i am an unabashed fan of all things east asia, but for years it’s been tough to find anything beyond a 3% lager anywhere on that side of the world. don’t get me wrong, i’ve drunk my share of chinese beer, and most of it is pretty decent, for what it is (which is 3% lager, generally drunk at a tepid outside temperature). one thing that’s always impressed me about china is the plethora of breweries – one for each region, province or town. you’ll rarely drink many “national” beers in china (although tsingtao is ubiquitous).
i recently had the privilege of visiting taiwan and was surprised to find a burgeoning craft beer scene in the capital city, taipei. for decades, the country has been dominated by the single national brew – taiwan beer – but in 2002, the ROC government abolished its monopoly on alcohol products, opening the way for craft brewers to take up the cause.
the brainchild of a trained chef and certified brewer, jolly brewery+restaurant had probably the most exciting of the craft beers i sampled in taiwan. styled on a modern american microbrewery (though their beers are actually brewed offsite), jolly is experimenting with a range of yankee-style craft beers and also serves thai food in a very modern microbrewery setting. they have three locations around taipei, including the one i visited on hengyang road not far from the main railway station.
i sampled all six of the brews jolly had going, including their five regular beers (pilsner, pale ale, stout, scotch ale and weizen) and one special brew (american dark wheat ale). far and away, the best of the lot was their fresh pale ale, which wasn’t overly hoppy but had a nice malty flavour. the pilsner wasn’t too bad either, but the others were fairly unbalanced, erring either too sweet or, in the case of the dark wheat, too sour.
unsurprisingly, these beers couldn’t compete with what’s brewing in the states and the UK at the moment, but they showed massive potential and it is truly exciting to see the love of craft beer taking off.
le blé d’or
the first microbrewery to be established in taiwan, le blé d’or was founded just after the end of the alcohol monopoly, using all imported equipment. where jolly takes a decidedly north american view of beer, le blé d’or brews mostly german-style beers. and where jolly’s bars feel like slick microbreweries, le blé d’or feels much more established and, i daresay, chainy. but…the beer was good.
i sampled three brews: the honey lager (their house specialty), dunkel and a seasonal beer that turned out to be made with red dates. all three were quite passable, though the dunkel and seasonal were the two best. i found the red date beer to be quite surprising: it had a nice bitter hop finish and a hint of fruit going down, and there was nothing stodgy about it despite how it sounds.
sadly, the atmosphere kind of drowned out any reality of the beer’s flavour: it was loud, large, packed and featuring some truly terrible live “band” playing dated western covers. there are several locations around taiwan – i visited the one on chengde road in taipei (inside Q square), but have heard other locations may be more tasteful.
other beers in taiwan
i sampled a few other beers in taiwan, including the national taiwan beer – a middling lager that can’t compete with the fresh german-influenced chinese lagers or heavy, malty japanese brews. still, it went some ways to washing down the salty street food snacks that are so ubiquitous in taiwan and was refreshing enough on a warm evening.
i also sampled kirin bar beer (that’s its name), which i’d not heard of nor seen before. it was not good and received horrendous reviews on beer sites around google. it was quite pissy in colour and flavour and had a sharp zing at the end that could beat out my favourite descriptor for heineken: “piss with daggers”. not recommended, at all.