Elixir of life

Updated: 2011-08-29 07:50

By Xie Chuanjiao and Dai Yan (China Daily)

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The annual Qingdao Beer Festival concludes with nearly 4 million people from all over the world downing 1,100 tons of freshly brewed premium beer. Xie Chuanjiao and Dai Yan report.

Ren Zhiqiang, one knee on the ground, is proposing to his girlfriend Xiao Hong. Only, instead of a ring, he is holding a mug of beer. Xiao, by now in tears, grabs the mug and downs its contents in one go, signaling her "yes" to the proposal. The couple then hug and kiss as hundreds of people gathered around them cheer lustily.

The setting of this romantic drama is the 21th Qingdao International Beer Festival, claimed to be the largest of its kind in Asia, which concluded on Sunday in the coastal city Qingdao, Shandong province. The city shot to international prominence for hosting the sailing competition of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The annual festival that begins on the second Saturday of August every year, kicked off on August 13 this year. It draws people from home and abroad who join not only to enjoy different kinds of authentic beer, but also for the variety of performances including opera, dance, magic and fashion shows.

By Sunday, the festival hosted nearly 4 million people from all over the world, who consumed up to 1,100 tons of beer in 200 varieties.

Among its star visitors were NBA player Horace Grant, Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu and champion gymnasts Li Ning and Li Xiaoshuang.

The festival was also turned into a battleground for the top beer brands from around the world.

Zhu Yongli, from the Czechish ern Hora Beer Palace, says he was very surprised at the popularity of Czech beer.

"We sold 300 barrels (30 liters per barrel) in total, and another 200 are still on the way. We are considering increasing our imports of Czech beer next year," he told China Daily. At 100 yuan ($16) for 1 liter, it was one of the most expensive beers at the festival. But that did not come in the way of sales.

"Some people also bought crates of beer to give as gifts for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival," Zhu says.

He adds that the festival has emerged as a special platform for cultural exchange.

"We attach great importance to cultural exchanges and are planning to introduce more of Czech culture to tourists here. Only by integrating elements of Czech culture with the beer festival can we say we have offered a taste of authentic Czech beer," he says.

The beer drinking contest is a highlight of the festival.

Li Baocheng, a 31-year-old local and champion for the third year, is somewhat of a celebrity in the city.

A festival regular for the past five years, he walked away with the top prize of a car for downing 3 liters of beer in one minute.

The festival is also a magnet for foreigners.

Jone Favitta, a tourist from the United States who flew down to Qingdao from Beijing especially for the festival, says, "I was downright thrilled. It did not let me down.

"We didn't know each other before, but are friends now. It is a magical place. We sat down along these tables, toasted each other and then naturally became friends," Favitta says, drinking from a large mug while talking and laughing with the locals.

Qingdao Mayor Xia Geng says the annual festival is now an internationally recognized event and successfully combines tourism and culture promotion.

 Elixir of life

Clockwise from top: Thousands line the long tables at the 21th Qingdao International Beer Festival. Drinkers pile up empty beer mugs. Visitors fill the Qingdao Beer Palace, one of the 10 tents at Qingdao International Beer City. Photos Provided to China Daily


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