The Scoop on Taiwan's New Microbrews

By Jacques van Wersch Translated by Crystal Kuo

      Beer was one of the first alcoholic beverages made in Asia, but those ancient brews hardly resembled the modern drink. Like so many aspects of modern Taiwan culture, Western-style beer was introduced to the island during the Japanese colonial period. Local beermaking began in 1920 with the establishment in Taipei of the brewery that was later to become the manufacturer of Taiwan Beer.

      Taiwan Beer reigned supreme in Taiwan for several decades, until the market was opened to imports in 1987. Since then the former government monopoly (now the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corp., TTL for short) has seen foreign brews shake up the beer-drinking scene, as Taiwanese tastes have broadened to match the wide variety of previously unavailable drinks.

      It wasn't until 2002, when Taiwan delivered on World Trade Organization commitments, that TTL had a local brewing competitor. We're not talking about huge beermakers like Budweiser or Beck's, but referring to a very small-scale brewery--a microbrewery specializing in what it calls "handcrafted" beers.

      Vina Lee of Taiwan Micro Brew Company (TMBC), the first microbrewery to be granted an operating license in Taiwan, says TMBC has a maximum brewing capacity of 45,000 liters per month; and for the near future, it expects to produce just a quarter of that. Deluxe Beer, which is based in Taipei County's Tucheng, is on a similar scale. Compare these numbers to the 35 million liters of Taiwan Beer made each month, and you'll see that "micro" is an apt prefix.

      Distribution is a major challenge for Taiwan's fledgling microbrew industry. Vina Lee says stocking fees at chain stores are simply too high. However, microbreweries are tackling this problem in a variety of ways.

      TMBC, where sales to consumers currently only account for three percent of total revenue, sells half-gallon (1900ml) jugs through special order via 7-11 convenience stores. Other companies sell their beer, either wholesale or retail, by phone. Today's Beer falls in this category. Deluxe Beer is sold retail through a membership system. To become a member, you need to place a minimum order.

      North Taiwan Brewery is the only microbrewery in Taiwan to package its beer in 330ml glass bottles, but it won't be retailing through stores for the time being, choosing instead to market its German and Belgian-style brews through various hotels and restaurants, with telephone orders (minimum one case of 24 bottles) also welcomed.

      Le Ble D'or has married two Western concepts, bringing Taipei residents off-premises microbrewed beer and an al fresco-sipping environment. Quentin Yeh, the son of brew-pub owner Michael Yeh, says all three of the pub's brews are made with authentic ingredients and brewed to local tastes. To a Western palate, the results are a little flat. Moreover, Irish patrons might object to the fact that the watery "stout" is served entirely without a head, but Yeh says Taiwanese patrons feel cheated if the liquid doesn't make it to the top of the mug.

      But if microbrewed beer is to make it in the local market, some localization is inevitable--a prime example at Le Ble D'or being fruit and beer slushes, which are prominent on the menu and a favorite with female customers. In any case, the pub's outdoor location dampens the disappointment of an imperfect brew.

      Great Reliance currently runs one restaurant/pub: Jolly Thai Food and Malty Drink in Taipei County's NeiHu, and plans to expand one outlet at a time. Manager Eddie Chang says the concept is to deliver beer from the vat to the table at each restaurant. Great Reliance is adhering strictly to the European brew-pub formula.

      Herman Lu has been researching beermaking for more than a decade, and has been a booster of microbrews since it became clear that the beer monopoly would soon be abolished.

      He has opened the Strauss City Tavern in Taipei County's Hsintien, stocking it with TMBC offerings. Since he's a self-proclaimed expert on beer in Taiwan, I asked Lu for his evaluation of local brews. He said TMBC, Deluxe Beer and Great Reliance are all serving up very good brews. He recommends the Golden Ale and Stout made by TMBC, and the Weiss bier and Munich Deluxe Beers, and he says all three of the beers made by Great Reliance are pretty good.

      The jury is still out on whether designer/microbrewed beer is in Taiwan to stay, but one thing is for sure: There are currently a number of options for people with a taste for quaffing freshly brewed beer. Why not go out and experiment? Ganbei!
Beer Contact Sales Method Comments
Taiwan Micro
Brew Company
02-8635-3648 Order through 7-11 or drink at pubs islandwide. Check their website
(www.tmbc.com.tw/path.htm) for locations, but call in advance to make sure the pub still carries the TMBC brews, i.e., Saloon does not.
Based in Kaohsiung, but ships beer throughout Taiwan.
Great Reliance 02-2632-2229 Jolly Thai Food and Malty Drink (423, JinHu Rd., Neihu) 423, JinHu Rd., Neihu
Based in Zhonghe. Plans to expand in northern Taiwan with on-premises brew pubs.
Today's Beer 02-2706-8166 Order by telephone / no pubs Based in Linkou: Mai Ching Co. plans to franchise outlets in night markets, beginning in northern Taiwan.
Le Ble D'or
Le Ble D'or 02-8712-8512 www.lebledor.com.tw
Brew pub located at 100, DunHuathe N. Rd. courtyard of AsiaWorld
Brewery in Sanchung, one brewpub in Taipei
Deluxe Beer
02-2273-6789 www.deluxebeer.com.tw
Order by telephone; or
Two restaurants sell Deluxe Beer in Taipei located at,
Based in Tucheng and sells beer throughout Taiwan.
North Taiwan Brewery 02-2299-7591 Call to inquire about locations that stock the brand. Based in Wugu and will be shipping mostly north of Hsinchu in its first phase of operations.