“The best beer is where priests go to drink. For a quart of Ale is a dish for a king.”
— William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
It’s been a while since I wrote about the Taiwan craft beer scene. My first time here I only found one craft brewery — North Taiwan Brewing — and bars filled with imports from Belgium. The second time around I began finding new Taiwan craft beers as well as a lot more imports. During that second stay I also managed to write a short article for Scoot’s inflight magazine about a few of the craft beers — unfortunately, they didn’t give me a byline so it looks like my interview subject is the author of the piece.
Since my last update on the beer scene in Taipei, the craft brewers have multiplied and refined their recipes.
As I learned from my interview for my article, most of the brewers in Taiwan shared space and contract brewed and bottled, which led to a lot of inconsistency. It explained why I would occasionally get a bottle that tasted awful. Now, most of those same brewers have their own brewing and bottling operations to improve consistency. Of course, this has also increased prices — the local beer is generally about the same price (NT$150-250) as some of the really good imported beers we’ve been getting (recent imports have included Ballast Point and Stone), and that is definitely expensive compared to the cost of living.
I found most of the new beers at local bars that have begun stocking them — my new favorite is Way Home, which is a quiet place about a 25-minute walk from my office (though it isn’t open when I get off work at 3:30). There were even more beers at the Taipei Wine & Food expo, though my taste buds were a bit dulled from all the tastings. I did, however, recall trying Pisirian from Hobrew because it was truly unusual. It sets out to be unique with its traditional Chinese herbs as brewing ingredients. This beer tastes like the smell that wafts from a Chinese medicinal tea shop. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend drinking more than one of these occasionally, but it certainly is worth trying (maybe there are health benefits to it as well).
The more popular microbrews around Taipei are the ones mostly run by American expats–Redpoint, 23 Brewing, and 886 Brewing.
All three have run into consistency problems that seem to have been addressed over the last six months or so. Redpoint’s 台PA used to have an overpowering hops flavor, but the brewer dialed it back to attract more Taiwanese drinkers. 23 Brewing experimented with hoppiness in its beers as well — the pale ale is still quite sharp, but the blonde ale and IPA have mellowed out a bit. While 886 has been the more experimental brewery of the bunch, probably because of its collaborations with Evil Twin, it has had to adjust its recipes as well. It’s brown ale is much better than it used to be.
My only complaint about 886 Brewing is that it’s not as widely available as other craft beer in Taiwan. The brewers also run Beer & Cheese, which is the only bar in Taipei in which I’ve seen their beer. It’s also a rather expensive bar with pints costing NT$250 or more — I can buy a very good beer in Manhattan for less (Blind Tiger comes to mind, especially during happy hour).
But when it comes to high-end Taiwan craft beer, Beer & Cheese isn’t even the most expensive bar. I recently came across ZhangMen Craft Beer Bar in Dongmen. This quaint bar that doesn’t look much different from every other newish beer bar in the so-called up-and-coming neighborhoods around the US charges NT$150-200 for less than half a pint of its own beer. While the rye IPL that I ordered was quite good, it was not worth NT$170. I certainly wasn’t going to shell out NT$320 for a full pint.
At this point, 23 Brewing is my favorite Taiwanese beer. It is available at more bars around Taipei than other microbrews and the price isn’t outrageous. More importantly, they are gradually expanding their variety. I recently tried their Islander Weisse at Little London — it’s a local take on the traditional Berliner weisse style. The local aspect of the beer is that 23 Brewing uses Taiwanese citrus to give the beer a light and sweet flavor.
While the Islander Weisse is a terrific attempt at playing to local tastes, I still think 55th Street Brewing’s longan amber is the height of localization. It’s not quite my taste, especially if I want to drink more than one, as the dried longan used in the brewing makes the beer just a little too sweet for me. Meanwhile, Taiwan Ale Brewery introduced a coffee amber that’s brewed with longan — the bitterness of the coffee evens out the longan flavor. Of course, the Taiwan Ale beers are more difficult to find, though they appear to be expanding.
On the branding side of Taiwan craft beer, companies still haven’t done much.
I’ve asked people at bars if they like Taiwanese beer, and they respond that they don’t despite drinking one of the local craft beers. A lot of people still don’t associate the local craft beers with Taiwan. Also, most of the beer companies have yet to embrace a more Taiwanese identity, like Jim & Dad’s brewery — it sounds like an organic fruit juice company, but the beer is pretty good. And then there’s Gentlemen’s Ale, which wins the award for most generic branding. The exception to this is Sambar, which is named after the local deer. Their beers also rank as some of the best in Taiwan, though the selection is limited.
There are plenty more beers to enjoy in Taiwan, but not all are worth mentioning. As more breweries and craft beers become available, I’ll most likely need to draft another Taiwan craft beer update.