China in search of top malting barley
WITH rising beer consumption and restricted malting barley production China has to import ever-increasing amounts to satisfy its growing number of coastal breweries.
"Every year we need to import more malting barley," says Li Yebin of Beijing-based China Food Holdings. "Currently we take 2m tonnes a year but this is rising steadily. Beer consumption is rising as the economy is booming, living standards improve and there is more money in peoples pockets."
A few years ago average consumption was just 10-12 litres/yr. Now it is 15 and expected to rise. "With a population of 1.3 billion an increase of just 1 litre a head would have a massive impact on demand for malting barley."
China produces some malting barley in the lower Yangtze river area and in the north-west. But production, about 4m tonnes a year, is insufficient to meet domestic needs because the government encourages farmers to concentrate on wheat and rice for an expanding population.
China has imported British malting barley since 1995, but the market has been volatile. In 1998/99 240,000t were taken, but none went the previous year and only a small tonnage was shipped last year. Most requirements are sourced from Australia and Canada.
"We are starting to take more from Britain," says Mr Li who toured the UK recently in a delegation hosted by British Cereal Exports.
"When looking for malting barley overseas we consider both quality and price. We are interested in UK barley as the quality is acceptable and price competitive. We have no problems with British supplies.
"The purpose of our visit is to find suitable varieties, and we are taking samples home with us for micro-malting evaluation."
Chinese brewers specify grain proteins of 10-11.5% or nitrogens of 1.6-1.84. Low protein barley is avoided as it takes longer to germinate and causes haze in the beer.
But the key difference to European requirements is that Chinese markets require a maximum moisture of 13.5% to avoid deterioration during the 45-day voyage to the Orient. *
MALTING BARLEY INCHINA
• 2m tonne/yr import demand & rising.
• Limited domestic production.
• UK quality & price no problem.
• Max grain moisture 13.5%.
Beer in China
Beer has been brewed in China since 1901 when Russians built the first brewery. Others soon followed, and when the economy started to boom many more were established.
Initially Chinese consumers did not like the strong taste of ale, preferring lighter lager beers. Now most production is 3.5-4% alcohol.