When You Can't Breathe, Drink

Air so awful, so utterly 10-plagues-Biblical as that in Beijing, was bound to be commemorated in art at some point. But who might have suspected that it’d be commemorated in beer?
A glass of Airpocalypse IPA in Beijing. Photographer: Adam Minter

When the air becomes so polluted that breathing suggests damnation, you have what Beijing's English-speakers like to call an airpocalypse. It's unclear when the term was first used, but there's no argument about when it came into wide circulation: January 2013, when a long, record-setting smog left Beijingers breathing air 25 times worse than what's considered safe under U.S. government guidelines. The U.S. Embassy, which has a helpful scale to tell residents when air is "good," "lightly polluted," "unhealthy" and "hazardous," could offer nothing more useful than "beyond index" to describe a scene that resembled an airport smoking lounge allowed to expand to an entire city.

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