most popular craft beer categories in the United States today. Dinner was hosted by The River House founder and chef Michael Rosenblum, who specially developed a nine-course menu of modern Chinese dishes to pair with the beer list. In doing so, Rosenblum leveraged a unique understanding of Chinese cuisine honed over more than 20 years of living and cooking in China. Prior to founding The River House, Rosenblum served as personal chef to U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke and was given charge of the entire U.S. diplomatic compound in Beijing under Ambassador Max Baucus.
“Fermented beverages have been central to Chinese culture since the first civilizations appeared along the great rivers in the northern and central plains,” said Rosenblum, who switched between English and fluent Mandarin during the event. “From community feasts to burial rituals, these simple ales were critical to cultural exchange and, literally, the creation of cohesive civilizations. While European-style brews did not appear in China until just over a century ago, beer has found a meaningful place at the Chinese table. Our hope in creating this event was not only to reconnect our guests with all of that history, but to really share with them how American craft beer pairs so beautifully with Chinese cuisines.”
Dinner kicked off with a refreshing Ruekeller: Helles from The Bruery, which was accompanied by three exquisite cold starters including Chengdu-style eggplant and bamboo with scallion and green peppercorn sauce. The crisp lager beer and peppercorn sauce worked together to rouse the guests’ appetites.
In the second and third courses, the tropical hops flavors of a Stone Brewing Company Hazy IPA danced intricately with stone crab cheung fen, fermented bayberry vinegar and pickled ginger followed by sweet and sour pork with grilled pineapple and charred peppers.
From there, the U.S. craft beer and Chinese cuisine pairings continued to achieve lip-smacking melds of Eastern and Western flavors as a Duet IPA (an example of an American IPA) from Alpine Beer was served with a Cantonese-style stir-fry. Then a Yeti imperial stout from Great Divide Brewing accompanied a Tibetan-inspired venison dish. In the next round of pairings, the Peanut Butter Porter from Belching Beaver Brewing married perfectly with the lychee-smoked Pekin duck with fermented bean paste, which was followed by pea shoots in slow-simmered duck brodo.
Later, when they were treated to a raspberry sorbet made with a Wild Little Thing fruited sour from Sierra Nevada Brewing that was made with malted barley, oats and wheat and flavored with guava, hibiscus and strawberry, the guests learned that, just as with wine, beer can be used as a culinary ingredient to imbue dishes with a distinctive complexity of flavor.
The sumptuous meal was capped with a final blending of bold American and Chinese flavors: a glass of American IPA and a rice-based dessert in the style of the She ethnic minority group.
All six of the U.S. craft beers featured at the Brewers Association pairing dinner have already been on the market for several years and are increasingly known to Chinese consumers. The Brewers Association has held a series of events in China over the past several years aimed at educating the market about the U.S. craft beer heritage and product offerings, as well as increasing understanding of global craft beer culture.
China’s rapidly growing market for craft beer has lifted it to now be the sixth-largest export market for American craft brewers. The United States exported more than 13,000 barrels (1.5 million liters) of beer to China in 2021, up 3% from 2020. Chinese consumers are increasingly interested in craft beer and are constantly developing a more sophisticated understanding of it, creating great potential for consumption driven by combining U.S. craft beer with China’s rich and diverse cuisines.
As was shown at the Brewers Association dinner in Guangzhou, U.S. craft beer is very diverse. It is therefore usually possible to find a style that will pair perfectly with a particular Chinese dish. With the combination of great beer and great food opening a new door to cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, the continuing flow and fusion of flavors will keep creating new possibilities for U.S. craft beer in China.
Images: Brewers Association and Brewers Association member websites