Taiwan beer brands and local brews have a long and fascinating history. If the origin of Taiwanese beer interests you or you simply want to know what to drink when you visit the country, we’ve got it all covered.
Brief History of Beer in Taiwan
To understand the history of beer in Taiwan and Taiwan beer as a whole, you’d first need to understand some of the nation’s major turning points during the course of the 20th Century.
In 1919, the year in which the first operational brewery was constructed on Taiwanese soil, Taiwan was under Japanese control.
This was not the first time Taiwan had been under foreign rule, nor would it be the last. Since Japan’s surrender in 1945, the island has been under the control of the Republic of China after the Kuomintang was exiled there following the Chinese Civil War. Under these two regimes, beer was a monopoly product: a publicly owned business.
Under the Japanese, beer was brewed out of breweries like the famous Chinguo Brewery, the oldest on the island. The Japanese love beer, so much in fact that Chinguo was built from the same bricks as the nearby governor’s palace. Chingao’s brews were a success, and within a few years, they were being shipped back to Tokyo where they began to rival Japan’s much-loved Sapporo beer.
After 1945, Japan withdrew from the island, leaving their beer monopoly system, then called ‘Takasago’, to the ruling party, the Kuomintang. The KMT ran the system in exactly the same way, only changing the public-owned company’s name to the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Company (TTL). The beer they brewed there was labelled Taiwan beer, and it’s still immensely popular to this day!
What Is The Most Popular Beer In Taiwan?
The aforementioned Taiwan Beer is still immensely popular, holding 87% of the market. Taiwan beer produces three lagers and two malt beers, but the most popular version is an amber lager with a distinct flavour profile caused by the addition of a local rice (Formosa Rice).
Is Taiwan Beer Good?
Taiwan Beer has won international awards at both the Beer Industry International Awards as well as the Monde Selection, but it’s more than just a good beer, it’s also a symbol of national pride and resilience.
In the ongoing strained relations between the CCP and Taiwan (that have recently been making headlines again), the beer gained attention for being a product branded with a place name. The ensuing trade battle was known as the ‘Beer Wars’ and Taiwan didn’t back down.
They now own a number of major bars, tasting rooms and even a basketball team is known as the Brew Crew.
Who Owns Taiwan Beer?
The state-owned Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation still owns Taiwan beer to this day.
What Type Of Beer Is Taiwan Beer?
Taiwan beer makes the following products:
- Original (4.5%)
- Gold (5%)
- Mine (5%) (malt beer)
- Mine Dark (5%) (malt beer)
- Fruit Flavours (Mango, Pineapple, Grape, Orange) (2.8%)
- Taiwan Weissbier Draft
Is Lychee A Beer?
Soft Touch Lychee is a popular, fruit flavoured beer (3.5% abv) that’s easily found in most stores.
What Are The Best Taiwan Beers To Try (That Isn’t Taiwan Beer)?
Since Taiwan Beer still controls a whopping 87% of the market and considering that imported beers such as Heineken and Amstel are still so popular, what remains of Taiwan’s beer industry is a small yet successful collection of craft brewers.
Let’s look at a few of the best craft beers you can find in Taiwan:
Taiwan Head Brewers: ‘Grain Rain’ Taiwan Tea Ale (6%)
Let’s start out with something that would sound completely wacky to western audiences: a tea beer. Do they mean kombucha? No, they’re talking about oolong-infused Pale Ale. Not only is this drink far from unusual in Taiwan, but it’s also one of the most commonly available craft beers on the island.
Sunmai – Honey Lager (5%)
Started in 2004 by a father-son duo, Sunmai has always aimed to create brews that pair perfectly with traditional Taiwanese meals. Bright and palatable, the beer is made from 100% locally sourced honey making it the perfect lager for an afternoon in the summertime.
Alechemist – Valencia Ale (4.5)
Alechemist isn’t just a brewery, it’s a major agricultural undertaking that has successfully resurrected the art of grain growing on the island. From years of conversation and collaboration with people throughout the wheat, barley and corn industry, Alchemist brings you the Valencia Ale. The Valencia is infused with the eponymous late blooming orange found in the Hualien-Taitung region.
Jim and Dad’s – White Ale (4%)
Quirky brewing company Jim and Dad’s has a very clever little trick up their sleeve, they have access to Yilan’s beautiful mountain water. The very same water that famous distillers next door, Kavalan, use to make their famous whisky. The white ale is a bracing, full-bodied weisse-style beer that’s flavourful yet thirst-quenching.
Taiwan Ale Brewery – Waxy Rice Ale (4.5%)
Like many Taiwanese brewers, the guys at Taiwan Ale brewery look to instil some part of their national heritage in everything they do. The waxy rice ale uses no malted barley, instead they have developed a technique through which to make beer from Taiwanese waxy rice and sweet olive. The result is a surprisingly sweet reward for those brave enough to try new flavours.
What Are The Best Taiwan Beers To Pair With Taiwanese Food?
Let’s look at 3 traditional Taiwanese meals and see which beer pairings work best with them.
Beef Noodle Soup
Slow-cooked beef with noodles in one of Taiwan’s quintessential dishes. The flavour base is formed from spices such as cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, clove and fennel seeds and garnished with pickled mustard leafy greens.
This spicey, warm, rich meal pairs perfectly with the original Taiwan Beer Lager – a beer which is known to compliment rich and spicy foods whilst cutting through the grease of the meal.
Zong zi are sticky rice dumplings wrapped in an edible leaf. They come with a variety of fillings so it’s up to you to decide which beer you’re going to have with which dumpling.
If you’re going for a lighter shrimp and chestnut version, you could go for a weisse-style beer like Jim and Dad’s White Ale.
If you’re having a plate of pork and mushroom zong zi, you’d probably be better off with a summer ale like the one from Sunmai.
If you’re in one of Taipei’s bustling side streets at 3am, you’ll find yourself surrounded by street food vendors still dishing out these delicious savoury snacks at every corner. They come with a variety of fillings including egg, basil, beef, corn, ham and more.
Street food goes well with a lighter beer, so maybe see if you can find yourself a ‘Grain Rain’ Tea Ale to wash it down.
How To Order A Beer In Taiwan In Mandarin
Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in Taiwan and their de facto national language. If you want to order a beer in Mandarin, you’d be best to look up a YouTube video (mandarin is a tonal language) but the anglicised version is as follows:
“Wǒ yào yībēi píjiǔ”
We’ll drink to that!