CHINA - Chinese are swilling more beer than ever - both in volume and in variety. But while better brews are washing over the market, watery factory-bottled offerings will likely carve out an even larger share than their currently dominant slice, some experts say.
This is the mix of what remains surging demand - fertile terrain for enterprise wars - that has grown in all dimensions. From the creatively conjured, pricier home brews to the most industrialized - and hence cheapest - distillations, China's beer market has created a deluge of market share rise as wine and spirit growth are drying up.
Beer surged 30 percent a year from 2007 to 2011, during which time wine's annual growth evaporated from 50 percent to 12. Spirits also dropped 8 percentage points to 16 percent year-on-year growth by 2011.
Paulaner Brauhaus, The Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center's beer master Zhang Wei says this is perhaps a continuation, if not an acceleration, of beer consumption's transformation he has seen since the early days of his 21 years in the industry and 12 with Paulaner.
"Compared to 20 years ago, so many more (Chinese) people are willing to drink beer," he says. "And there's new demand for diversity."
Most customers were Germans when Beijing's Paulaner opened in 1992. Now, half are Chinese, Zhang says.
"You can now find beers from around the world in (Beijing's) supermarkets. Chinese consumers have become discerning in taste. They demand better quality." Many Chinese German-style beerhouse copycats tried replicating the European beer icon's style but were shuttered because of quality problems, Zhang says.
"But Beijing's German beer houses are so much better now," he says. "They take brewing seriously."