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Tea blends could ignite Chinese craft beer craze: analyst suggests

By Ben Bouckley , 24-Sep-2012
Last updated the 24-Sep-2012 at 14:24 GMT

An influential alcoholic drinks analyst says the launch of a novel beer blended with black tea could supply the spark that ignites a craft brewing revolution in China.

Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor International, said that the movement reflected the late noughties heresy – in some Western eyes – of the Chinese taste for premium Scotch mixed with tea.

Gently mocking these Western preconceptions, Malandrakis described how premium Scotch gained ground in newly opened, upmarket bars in China from the late 2000s.

“And yet, Chinese palates were not sophisticated enough. Lacking the necessary refinement, the story goes, drinkers had to find ways to dilute the tipple’s overwhelmingly peaty and smoky flavors,” he wrote.

“So to aficionados’ and specialists’ utter distaste and righteous horror, they opted for the ‘sacrilege’ of mixing their single malts with green tea.”

Single malts with green tea

“Crude or not, it worked. Humble (green) tea became a surprisingly fitting vessel for one of the alcoholic drinks industry’s most generically ostentatious categories, and what a ride it proved to be,” Malandrakis added.

He pointed to Euromonitor International statistics showing that single malt volumes rose 16% in CAGR (compound annual growth rate) terms from 2007 to 2011.

“While green tea is now the supporting category rather than the leading protagonist in the story,” Malandrakis said, “there is little doubt that the category’s current success owes a lot to that once mocked, rather rudimentary cocktail.”

Glossing the most interesting alcoholic drinks launches worldwide in August, the analyst said that where Scotch had sold well in tandem with tea, beer could now follow.

Could tea catalyze craft beer?

Although beer was already a popular drink in China (per capita consumption of 36 liters in 2011) Malandrakis explained that craft beer remained subdued as a segment.

But noting the August launch of Yunnan Amber – a black tea infused craft beer being sold by two microbreweries – he said that start-ups such as Great Leap Brewing and Boxing Cat Brewery (the latter’s master brewer is from Houston, Texas) were appearing in major cities.

“Tea might easily prove to be the unexpected ingredient that will ignite the fuse for the niche segment's future boom, yet again,” Malandrakis said.

Meanwhile, he noted that April 2012 saw Shanghai host its inaugural Beer Week, while the first Beijing Craft Beer Festival took place in June.

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