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Beer Reviews

The Viral Helens Milk Beer: The 0.3% ABV Armour Against Peer Pressure

Many might agree that a core part of one's college experience is evenings spent hanging out in a pub with your school mates and gossiping over a beer or two. But some might be split over whether it was the promise of an ice cold pint, or that of a carefree setting to socialise with one’s friends, that ultimately mattered most.

For Helens Pub, a popular chain of pubs in China, their bet is on the latter. 

How Helens Pub Captured the Hearts of China’s University Students 

Started in 2009 by Mainland Chinese native Xu Bingzhong, Helens Pub opened its first outlet in Wuhan and later slowly expanded countrywide. Shrewdly recognising that many of the country’s university students were simply after a carefree, no-frills “Third Place” to socialize with their friends after classes – the beer was in part an excuse to get together, Xu sought to carve out a niche for Helens by offering value-for-money, cheap and sessionable beers. In effect, Xu was lowering the “cost of entry” for these cash-strapped students (many of whom didn’t have their own houses yet and only resided in cramped dorm rooms) had to pay to gain access to a common gathering point.

Inside of a Helens Pub (Image source: Helens Pub)

Xu also decked out the Helens pubs with comfortable seating and even allowed patrons to bring and consume their own food in his pubs. The combination of these tactics – while on the surface counterintuitive to profitability – actually worked to encouraged many local university students to stay on in his pub for long periods of time, during which they made high-volume, repeat orders of beers which pushed up the pub chain’s revenues. It was on the back of this strategy that Helens Pub eventually grew to over 700 stores and became China’s largest pub chain today. Helens Pub even filed for public listing in 2021, becoming the first ever pub chain in China to become a publicly listed company.

The Viral Helens Milk Beer: The 0.3% ABV Armor Against Peer Pressure

In my view, Helens Pub has always had this unique ability as a brand to empathise with what their target consumer really wanted, and deliver it in a non-judgemental way that inspired brand loyalty.

With the understanding that many of the university students that frequented its pubs simply wanted to hang out with one another, yet had to contend with the peer pressure to drink while they were in the pub, Helens sought to devise a range of low-ABV beers that would be approachable and easy enough to sip on through the night without fear of hangovers the next day.

| Read more: Our review of the Helen's Trio of Fruit Beers - Helens White Peach Fruit Beer, Grape Fruit Beer and Strawberry Fruit Beer

In 2019, they released their own self-branded bottles of Helens Milk Beer. Advertised by the company to be on the sweetness without any harshness, and coming in at a whopping 0.3% ABV, the approachable Milk Beer was a viral hit. For many students who weren’t keen on drinking too much during a night out with friends, the Helens Milk Beer was the perfect armour to deflect accusations of being a “spoilsport”.

After all, one was sorta still drinking beer, even if it was a milk beer that was highly flavored and canned at only 0.3% ABV. Beer purists might disagree vehemently, but I do think its important to remember that context in which this beer was created – it was never meant to cater to those who genuinely enjoy a pint, but to those who felt pressured to say they did.

That said, does the drink itself taste good? Let’s find out.

Helens Milk Beer – Tasting Notes

Aroma: Very milky and creamy, with notes of condensed milk, white rabbit candy and a subtle nutty undertone of almond paste.

Taste: The texture on this very dense and creamy, with notes of yoghurt and a tinge of strawberry cream sweetness. I get notes of marzipan and milk powder, with barely-there fruity accent of pineapple juice.

Finish: Short. Reminds me of milk powder, almonds, and the flavor of cookies and cream ice cream minus the cookies. 


Overall Thoughts:

Unsurprisingly, this does not taste like a beer - there's not a bit of maltiness to it nor anything resembling the usual texture and taste of beer. It's more like a creamy-sweet yoghurt drink than anything else. That said, if you're able to look past it's label as a beer, it's pretty tasty as a drink in and of itself!

It reminds me of those soju milkshake cocktails or Calpis yoghurt drinks, with slight fruity accents of strawberries and pineapples. Very sessionable, and if not for the heavy, denseness of its texture, would definitely be something I could see most people sipping all night long. 

| Read more: Our review of the Helen's Trio of Fruit Beers - Helens White Peach Fruit Beer, Grape Fruit Beer and Strawberry Fruit Beer