Twenty years ago, an article about beer in Taiwan would have gone something like this:
“Visiting Taipei? Why not have an ice-cold Taiwan Beer. In Jiaoxi? A cool Taiwan Beer goes great with a soak. Passing through Tainan? Taiwan Beer is what Koxinga would be drinking were he alive today.”
This was thanks to the stringent regulations of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau, which, as the name implies, had a monopoly on Taiwan’s beer scene. It was an easier time for travel writers, but a far less exciting time for beer enthusiasts to visit Taiwan.
All of this changed in 2002, with Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). In July of that year, the Monopoly Bureau passed into history, replaced by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, a publicly owned company legally obligated to compete in the marketplace. And thus, Taiwan’s craft beer scene was born!
These days it’s safe to say that Taiwan has become a haven for beer lovers, and a brief glance in the cooler of even a moderately stocked convenience store will reveal at least a dozen imported brands vying for shelf space with the still popular Taiwan Beer.
For lovers of craft beer, there’s never been a better time to visit (or live in) Taiwan. From north to south, a growing number of small breweries have opened shop around the island, each creating their own small-batch brews of craft beers. Some of these are familiar India Pale Ale’s (IPA’s), while others are designed more to appeal to a more Taiwanese flavor palette. (Read More: A Guide to Taiwan Craft Beers: These are our recommendations for summer of ‘18)
A few weeks back, Taiwan Scene was lucky enough to receive samples from several of Taiwan’s finest craft breweries. With a little help from several friends we sampled nearly every beer on this list, and while that bacchanal is a story for another day, with this article we’ve decided to give you, dear reader, the lowdown on what Taiwan has to offer in the craft beer realm. Since Taiwan Scene’s mission is to promote Travel in Taiwan, we’ve gone ahead and given this article a bit of a travel spin to encourage the reader to travel. (In other words, don’t bother coming to our office – the beer is all gone!) (Read more: Beer Tasting Night at Taiwan Scene)
Taipei: Taiwan’s Undisputed Craft Beer Capital!
Taiwan’s capital is also its most populous region, boasting more beer drinkers per square kilometer than any other part in Taiwan. Naturally, this is the region in which majority of the island’s young turks of brewing have set up shop.
1.Taiwan Head Brewers
Taiwan Head Brewers was started by three self-described beer geeks with a shared passion for brewing, sharing and drinking great beers. Though a young company (They’ve only been in business since 2015), they’ve managed to win a few global beer awards including the 2016 & 2017 World Beer Award (WBA) for World’s Best Experimental Beer and World’s Best Flavoured Herb & Spice beer.
Among their excellent beers are those inspired by Taiwan’s seasons, including the company’s Lixia, Start of Summer, an American Pale Ale full of lychee, grapefruit, and passion fruit flavors, Xiaoman Grain Full, which owes its unique caramel and floral flavors to the distinctly Taiwanese ingredient winter melon sugar, and the Lidong (“Start of Winter”) Taiwan Tea Ale, a strong Belgian Dubbel brewed with local premium Oolong tea. IPA lovers will like Dashu (“Great Heat”), a more traditionally hoppy, complex American India Pale Ale incorporating the flavor of Changhua-grown jasmine flowers.
Alechemist was founded by dedicated “Ale Chemists” (hence the spelling) from National Taiwan University looking to make world-class beer using locally grown products grown. How committed to localization are they? If a product they need isn’t produced in Taiwan, they’ll work with local farmers to plant it.
Their signature beer is a cream ale made with Taiwanese wheat and white corn from Tainan. It’s got a light, buttery, popcorn scent and a soft honey-like sweetness, light but not without complexity. The gentle nature of the flavor profile means it goes well with all types of foods. Other beers made by Alechemist include Koshi light, a light Belgium-inspired ale made with malted barley, Taichung wheat, Tainan rice and a few other local flavors that give it a bright, citrusy flavor. Other varieties offered by these alchemists of ale include their Hefty Red (named for a native Taiwanese wheat), their Tana Jade (made with an aboriginal spice known locally as “Tana”, and the company’s exclusive Purple Grain Scotch Ale.
One of the earlier entries into Taiwan’s craft beer scene was SUNMAI, started in 2004 by a father-son team looking to produce a beer that measured up to Taiwan’s rich culinary history. SUNMAI’s Chinese name “金色三麥” means “Golden Malts” and pays homage to their three original brews: Dark Lager, Amber Lager, and Wheat Beer. SUNMAI’s other offerings include Golden Ember (a dark honey ale offering a well-rounded combination of toasted nuts and toffee with a smooth, mellow body and a surprisingly crisp finish), Longan Honey Lager (made with 100% Longan Honey) and Buckwheat Lager (a seasonally available roasted Buckwheat).
4. Taiwan Ale
Taiwan Ale takes great pride in being truly local, and while not all of their flavors will appeal to “western sensibilities,” nobody would argue that the beers bearing the Taiwan Ale label are anything less than Taiwanese to the core. Case in point: Taiwan Ale’s tango sour beer uses genuine Taiwanese mango, and tastes unmistakably like mango. Their lychee sour beer is flavored with real Taiwanese lychee, and is as uniquely lychee as any beer could ever be. Both are exceptionally smooth, drinkable and definitely interesting. They also make other flavors, including a tomato sour beer that, some say, have an almost carbonated Bloody Mary vibe. Living up to its name and goal of making beer drinking more interesting, this is definitely one company whose products you need to try if you’re looking to tie one on in Taiwan.
Taihu is another Taipei-based craft brewer that proudly hoists the banner for Taiwan in Asia’s craft beer revolution. Their Bright Ale is a good craft beer to start with, bright and refreshing with a thick but not overpowering wheat flavor. Taihu’s Kumquat Kölsch (Winner of the “2016 Golden Beer award in Japan) is a slightly malty brew with a hint of fruit thanks to the inclusion of whole hand-pressed kumquats. Taihu’s India Pale Ale entry, the aptly-named Taihu IPA is rich and fruity, with just enough hoppy bitterness to be called a genuine IPA. Finally, their Taiwanese-style wheat beer, the Taihu Weisse, offers a thick taste of wheat and honey, with hints of banana, clove and cardamom. Anyone who says good things don’t come in cans has never tried a Taihu beer.
6.Bloch Brewing Company
Rounding out Taipei comes the Bloch Brewing Company, perhaps the most traditionally European brewery on the list. While a Taiwanese brewery by virtue of being located in the green hills of northern Taiwan just outside of Taipei, Bloch’s materials are definitely Western, using German Malts, European yeasts and hops from Oceania, Europe and North America. Bloch’s traditions are drawn straight from the beers of the west, producing some of the heartiest and darkest beers you’ll find in Taiwan. Among Bloch’s offerings are Four Seasons Ale, a light mid-strength Ale, a traditional English Bitter aptly called Finest English Bitter, Bloch’s Mango Fruit Beer, a German Dark Beer, a very strong Belgian Traditional Blonde, its even stronger Imperial Russian Stout, and it’s stronger still Red Emperor Ale. If it’s tradition you’re after, look no further than Bloch.
Join us next week as we escape Taipei to sample craft beers produced elsewhere on our beautiful island home!
Continue reading for Taiwan’s Craft Beer Scene (Part Two)
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!