Young and Hungry

In China, Don’t Judge a Beer By Its Bottle

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According to US government estimates, global corporations lose something in excess of $60 billion annually to Chinese counterfeiters. DVDS, books, handbags, jewelry, shoes, . . . Name your material desire, and some firm in China will likely be standing by to supply a fake rip-off of it. Beer is no exception.

China Daily reports that police recently arrested four men in the village of Wuliqiao in what has become a familiar scheme: refilling empty bottles of imported beer like Budweiser, Corona, or Carlsberg with cheap domestic brews and reselling it to local bars as high-priced imports. Chinese beers, for example, sell for less then 50 cents per bottle, whereas imports can fetch up to three dollars. The incentives for corruption are clear.

But simply refilling discarded bottles with cheap beer isn't enough. There's a fine art to the deception, as described in this account of a counterfeit operation shut down by Chinese authorities in March 2008:

A former worker at the facility who was asked by the government to demonstrate how to turn a 610 milliliter Kingstar Beer into two 300 milliliter Budweisers (see image above) said that experienced workers could make two fake beers in around five seconds – making as many as more than 1,000 fake Budweisers or Carlsbergs in one evening.

The repackaging of the Kingstar beer as smaller, more expensive imported beers is then followed by an arguably more crucial step in the counterfeiting process. Once sealed, the beers were placed in large woks connected to gas burners. Each wok used a thermometer to monitor temperature, with 80 degrees Celsius the ideal temperature to maintain.

'Cooking' the beer has two reasons behind it. Firstly, Kingstar beer tends to have more flavor than Budweiser or Carlsberg – raising its temperature rendered the beer's flavor less strong. Secondly, cooking the beers ensured that upon opening, the beers would bubble up and produce a foamy head.

Yes, you read that right: Kingstar "tends to have more flavor" than cheap imported pilsners, and still, black marketeers are watering it down to taste like Budweiser.  Chalk up another branding victory for Anheuser-Busch.

For pictures from the 2008 sting operation, click here.

Photo by CharlieBrown8989 used under a Creative Commons license.

  • Raul

    I visited Beijing for about a week and I did not mind Tsingtao. It was not craft beer, to be sure, but it's a definite step up from the fizzy yellow lite stuff that regularly passes for beer in the States.

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