Most beers with a long history originate from a story of an individual, a family.
Taiwan Beer is a story of a nation, a people. Its success is not marked by the changes of brewmasters or marketing strategy, but rather evolved with the struggle of the place, its identity, and the people’s strong connection with it.
In 1919, during the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945), the first beer brewery in Taiwan was set up in Taipei by a Japanese company. Now at the heart of Taipei, it was once surrounded by miles of rice fields that stretched to the Yangming Mountains. The brewery imported cobble tanks and other equipment from Germany, and produced a unique pilsner style beer that would intrigue locals’ unexplored palates for beers.
Taiwan was restored to Taiwanese people from Japan in 1945, and the brewery was taken over by the government. Appropriately, the brand was changed from Takasago Beer to Taiwan Beer, and began a steady domestic growth, eventually expanding into the international market. In the U.S. market in 80s, Taiwan Beer was once labeled as “China Beer”, a result of the pressure from mainland China – one of the numerous examples of Taiwan negotiating just what name it could be called.
After the Government’s Monopoly Bureau passed into history in 2002, the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation took over the famed brewery’s operations. With over 100 beer brands in the Taiwanese market today, 85% of domestic consumption is still of Taiwan Beer.
Rice is to Taiwanese as bread is to westerners. It’s the main grain they eat, and is as varied in quality as any other grain. To cultivate high quality rice grains with abundant nuances that make three happy meals a day, has been a focus of Taiwanese agriculture for the past century. And they are proud of their rice. It is this embrace of rice as a high quality staple of everyday life rather than as a cheap adjunct which distinguishes Taiwan Beer from European and American style pilsners. It’s also the reason why it pairs better with most rice, noodle and fish dishes than its American and European cousins. The recipe for the classic Taiwan Beer calls for the heavenly Ponlai rice, which provides its unique balance of the crisp pilsner tradition with the almost rounded, more floral characteristics found in some sakes.
This September I took a tour of the original brewery in Taipei which has been protected by the government for its historical architecture and continues to produce a small amount of beer today. In this humble facility, the cosmopolitan mixture of the Japanese colonial, the respect for European traditional ingredients and techniques combine with the Taiwanese brewing team’s ongoing devotion to what has become a national treasure. Growing up in Taiwan, we all recall the many nights of drinking Taiwan Beer at seafood stalls on the sidewalk, with BBQ on Moon Festival, chatting with friends until sunrise. That flavor and pride contributed to what had happened on all those occasions. To this day, now living in NYC amongst the exploding craft brew movement, when it comes to blind tasting on beers, it’s that subtle balanced smoothness and distinct fragrance that remains unforgettable: “..this one is made in Taiwan.”
– By Ming Chan
ABOUT THE BEER
Abv: 4.5% Abv
Made with finely chosen imported malt and hop and top quality locally exclusive Ponlai rice. They are mixed to the best ratio and brewed with bottom fermentation yeast in low temperature
International Monde Selection
Brewing Industry International Awards
Food pairings: noodle or rice dishes, pork bun, dumpling, sushi