Beer giants, but which beer are we talking about?


In the 19th century, the European brewing industry was a pioneer in many areas: scientific research, volumes and mastery of malting, of mashing and of beer shipping techniques. In the 20th century, brewing became a cutting-edge industry: concentration of brewing groups, automated beer factories, fully controlled biochemistry of beer. In the 21st century, industrial brewing has reached the same level of industrial and capital concentration as the entire food sector. Giants such as the multinational corporations InBev, Heineken, Kirin and Asahi (Japan), White Snow (Chine) and many others control over 90% of the world beer market.

The beer in question is always the same: beer brewed using the malting method, more or less hopped or flavoured. These multinational beer and soda companies are not concerned with other traditional beers, except to replace them with their products.

These traditional beers can be divided into two groups worldwide:

1 -  Some of them reached the semi-industrial stage around the 18th century and then the industrial stage in the 20th century to become brands and commercial beers. They are included in national statistics. We know their annual production. This is the case in China (Huangjiu, ...), Japan (Sake) or Korea (Makgeolli). The volume of beers brewed with the amylolytic ferment method is comparable in Asia to that of industrial beers brewed by malting. Those who prophesy the disappearance of the former, inexorably replaced by the latter, are mistaken[1]. In Asia, the balance between these two historical brewing techniques and the corresponding beers will be enduring.

Annual production of traditional beers in 2013 in Asia (hectoliters)
 China  Huangjiu + Choujiu + Mijiu 50 millions hl.
 Japan  Sake + Amasake 7 millions hl.
 Corea  Makgeolli + Takju + Nongju 6 millions hl.
 South-East Asia  Various beers from rice 1 million hl.
 India, Nepal, Bhutan  Beers from rice, barley, wheat, maize, ... 30 millions hl.
Total    ≈ 94 millions hl.


2 -  In Asia, Africa and Latin America, many traditional beers are brewed at home or in villages. In Europe (Norway, Finland, the Baltic States) they are very much outnumbered. These beers are not included in any official statistics, which contributes to their survival. It remains difficult to estimate their annual production. They will always be underestimated because this type of home brewing is not commercial and does not follow the market economy. In Africa, dolo or bib-bil are sold in markets by their female brewers. These ultra-short local circuit beers are non-competitive food crafts. The same is true in Latin America.

Annual production of traditional beers outside Asia in 2013 (hectoliters)
 Africa  Beers from sorgho, milllet, cassava, … 10 millions hl.
 South America  Chicha, Masato, Cachiri, … 1 millions hl.
 Central America  Beers from maize, sweet potato, Tesgüino, … 1 millions hl.
 Russia, Ukraina, ...  Kvas 1 million hl.
 South-eastern Europe  Boza, Braga, « kwas », … 1 millions hl.
 Northern Europe  Sahti, Koduõlu, Stjørdalsøl, … insignificant vol.
Total    ≈ 19 millions hl.


World production of traditional beers in 2013 (hectoliters)
 Asia ≈ 94 millions hl.  
Rest of the world ≈ 19 millions hl. 
Total World  ≈ 113 millions hl. 


This 113 million hl of traditional beers should be compared with the 2,000 million hl of industrial beer brewed in 2015 worldwide, and the 94 million traditional beers versus 657 million hl of industrial beer brewed in Asia (Kirin report 2013).

The gap is not that big, respectively 5.6% for the whole world, and 14% for Asia alone. This confirms several things:

  • Traditional beers did not disappear in 2015 and will not disappear in 2025 or later. In the world, Asian brewing methods weigh heavily. They are not marginal brewing techniques.
  • They have not disappeared because they meet several essential needs: drinking, eating, exchanging (economic and cultural relations) within rural communities on a human scale, sometimes displaced to the outskirts of 'inhuman' modern cities.
  • The prejudices that plague these traditional beers live in the Western minds, accustomed to industrial products since the 19th century. And in their sanitised gut flora! People elsewhere live differently and drink differently. These statistics prove it.



[1] Sources : Sake  et Magkeolli 2013 statista.comHuangjui : Kvas 2013 No statistics for traditional African and Native American beers: estimated figures from multiple ethnographic monographs. The same applies to South-East Asia.

30/01/2022  Christian Berger