How European-Style Beer Was First Introduced In Asia

Although beer in some form has existed on the continent for thousands of years, the introduction of European-style beer in Asia is relatively recent. Despite this, or possibly because of it, the mixing of Eastern and Western societies has had a huge impact on contemporary drinking culture. By the mid-1800s, the British Empire was reaching its zenith and other European countries were making good use of the global mobility offered by the technological innovations that came out of the Enlightenment period. With the engine of globalization starting to flex its muscle, cultures that had very little interaction with each other before this period were suddenly next-door neighbors. The breakdown of the physical boundaries that isolated Asia from Europe is a fascinating story and one whose effects are still playing out today — a mere 150 years later.

When Britain colonized India, it brought beer with it. Although technology had made the journey possible it was still a long one. To survive the six-month trek, the sweet British stout was replaced with a bitter, hoppy beer we know today as the India Pale Ale. The hops were potent enough to keep the beer from spoiling and even had some medicinal benefits in fighting scurvy. British beer in India didn't quite cross the cultural barrier as much as it did in other countries but you can still see beer for sale next to British flags in the streets of New Delhi today, and local breweries began to emerge in the 1970s.

Asian-style beer

In Japan, the pint of frothy has had more success despite a Japanese official telling American Commodore Matthew Perry that it tasted like "bitter horse piss" at the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854. Matthew Perry is the man credited for the forceful opening of Japan to the outside world. When Europeans attempted to colonize the region, the country underwent what is called the Meiji Restoration which was the Herculean effort to unify and modernize in the span of a brief 50 years. Not only did the country successfully resist colonization, their efforts catapulted them to the status of a world superpower.

During this process of modernization, the cultures of East and West mingled. By studying primarily Dutch and German beermakers, Japan was enjoying Asahi by the start of the 20th century. After rice became scarce in Japan during World War II, leading to a shortage of sake, beer quickly rose to become Japan's most consumed alcoholic beverage. A title that beer enjoys in China as well, albeit only since the 1990s.

In China, European-style beer was introduced in the beginning of the 20th century when a Polish-Russian immigrant opened a brewery in Harbin, China. That particular business didn't exactly revolutionize Chinese society, and it wasn't until the 1980s that European-style beer took off and launched into first place shortly after. Chinese-specific craft beer is still in its infancy but it's a growing scene.