Premium Beers

   By Courtney Donovan Smith Translated by Tony Li

That there are quality, regional and style differences is well known to drinkers of wine, whisky and brandy (cognac). That this is equally true of beer is not so widely known. For the most part, beers in Taiwan have been differentiated by labelling imported beers as "premium" and the unspoken understanding that local or Chinese beers are "common." But in truth, all are common lager beers. Until recently, what few exceptions to the lager-only hegemony on the Taiwan market have tended to be the lowest quality and the cheapest to import. Happily, this is changing with the recent appearance of some decent German draught beers, British bitters, and microbrewed beers from the United States.

This month's Shopping Products are both British bitter ales. The UK is perhaps the only country in the world where lagers do not dominate, and the quintessential British ale is the bitter. Generally copper-coloured, bitters are strikingly flavourful; each brand has its own unique style.

Old Speckled Hen, a pun on a nickname for an old automobile, is the number one seller in the premium bottled beer market in the UK. Large bottles, cans and, in a few select outlets, draft are now available in Taiwan. While all agree that the draft version is best, there is some debate on the relative merits of the can versus the bottle. Personally, I stand by the can--the carbonation more closely resembles draft to my taste, and produces a frothy, creamy head. Old Speckled Hen has a distinctive, unique flavour.

Another entry into the local bitter market is Abbot Ale. Smoother and less strongly flavored than Old Speckled Hen, Abbot Ale is the perfect "starter" ale for first-time bitter drinkers. Like Hen, it produces a fine head, and the draft version (available in select outlets only) is phenomenal. Personally, where both beers are available, I like to alternate between one and the other to contrast and savor the flavors of each. Cheers!

Importer: Gowest Enterprises (04) 2471-2965

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