Beer Tasting Night at Taiwan Scene

Photos: Alex Houghton, Taiwan Scene

It was a Friday night to remember at the MyTaiwanTour office. Beer was involved, lots of it, extremely high-quality beer sent to us by craft brewers around the island. (Read more: Taiwan’s Craft Beer Scene (Part One))

The beer had begun arriving earlier in the week, crates from craft breweries in Taipei, with a few boxes from Yilan, Keelung and as far away as Kaohsiung and Pingtung.

What beers did we have? So many that trying to describe them with any justice requires a separate two-part article (which we’ll post in a few days here).

For now, we’ll just name the breweries providing libations.

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Representing Taipei there were samples from Alechemist, Taiwan Head Brewers, SUNMAI, Taiwan Ale, Taihu and Bloch Brewing Company. From Keelung, we had several bottles of the best that Taiwan Terroir had to offer, and from Yilan a vast variety from our old friends at Jim & Dad’s. And from Southern Taiwan was Kaohsiung’s Takao beer.

Now MyTaiwanTour’s motto is “We Know Taiwan”, and it’s fair to say that we’re no strangers when it comes to appreciating a good beer every now and again. But somewhere around the time that a corner of the office had filled up with beer crates, we realized we’d be well advised to call in a few beer-loving friends.  

Taiwan Scene_MyTaiwanTour blog_craft beer in Taiwan_beer tastingThe first drinking guests started rolling in around 6:30, mingling among MyTaiwanTour staff still manning the phones arranging weekend tours. They were a truly international bunch, and included my buddy Tobie, from South Africa, a self-described wine-over-beer man, Nathan from Australia, who’s drinking credentials have already been established on this very blog (Read More: A Tale of Cocktails: Five of Taipei’s Freshest Bars,  Alex, another Australian with a penchant for good beer and an uncanny resemblance Game of Thrones character Sandor Clegane, AKA “The Hound” (minus the burn and bastard sword), Geoffery, a beer lover from Reno, Jonathan, an old friend from Boston, and several others.

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All had come to eat, drink and be merry with the MyTaiwanTour team.

No sooner has our guests arrived that the drinking began.  While our original intention was to have something resembling an orderly beer tasting, to quote Scottish poet Robert Burns:

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”

(For readers who don’t speak Scottish, what Mr. Burns meant is “things don’t always go as planned.” Especially when strong drink is thrown into the mix.)

So the reader will forgive the progressively disordered nature of the evening’s events:  

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Most of the group started off with some of the lighter brews. SUNMAI’s Buckwheat Lager met with great approval. “It’s light, with a nice aroma and good taste,” said Geoffrey from Reno, declaring it ”Crisp, refreshing, and light enough to not be mind altering.”

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But the night was still young. Alex gave Taiwan Terrior’s Hai Cui, a beer from Keelung with just a hint of seaweed, high marks for Taiwanese authenticity.  

“It’s got a bit of a seafood flavor to it, and a crab feeling. Definitely a Taiwanese flavor.”

Another company getting high marks from the group for authenticity was Taiwan Ale, with most of the gathered drinkers agreeing that the Taipei-based brewery brewed perhaps the most “Taiwanese” of the beers we’d have that evening. Of Taiwan Ale’s Mango beer, Jonathan said

Taiwan Scene_MyTaiwanTour blog_craft beer in Taiwan_Taiwan Ale“It smells pretty, kind of like cider. And I like that.”  The company’s lychee beer was another light favorite. The group parted ways on the very unique Tomato Sour, which reminded some of a carbonated Bloody Mary, which admittedly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The closest thing to a negative comment about Taiwan Beer’s offerings was pretty gentle.

“Their beers remind me of a Taiwanese Childhood, but I’m a grown up.” Alex commented.

Taiwan Scene_MyTaiwanTour blog_craft beer in Taiwan_Takao beerAlso earning great kudos from the group for its Taiwanese authenticity was Takao Brewery’s

Green River, which Geoffrey said had a “tart, pickle smell, a crisp, slightly sour taste, and a bitter, smoky finish.“  Phillip described it as “grassy.” But the brew’s greatest praise came from MyTaiwanTour CEO Michael Wu, who described the drinking experience thusly:

“Drinking this beer makes me feel like I’m camping in the wild in the mountains of Taiwan!”

High praise indeed from a guy who runs a travel company!

As the evening progressed, the assembled group moved onto the stronger stuff, and strongest of all was provided by the Bloch Brewing Company. Bloch’s beers were all heavy hitters, so strong in fact that most of the sampling of Bloch’s product was done in the kitchen, with the beer poured by Mister Bloch himself, a German Brewmaster who’d come personally to deliver his beer.  

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Tobie loved the German Lager, a high-alcohol content no-nonsense lager.

“I really like this beer,” he said. “Having lived in Namibia, my first sip instantly transported me back there.”

Geoffrey felt equally strong about the strong Imperial Russian Stout.  

“Straight to business,” he said after the first sip. “Nice flavor, no sweetness at all.”

Mister Bloch had brought others, including his light, mid-strength Four Seasons Ale, a traditional English Bitter, and a frighteningly strong Red Emperor Ale. Needless to say, any participant who entered the kitchen to sample Bloch’s wares did not emerge un-altered.

Back in the main office, the sampling continued, and here the reader will understand if the tale becomes a bit jumbled as your humble narrator was among the crew in the kitchen sampling liberally from Mister Bloch’s many bottles.

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The “Ale Chemists” from Taipei’s Alechemist Brewery had sent over several very awesome beers, including a hoppy Valencia and a sweet scotch beer that Jonathan describes as “Hefty, with an Ovaltine-like flavor.” There was also a White Corn Beer (brewed with Taiwanese white corn, the sort of thing you’ll find at any night market” with a lovely, fruity aftertaste. (Asked to opine on Alechemst’s White Corn, Jonathan, who’d also spent some time in Mister Bloch’s kitchen, simply said “Yes!”)

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We sampled Taiwan Head Brewer’s hoppy Da Shu, and it’s Winter Melon. (“It tastes weirdly familiar,” said Jonathan of the latter beer.) SUNMAI’s Buckwheat Lager was another favorite of our CEO, who called it “unique and Taiwanese.”  And everyone liked what Yilan’s Jim & Dad’s brewery had sent over, especially their Rum Barrel-aged Barleywine (which at 12.5% ABV competed nicely with the kitchen beers). Their deeply hoppy Hop Bomb IPA was popular with those apparently pining for the American West Coast.

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“It’s like being in San Francisco and watching the tram go by,” said Alex of the brew.

Indeed, the only negative comment about any of J&D’s products came from Jonathan about their Cold-brewed Coffee Amber.

“No,” said the not terribly talkative by this point Bostonian. ”Just No.”

Geoff disagreed.

“I’m honestly down with it. Coffee on the nose with a malty amber, flavor. I found it an interesting taste experience.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, by ten o’clock, with most of the group having moved from leaning against the desks to lying on the bean bag chairs, it seemed a fitting time to wind down.

Taiwan Scene_MyTaiwanTour blog_Craft beer in Taiwan_TaihuWe’d intended to have some sort of a closing ceremony in which we nominated “the most Taiwanese” tasting beers; alas, the poet’s favorite muse had other plans, so rather than any legally binding vote tally we had to settle for a number of worthy nominations shouted from reclining positions. Among these were:

Taiwan Ale’s Hoppy Pomelo, for its lovely pomelo flavor;

Takao’s Green River, for reminding us of camping in the wild;

SUNMAI’s Buckwheat Lager, for being uniquely Taiwanese;

Taiwan Terrior’s Tomato Sour, for being “a good morning after beer”;

“Most everything” from Alechemist;

Most everything from Jim & Dad’s” (with a mild disagreement over their Cold-brew Coffee Amber;

And finally,

“Whatever we were drinking in the kitchen!”

Only two definitive conclusions were reached before our ad-hoc party disbanded.

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    1. Taiwan definitely punches way above its weight class in the craft beer department, and
  1. Someone should clean up the office between now and Monday.

Want to learn more about Taiwan’s Craft Beer Scene: Watch this space for a more sober look at the subject.  

Looking to enjoy the best spirits and libations available in Taipei? Check out MyTaiwanTour’s Ultimate Taipei Nightlife Tour or Drink Like a Local. Want to incorporate nightlife, craft beer or anything else as part of your personally customized tour? Click here to learn more about MyTaiwanTour’s Customized Tours!