While I have focused my writing on the craft beer industry in Taiwan, I haven’t spent much time on the imported beer that’s available in Taipei. As the local craft beer has become more common and easily available, there has been a large increase in imported beers as well.
Typically I’d prefer to buy local, but in my time in Taipei, there has been limited variety in local beer — and even limited availability at some bars. Also, as I have noted at other times, even the local craft beer can be expensive ($10 in some cases). There have also been a few instances when I’ve come across an imported beer that I just could not pass up.
Where to find imported beer in Taipei
Some of my favorite places for a good beer include NEN in Zhonghe (technically New Taipei City, which is where I live), Revolver near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and Way Home near Taipei Arena.
It’s weird recommending my local bar, which is more of a bottle shop, because I don’t want it to get crowded. But then again, I want it to stay in business. It’s a tiny bar along No. 4 Park that has an ever-changing rotation of imported beer. They also have a few local brews and sometimes have a keg or two. It’s a well-lit, comfortable bar and it’s rarely crowded. Plus, this being anywhere outside the good ol’ USA, you can get a beer or three for take-out and go sit in the park on a nice day/evening (the park even has clean public toilets).
Revolver has been my go-to bar since my second stint in Taipei — it is the most popular music venue in the city, though I’ve never seen a show there. They usually have a decent selection of bottles for NT$150-220, which is a decent price in Taiwan. They’ve also had some Founder’s and Pizza Port beers on tap in the last year. I usually leave when Revolver gets too crowded.
I discovered Way Home last year while wandering around. It’s another small bar with a huge selection of beer. They have the largest selection of local beer I’ve seen, but they have plenty more imported beer. The staff is quite helpful and they’ve given me a decent opportunity to practice speaking beer-related Mandarin.
Last year someone started importing Michigan’s Founder’s Brewing. I was amazed as this is one of the best breweries in the US, and they have never disappointed me. People in Taipei who recognized the brewery went after it full force — it sold out quickly. Fortunately, some bars restocked. Revolver, which I still enjoy despite the crowds, usually has a keg or two.
The most surprising moment I had was finding Founder’s KBS at a small beer bar in Guting when I joined a writers’ meetup group. It was about $12, but I didn’t care; I bought one to go and saved it for a while in my fridge. Then I noticed my local beer bar NEN had a few bottles of it for a little less than $10. I bought three. I still have one in the fridge.
For those who don’t know Founder’s KBS (I’m shocked, shocked!), it is my favorite beer. I doubt anything will knock it from its top spot on my list.
I’ve been a fan of Stone Brewing for a long time. My friend might disagree as he doesn’t like IPAs and that’s most of what they used to brew. But I’ve always enjoyed their IPAs.
In addition to the IPAs and a few lighter brews from the company, my local shop carried last year’s Xocoveza. This is Stone’s winter/holiday beer that is supposed to be their take on Mexican hot chocolate; it’s full of chocolate and spices, including coffee, peppers, nutmeg, and a load of other stuff. This is a delicious beer to enjoy, and I bought a few bottles after trying it for the first time. When I visited home for my birthday I had it again on tap. This beer is so good, Beer Advocate gave it 100 points.
Ballast Point Brewing
Another favorite brewery from the US came for a long visit and they brought one of my top 5 beers. Ballast Point Victory at Sea is a rich, smoky vanilla porter that begs to be sipped. I didn’t care that it was brutally hot and humid in Taipei, this beer needs to warm up a bit to fully enjoy the flavor.
For the first time I got to try what all my friends had been talking about back home with Ballast Point’s flavored Sculpin IPA. Almost the whole variety was imported, but I was only interested in trying the grapefruit and habanero varieties. Grapefruit and IPA usually goes well, and a brewery as good as Ballast Point hit the mark with this one.
The habanero Sculpin was a different experience. It took me a few sips to decide I like it. The spiciness sneaks up on you and builds in the back of the throat. This is not a beer for everyone. I offered a few people a sip and they thought I was crazy for ordering it. But when I complain that there isn’t enough spicy food in Taiwan, this beer is one way to get my fix.
Moonzen from Hong Kong
I didn’t get to try this beer when I visited Hong Kong, but my friends told me about it — they said it was their favorite of the new breweries. My little local place did it again and brought in the brewery’s full line up. Unfortunately, at NT$250 ($8.25), I don’t really want to buy much of it when there are other, less expensive good beers.
I must admit, however, that the Yama Sichuan Porter is an impressive beer. This is a smoky porter brewed with Sichuan peppercorns — huajiao. The Sichuan peppercorns add a flowery aroma, hence the Chinese name “flower pepper,” and can numb the mouth when used for cooking. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t numb my mouth, but it had a bit of the aromatic peppery flavor to go with a solid porter.
This is not a beer I’d drink often, but it’s definitely worthwhile at the right price. RateBeer gave Yama Sichuan Porter a 93.
Mikkeller and To Øl
Taiwan likes its European brews, but it still mostly has the Belgian beers. Mikkeller opened up its own bar on the southern corner of Dihua Street in the historic Dadaocheng neighborhood. It’s a cool place and they have a few only-available-in-Taiwan beers, but it’s a little out of the way for me, plus it’s a bit pricey.
Mikkeller in bottles is still widely available in Taipei — at some bars and a lot more restaurants. If I can’t decide what to get, I usually pick up a bottle because they have so much variety. I’ve only had the same one more than once because I forgot which I’ve had (ok, their Kaffestout I’ve had a few times because it’s excellent). I would have the Chipotle Porter again if I could find it again.
To Øl is a regular collaborator with Mikkeller and some of their beers have now made their way to this island. One of the first I tried here was the Sur Amarillo because I was told it was sour. I would have to say, wow, yeah that’s really sour. It’s not like those Belgian sour ales I was used to drinking at Rabbit Club in Manhattan; this was a powerful, lip-puckering sour flavor. This isn’t a bad thing, though. But I wish I had been prepared for that.
There were others that were good but not as memorable. I mostly choose these beers because of the funky label or amusing name, like You Shall Nut Pass stout or Dangerously Close to Stupid double IPA. And then there was the Belgian-style pale ale called Fuck Art – This is Architecture. As a former art student, I could not pass up this beer. It was a lighter pale ale, but it hit the spot when I needed it.
There are plenty more imported beers around Taiwan, and plenty continue to roll in. I can’t keep up. It’s fun to try all these new brews, but the price of a good beer makes it a luxury here. I’ve started to drink whiskey more often instead as I can go to my local liquor store and get a decent bottle of scotch for about $20.