Does the City of Harbin Make the Best Beer?
Harbin is a city in northern China and is the capital of the Heilongjiang province. The tenth largest city in the country with over 5 million inhabitants living in the city limits, it also has something that can be considered a national treasure: China’s oldest beer brewery.
Harbin is a city that is famous for a few things; in the winter-time it’s bitterly cold but artists manage to make a city of ice sculptures that is unparalleled anywhere in the world, and it is also a UNESCO “City of Music”. Because Harbin at different times throughout its history belonged to China and Russia, the city is also known for its buildings and architecture that reflect its incredibly multi-cultural past. In fact, in the early 1900’s during railway construction, the city of Harbin was made up of residents from 53 different countries, and 45 languages were spoken on the city’s streets.
Due to wars and political situations, many of Harbin’s residents had to leave the country, but one thing that got left behind was a deep love and understanding of beer. The Harbin Brewery, which some critics say make “plain” beer, is a jewel in China’s beer crown. While many will claim that Tsingtao beer from further east in the country is better; people who live in Harbin and people who have been fortunate enough to spend some time there know that Harbin Brewery beer is good, but there are independent brew pubs all over the place in the city and these are the places to go if you want a beer that is simply outstanding.
Harbin is an extraordinary place for beer lovers. During the summer, beer gardens abound where local micro-breweries offer their wares along with the best kebabs and bread on the continent. During the winter time, brew-pubs offer hot spicy foods that make their in-house beer taste even better. The citizens’ love of beer can be seen everywhere from the omnipresent Harbin Brewery products to the street decorations which happen to be old beer barrels. Harbin is the best city to visit in Asia for beer tourism, hands down. Here are some of the varieties of beer that you can get in brew-pubs in Harbin.
Black beer A personal favorite of mine, and one of the main reasons why I’ll be going back to Harbin for a “beercation”. This dark brew offered in many brew-pubs but not available in cans or bottles at the supermarket is a real treat; unlike Scottish or Irish stout beers, Harbin’s black beers are more along the lines of Mexican black beer like Modelo Negra, but with a touch more of an espresso note and a slightly creamier texture. If you’re expecting something like a Guinness, you’ll be a bit disappointed because Harbin’s black beer is a bit more refreshing in nature. Black beer goes beautifully well with typical Harbin dishes that are loaded up with cumin and chilies.
Seaweed beer While seaweed beer is still something new and not mainstream, the stuff they make at brewpubs in Harbin will make you wonder why it isn’t mass produced for the international market. It’s nice, with a flavor that makes you think of the ocean. Like a fine whiskey, this is a beer that needs to be savored. It goes very nicely with beer snacks such as fresh cucumbers covered in a sesame oil and garlic sauce. It’s also great with tofu dishes.
Wheat beer Also known as white beer, this is one variety that is absolutely terrific in Harbin’s brew pubs. Mostly made with wheat, it is top-fermented and is generally known as a German type of beer. The beverage is cloudy-looking, and generally is not made with hops and is instead flavored with things such as herbs, orange peels, or even coriander. A small amount of hops may be used. The result is a delightful beer that is slightly sour and goes beautifully with dishes such as hot and sour soup. Furthermore, a Harbin wheat beer in the afternoon with a thick slice of Harbin’s famous da-lie-ba bread and renowned sausages is a treat that no visitor to the city should go without.
Harbin is the city of beer; and there is no other place in the world like it. Beer is delicious, it is inexpensive, and there are a number of brewpubs that will suit every taste and budget; from places that serve traditional Chinese food from other regions, pubs that serve Russian food, and tiny, locally known places that serve Harbin’s delightfully multi-cultural infused cuisine. There is a beer for every palate, and it’s worth spending the money to take a trip to the northern city just to sample their fantastic brews.
Another great thing that makes Harbin the beer capital of Asia and one of the world’s greatest beer-producing cities of the world is that the public transit system is great. Buses run frequently, are clean, go everywhere you need to go in the city and announce all the stops in Chinese and English, all for an incredibly reasonable price. This means you can go to Harbin, enjoy all the beer you wish, and you’ll make it home safely without putting anyone else in danger because you won’t be behind the wheel of a car.
Therefore, to answer the question : “Does Harbin make the world’s best beer?” we must say we don’t know yet and we must gladly make a few more trips to the frozen city in China’s Heilongjiang province, sample some more of the brews on offer to be doubly sure.
Tweet It! #HarbinBeer