Beer in Tibet
The production of beer in Tibet is a relatively recent phenomenon in Tibetan cuisine given the traditional prohibition of alcohol consumption in Tibetan Buddhism. The Chinese established the Lhasa Brewery Company in 1988, which is located in Lhasa. It is the highest brewery in the world and its brand, Lhasa Beer, is currently entering the American market.
Background in alcohol
The first historical record of beer in Tibet are Chinese, concerning a 638 peace agreement between Tang China and the new Tibetan kingdom of Songtsen Gampo include the technological transfers of silk, paper, watermill and beer production. Tang Taizong did not respect the agreement on these technical transfer, but his son, Tang Gaozong, did.
However, somewhat contradicting the fact that alcohol is contrary to the beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism, is the fact that for centuries, chhaang, a local brew of barley sold by glass at street stalls in Lhasa and across towns in Tibet has been consumed by many Tibetans and monks. In the countryside of Tibet and Nepal, Raksi, a traditional distilled alcoholic beverage usually made from kodo or millet is often preferred, and despite the general prohibitive beliefs towards alcohol in Tibetan Buddhism, traditionally Raksi is often a requirement to accompany other foods at marriage ceremonies and festivals.
The rebellious 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, enjoyed a lifestyle that included drinking wine on the streets of Lhasa, the company of women, and writing love songs. However, his drinking and irresponsible behaviour was widely frowned upon by the other eminent officials in Tibet and he is believed to have been murdered in 1706 because of his lifestyle.
Lhasa Brewery Company
Factory production of beer in Tibet began in the late 1980s under the influence of the Chinese who legalised formal production and established the Lhasa Brewery in 1988 on the northern outskirts of Lhasa, south of Sera Monastery. The factory was set up with aid and expertise provided by the Romanian government who sent a team to Lhasa in 1988/89. Production began in 1989 although this is disputed by some locals. The Lhasa Brewery Company, is the highest commercial brewery in the world at 11,975 feet and accounts for 85% of contemporary beer production in Tibet. The brewery, consisting of five story buildings, cost an estimated US$20–25 million, and by 1994, production had reached 30,000 bottles per day, employing some 200 workers by this time. The beer produced is typically a light, sweet beer, a preference with many Chinese. However, the factory, financially, is known to have been very poor in its first years and has shut down on numerous occasions because of supply shortages and electrical outages and has suffered from unsanitary conditions. Little beer ever reached towns outside Lhasa because of a poor infrastructure and distribution network, and a distinct lack of a domestic market, due to religious beliefs and poverty. Coordinates: Since 2000, the Carlsberg group has increased its stronghold in the Chinese market and has become increasingly influential in the country with investment and expertise. Carlsberg invested in the Lhasa Brewery in recent years and has drastically improved the brewing facility and working conditions, renovating and expanding the building to what now covers 62,240 square metres (15.3 acres). Carlsberg overlooked the modernization of 10 older machines with 10 new high efficiency European manufactured machines on the production line in November 2007 and has recently spent 1.395 million Yuan on the improvement of production processes to comply with global atmospheric pollution standards. A water purification and reuse system was established to reduce liquid waste production and today the brewery recycles the waste byproducts of spent grain and yeast. Today the brewery has 250 full-time employees and 200 part-time employees, 72% of which are ethnic Tibetans, and 52% women.
Lhasa Beer is the only Tibetan beer on the world market and has grown in production in recent years through the Lhasa Brewery Company's increasing connections and investment internationally by Carlsberg. It is an all-malt European style lager, but is made from ingredients such as Himalayan spring water, barley, saaz hops and yeast. However, 30 percent of the malt content derives from the huskless native Tibetan barley which is partly responsible for giving the beer its characteristic crisp clean taste, along with the aromatic saaz ingredient. The beer is sold in cans, a 12 ounce bottle in packs of 6, and in 24 bottle cases, with the motto "Beer from the Roof of the World".
In August 2009, it was announced that the U.S. state of Texas will begin importing the beer and will be sold through specialty food retailers and on-premise bars and restaurants. Organized by George Witz, president of Dzambuling Imports, and importer and marketer of Lhasa Beer and a noted brewer specializing in Asian beers, Alan Kornhause, the Lhasa Brewery Company has claimed that it will donate 10 percent of its annual profits to supporting education, health care and cultural preservation in Tibet.
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