Two Kinds of Bullshit
Two Kinds of Bullshit
August 30, 2016

Disclaimer, this isn’t a blog post about contract beer. I’ll bitch about that later. This is a blog post about noise and shade.

When you are an immigrant, sometimes its hard to figure out where you belong in your host society. Its even hard to find the right word to describe who we are as outsiders in China. The idea of cultural identity in China is taller than Space is wide.[1] Not only is it impossible for an outsider to ever become Chinese, its also unattainable for most people that a are Chinese. So, what are we? Are we immigrants? Are we expatriates? Are we merely visitors? The term expatriate (expat) denotes privilege, colonies and gin and tonics. Immigrants denotes that possibility to become Chinese, or at least to have an option to immigrate. Visitor denotes temporality and an imminent exit. These macro definitions and ponderings often pop up when running a business in China. They give you a feeling of urgency. They make the opportunities in China, feel even more immediate and important. Known of us know how long we will be here, so it means we can’t take missteps or waste any of our time. Wasting an opportunity to truly create something China can be proud of, is something that I would regret for the rest of my life. This makes being an entrepreneur here an exhilarating business. Especially when that business is something as meaningful and powerful as the idea of craft beer.

[1] Joanna Newsom, Waltz of the 101st Lightborne

Why is craft beer so powerful? Is this just something people say? No. Think about it from the perspective of a regular consumer. You have money, you like consuming things, but most things are meaningless corporate bullshit. Corporate bullshit has a certain smell, less like the organic, countryside smell of bullshit, and more like a sick wet dog. Everyone can smell it. Its too fake. Its too eager to tell you why its awesome. It talks too much. Its like a cousin that needs you to know that he is just as good as you, even though he’s a manager at Walmart and had is own brother arrested for loitering. Consumers that are new to an industry fall for bullshit. But everyone learns. So in terms of craft beer its about that feeling you get when you can proudly consume a high end good, made locally, by a small company that has everything to lose. There is a meaning to that. Every consumer can feel it. It’s the opposite of a sick, wet dog.

The Chinese consumer, if they could be described as a singular thing, is specifically not dumb. The idea that Chinese consumers are easily influenced over long term consumption habits, is a racist misperception that is slowly dying out, but one that for whatever reason, a lot of Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs believe. As an outsider, I have a bit of a different perspective. What the Chinese consumer means to me is a person that has been mislead, underestimated and degraded for generations. Assumptions have been piled on the Chinese consumer that they are like a flock of birds that will just do whatever. That is bullshit. Our consumer base is made up of an overwhelmingly Chinese consumer. They are the most passionate fans of our brand and products. They criticize, analyze and trust no one but their closest friends when considering what and how to consume, and they appreciate any attempt to not sell them short or be underestimated. This could be the result of years of being shouted at about how great and interesting and famous a product ‘X’ is, only to realize that it is none of those things. The Chinese consumer used to be insular and didn’t get much access to international trends and habits. So, when a magazine prints an article and says, “everyone does X and so you should also” or “Y is famous and you should consume it otherwise you will appear less moneyed, classed or informed”, a majority of consumers used to assume it was true and give it a try. This model for advertising and marketing is dying. Its dying a slow, painful death. Why? Because not only are more Chinese consumers traveling and forming their own opinion about what in the world appeals to them, they are also realizing that China has a rich history of consumption and creation that is being resurrected. On top of all of this, access to information is casting sunshine on the shade of lies that paid advertisements of marketing materials are trying to sell them. To put a cherry on top, for the first time in history, there is a sizeable population of foreigners that can communicate their culture and society in Mandarin directly to Chinese consumers.[2]

[2] This has been an especially painful transition for a lot of marketers and media in China. Previously there could be a control point between what needed to be communicated and reality. This control point went both ways, a Chinese market that couldn’t research and analyze in English and an everywhere else in the world market that couldn’t communicate directly with the Chinese consumer without the use of a translator. Painful doesn’t describe the situation when a salesman lies to a room full of people and then gets called out by someone more informed. Its not part of Chinese culture to point out deception, but it is becoming more and more common to see a situation where someone tries to sell a less than accurate reality and gets corrected by a well informed consumer or by an industry leader that can communicate directly. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, I must admit, it doesn’t make you popular, but it does help industries and markets grow in a more mature way.

So why does this matter to craft beer? I’ll tell you! Right now in China, a majority of the most successfully branded local craft beers are actually being run by foreign passport holders, and the brands that are being run by Chinese citizens are attempting to appear as if they are actually foreign, with predominantly English branding and labeling. There is also an overabundance of “German” brands popping up all of over China that no one has ever heard of, that even my German friends who are in the beer industry have never heard of, and that if you really give a fuck, you can find in some historical text book about short-lived East German beer brands that opened and closed in the 1960s. There is also an overabundance of less than awesome imported beer that are either gray market distributed or that are overstock from an overseas brewery that grew too fast and is now ‘dumping’ excess stock in China because sales in more educated markets are… lacking. Then we come to the sick wet dogs that aren’t defined as craft beer at all, but because China is a new market, they can get away with misleading marketing and branding because there isn’t anyone in this market that can stand up and say, “fuck that shit, stop lying to Chinese consumers”. And on top of all of this obfuscating bullshit, we have media that are motivated by cash and will promote whatever shameless crap in order to establish a user base and grow their team.

So we get a lot of noise, and yet, on top of all of this bullshit, the most genuine brands are the ones that are moving the most product. The network of peer support in China’s craft beer scene is growing faster now that it ever has in the history of our industry. There are more collaborations, more mutual support and there is more respect growing amongst our industry than I could’ve imagined four years ago. The parts that are lagging behind the most are those that still think they can lie to the Chinese consumer about who they are, what they are doing and where they are going. Recently, in America there was a collaboration beer between Tired Hands of suburban Philadelphia and Jackie O’s of Athens, Ohio. It has probably the most disturbing name of any beer brand I have ever heard: “Pinching off the Dead Parts”. Well, in the Chinese craft beer community, its time to pinch off the dead parts before the cancer of bad reputation spreads to our industry as a whole. The Chinese consumer doesn’t want to be exaggerated at, nor do they want to be disappointed by something that they genuinely and naturally yearn to love. They merely have money, and would like to give us some of it.