SOBA Member Kevin Buckley reports on the Taiwanese beer scene
In April/May 2016 I spent a week in Taiwan, with the main purpose of the trip being to look at some old junk. However I also found some craft beer, as well as a fair bit of non-craft beer.
So here’s my take on things beery in Taiwan: such as I have been able to recall and/or decipher from my handwritten scrawl.
Taipei: Jolly Craft Brewery and Restaurant
Whilst looking around for a night market to eat at in Taipei, the guide book, as well as noting the Liaoning St Night Market also pointed me to the Jolly Craft Brewery and Restaurant.
So after getting off the tube, I headed up there first.
You have to walk past the Taipei branch of Hooters to get there, which I did.
Jolly is quite a busy place, although as I wasn’t planning on eating there I ended up sitting at the bar.
From the bar it wasn’t clear to me that the beer was brewed on-site, and if so whether I could have taken a look at the set-up. My Chinese (comprising of comprises of “hello” and “thank-you”) wasn’t anywhere close to being good enough to have asked the staff.
Not only does the bar appear to have a number of half-yard glasses from which to drink its ale, but quite a few people made use of them whilst I was there. Though having said that, the ones I saw taken out all seemed to be used as a “this is a nice shape for a large serving of ale” vessel as opposed to an “I’m going to open my throat and neck a half-yard in a record time to win a second one on the house” receptacle.
Jolly cover a range of styles, although I avoided the Scotch Ale and the Stout on the grounds that I was going on to eat spicy street food. My tasting notes on the other four were as follows:
Soft and effervescent, hints of something, but not that citric.
Promised something sharp at the start but then petered out within the rest of the drink.
Once again, the Pale Ale started well, displaying the “butterscotch” of American PAs, but then that taste never made it all the way through.
The “Special Brew” didn’t resemble the Carlsberg strong lager of the same name, but turned out to be a nice example of a sour orange beer.
My “hostess” (though no, before you ask, I am not back down the street, in Hooters, now) couldn’t even tell me how strong it was. But it came across like a “Lady Marmalade” dispensed through the ‘Hopinator’ at Malthouse.
A very nice way to end the tasting and go off in search of some night market food.
Taipei: “Irene’s Bar”
Wandering around Taipei the following evening having eaten some sliced goose and a bowl of “stinky tofu,” I was looking for a place to sit down and have a beer.
I found a bar a couple of streets away from my accommodation, though I was not sure of the exact name of it at the time. Since returning home and having shown the bar’s business card to a Taiwanese native, I’ve been informed that the bar’s name translates as “Very Delicious.” Though the Chinese characters themselves actually imply “heavy eating and drinking”. Who could ask for anything more!
“Very Delicious” was run by a wonderful canned-Guinness-drinking woman called Irene. She was happy to set up a table for me out on the pavement, where I was able to try a couple of beers from the main Taiwanese brewing stable simply named ‘Taiwan Beer’.
Whilst sitting watching the world go by, I happened to notice a poster on the bar window that showed an unusual beer and food match: Guinness and spicy Asian food.
Sadly, Irene only had the one poster but I did take a snap of it so to preserve the memory, if not bothering to sample the actual taste experience depicted.
The taste experiences I did have were both the bog standard “Taiwan Beer” and its “Only-18-Days” cousin. They were both very malty lagers, however at 70 NTD (~$3 NZD) for a large bottle, it’d be hard to grumble.
The “Only-18-Days” version requires the bar owners to sell it within 18 days of it being brewed. Though as they are the same price and seemed to taste the same; either Irene’s bar gets through enough beer to ensure its standard stock is fresh, or else there’s little reason to grumble when served over the “18 days” anyway.
Despite being told by the concierge of the hotel I stayed at that Keelung didn’t have any bars (because “it isn’t that kind of city” – it’s a port for f’s sake!?), I did find what I considered to be a bar. And a very nice bar at that.
One of the main benefits of finding this “not a bar” was that I was able to try out two other beers from the Taiwan Beer stable, which I hadn’t seen on sale elsewhere. A lager called “Gold Medal” and a Weissbeer. I can’t say that I could tell what made the ‘Gold Medal’ variety worthy of such an appellation, however the Weissbeer was quite a refreshing change from the tastes of its three lager-ey stablemates.
Interestingly, this bar clearly got through enough beer to have warranted a girl going around, trying to get you to buy some Heineken instead of the local brews.
After having left what my hotel concierge probably wouldn’t have recognised as a bar even if he’d been drinking in it, I wandered back towards my accommodation and ended up having a drink at what certainly wasn’t recognisable as a bar, but was clearly recognisable as a night market street stall.
The proprietors, like Irene, seemed more than happy to accommodate someone just looking to sit down and have a beer: so I sat down and had a beer.
Whilst sitting there, watching the world go by, so impressed was I by the food being served up that I returned there the following evening, ate a whole fish and various veg, drank the clearly ubiquitous “Taiwan Beer” (the over 18 days variety), and left feeling generally merry.
The Hualien night market was a bit of a disappointment, in that it wasn’t a set of temporary stalls strung along a set of narrow bustling streets – but comprised a set of pre-fabbed units set along some rather wide, sterile boardwalks.
I nearly didn’t bother going all the way to the end of it, but ended up glad I did. As I found a stall with an amazing range of beer, both on-tap and in the fridge. Amongst others in the fridge were Thornbridge, Nøgne Ø and two or three from Tuatara. Whilst the taps had Mikkeller, Elysian and Anderson Valley.
Having nipped into the deserted market the following morning, to take some photos of the bar, I then carried on my brisk walk around the city and came across a craft shop. As in, a shop selling handicrafts – but which also had a huge range of craft beer in its downstairs! Again, my Chinese didn’t really run to an interrogation of the shopkeeper, who suddenly appeared, but perhaps a few pictures might speak a thousand words each.
From what I can tell, the craft (beer) shop is called A Zhi Bao and is located at No. 48 Zhongshan Road. Which is the main drag through the city at that point.
The main brewery represented appears to be 55th Street Craft Brewery, of New Taipei City. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time or money to buy any. Might need to go back there, then.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a beer. So, as they may say in Taiwan (and whether or not they actually do, I certainly attempted to say) – “Gambei!”
Kevin posted a more complete record of his trip over on his website.