Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beer in China, Part 3, Homebrew

I find myself in South China, about 10 to 12 hours from the Vietnam border. We're walking down a well lit and touristy street simply called Xie Lue, or West st, in Yangshuo in the Guanxi Province. The reason we're wandering the banks of the Li river is in pursuit of a French Restaurant called Le Votre that supposedly brews its own beer.  A French restaurant in China is definitely an odd concept, but I'm assuming that this close to Vietnam there was probably some overflow during the colonial era. However, that still doesn't explain why a French restaurant would be brewing it's own beer. The French have always been somewhat lukewarm to beer, never letting it surpass their infatuation with wine as the number one drink of choice.  All of these are questions that I would normally expect to find answers to, but the one thing traveling in China has taught me is that there are often no logical or satisfactory answers to the anomolies you encounter.
We find the restaurant located midway down the street, it's a big establishment by Chinese restaurant standards with a large courtyard and steps leading up to the kitchen and more seating.  There's a guy with a keyboard setting up at the top of the stairs and I can't decide if this is another one of young China's inane musical acts, or an homage to the synthesizer demo, which, after all, must be entering its 25th or 30th anniversary by now.
On the front of the menu it advertises two types of beers, available in two sizes. There's no descriptions of the beers, simply pictures, and I don't have the language skills to delve into the finer style details with a waiter in Chinese, and judging by the wait staff I'm not really expecting them to know anyway. But the pictures show light and dark and I'm quickly told that the light beer is not available tonight, making my choice relatively simple.
I suppose to an outsider this type of menu looks pretty cheesy, not the product of an expensive French restaurant. While I can't argue with the menu's resemblance to camembert or brie, such is the common design of menus in China. Menus are more akin to short novellas, complete with pictures and strange Freudian mispellings. One of the first restaurants we stopped at in Beijing had a menu that was 76 pages long!
So left with only one choice, I ordered the "dark" beer. It is, much as I expected, some basic variant on an export version of the Munich Dunkel.  What I don't expect is the fact that it actually tastes homebrewed, true to the name!  There's just enough roast and residual sweetness in the grain to give it some uniqueness before the flood of lagery water takes over. Still it's a nice change from the malt liquor and mass produced lagers that have been otherwise dominating my palate on this trip.
The lighter beer, while I'm unable to try it or get any description of it, I'm guessing is a blonde ale or more than likely since they have lagering capabilities, a Czech style pilsner. Questions such as their production process, ingredients, capacity, all had to be left in the giant chasm of misunderstanding that is the language barrier.
However, still an interesting discovery in the south of China. The journey continues...

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