This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Country #33: Taiwan

Beer: Taiwan Beer Draft

Brewery: Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, Taipei, Taiwan

ABV: 5.0%

Taiwan Beer Draft with actual Taiwan in the background. P.S., that is a regular pint glass. The bottle was about two feet tall.*
I recently returned from a trip to Taiwan. In addition to getting to see and experience a new country and culture for the first time, I also went to visit my insanely gregarious Taiwanese friend Ray, who showed me around his country, made sure I ate all the best food, and gave me a place to stay. In addition to good food, Ray is also a connoisseur of "lame jokes." One of his favorites:

Q: What kind of bee produces milk? A: A boobie.

So, when he told me several years ago that for a long time there was exactly one beer available in his country, called Taiwan Beer, I thought he was pulling my leg. Taiwan has a population similar to Australia (both about 23 million people). Imagine if Foster’s was the only beer in Australia and it was called Australia Beer. The commercials would have been surreal: “Australia Beer: Australian for Beer.” 

And no, "Taiwan Beer" is not some bastardized English translation. The characters on the label, and on this bottle cap, literally translate to "Taiwan" (the two characters on the left) "Beer" (or pijiu, the two characters on the right). Don't believe me: lookie here.
But he wasn't joking. Going into the 21st century, Taiwan Beer was the only beer available in Taiwan. It was, and still is, brewed by something called the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation (TTL), which was about as socialist as the name sounds. If you thought that the mainland Chinese were just a bunch of commies, you’d be surprised to learn that Taiwan, with its relative freedom, still leaned way to the left for many decades.

No longer in possession of a national monopoly on beer, Taiwan Beer is forced to compete with Busch, which goes remarkably well with whole grilled squid on a stick. It's not called Busch in Taiwan though, it's called Snowy Mountain Beer. Really.
Since 2002, when Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization, its beer selection has gotten a bit better, and in the last year or so highly regarded American craft beers from breweries like Rogue and Sierra Nevada have started to show up on Taiwanese shelves. But the Taiwanese keep drinking Taiwan Beer, which (in its various styles) enjoys about an 80% market share in the Republic of China. It’s not like they have to advertise the stuff—I didn’t see a single ad for it anywhere in the country. Hell, it’s named after the country! There is a professional basketball team named after the beer though, and they engage in titanic matchups like this one:

From the Taipei Times. Liquor before beer, in the clear! Also: yes, that is former Duke and Villanova jerk Taylor King, ball-hogging it for the last place team in Taiwan, where he is four feet taller than everyone.
Taiwan Beer is supposedly brewed with a special, local variety of rice, which gives it its “distinctive flavor,” but I think the Taiwanese are really just exercising local pride here, as the stuff is not bad, but also not particularly interesting. Besides, the Taiwanese get their fill of interesting flavors from a variety of things that aren’t beer, so I guess it’s not a big deal if the beer is kind of boring. 

From top left: 1) Home cooked meal courtesy of Ray's lovely mom, consisting of tender stewed beef, marinated boiled eggs, broad rice noodles, fried rice, and finger sandwiches with crispy fried tofu and crispy pork belly, followed by sweet rice cake for desert. Not pictured are the dumplings that got snuck onto the table after I took the picture. 2) Century egg, reeking pleasantly of ammonia, plus more beer. 3) Grilled and fried squid balls on a stick. 4) Duck noodle soup with all kinds of duck meat and duck organs. The stinky tofu (not pictured) was also, um, interesting.
In addition to the regular Taiwan Beer, there is also Taiwan Gold Medal Beer, which is a bit sweeter and somehow won an award that one time; Taiwan Beer Pineapple and Taiwan Beer Mango, which are even sweeter, obviously, and every bit as gross as you think they are; and Taiwan Beer Draft, which I recall being the best of the lot. I won’t lie to you: I don’t really remember exactly how it was different from the others, and I don’t understand what the “draft” implies, unless it means they’re actually pouring the stuff from a keg right into the bottle.  I just remember liking it more. 

*Not actually true.

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