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The horror that is Taiwan Beer

The photograph above is the second half of my Father's Day present, a Belgian golden ale called "Biere du Bouranier" ("Buccaneer Beer" in English, or ビール ドウ ブカニエ in Japanese, according to the label). With an alcohol content of 11%, it certainly has a bite, but the taste is pleasing, and not overpowering. My wife purchased the bottle from a liquor store in Taichung (Taichū) 台中 that mainly deals in imported wine, but occasionally has specials on foreign beers as well. Enjoying what's left of my gift has started me ruminating on the sad state of beer, and the effect that has on beer lovers, in Taiwan...

With the exception of a few establishments in Taipei (Taihoku) 台北 and Taichung (that I'm aware of, anyway), the microbrewery 地ビール industry in Taiwan is almost non-existent. Specialty supermarkets like Market Place by Jasons and Capita'n do carry a few pricey imports, but for the most part, the selection available island-wide in convenience stores and supermarkets is limited, and thus pathetic. There are decent brews such as the major Japanese brands (Asahi アサヒ, Kirin 麒麟, and Sapporo サッポロ), and Tsingtao 青島 from China, to go along with Busch, Corona コロナ, Miller ミラー and every Taiwanese drinker's idea of a sophisticated import, Heineken. But towering over them all is the local mistake, the imaginatively named, and boringly packaged, Taiwan Beer:


Just how bad is Taiwan Beer? If you like Coors クアーズ or Budweiser バドワイザー, you'll enjoy a smooth, frothy mug of Taiwan Pijiu. How weak is it? My wife can drink a couple of tall cans (through a straw!) in a single setting without any noticeable effect (though lately she's been shunning the local product in favor of Asahi). If you're after a beer that is both cheap and tasteless, just head down to your nearest コンビニ or スーパー, and you won't have any trouble satisfying your desires.

Considering the fact that the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation held a monopoly on the Taiwanese beer market until 2002 (when Taiwan entered the World Trade Organization 世界貿易機関), it's understandable why most Taiwanese drinkers appear to be satisfied with A-mei's 阿妹 favorite brew. What is harder to fathom, however, are those Westerners who claim to enjoy Taiwan Beer. No doubt some just don't know much about beer, in the same way as there are people whose CD collections consist almost entirely of Top 40 artists, yet they still say they love "music". But what I can't understand is what drives those who wouldn't dream of drinking Bud or Molson モルソン back in their home countries, yet are proud to be seen with a glass, bottle or can of Taiwan Beer in their hands here. I put it down to one of two reasons: 1.) Either they have been here too long, and have forgotten what a pleasure it is to enjoy a well-made craft beer; or 2.) they force themselves to down the Formosan urine in order to fool themselves into thinking that by doing so, they have fully acclimatized to the local culture. If that's the case, why stop with Taiwan Beer? Why not go all the way, and smoke Long Life cigarettes, chew betel nuts ビンロウ, listen to Shining 3 Girl (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2003/06/15/2003055392/print) CD's and get a stenciled tattoo of a Taoist god to cover their backsides? Only then will they have truly embraced Taiwanese culture! 乾杯!

Now that I've finished my Buccaneer, it's time to stop ranting. I'll leave you with a couple of pictures taken in Fengyuan (Hōgen) 豊原 this afternoon on my home from work:

An art deco-style アール・デコ bridge that I was told dates from the 1930's, and beyond it, an old Japanese-era building that has recently been converted into a Western-style restaurant.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
Too be honest, Kaminoge, I think you have an aversion to so many things Taiwanese, I am starting to draw the inescapable conclusion that you have been living in Fengyuan too long, and that you perversely just want to live in that same city you hate.

Just tea for me, this evening, so far, I'm afraid, but if you offered me Taiwan beer, I wouldn't recoil. Why? Honestly, you make too much of the supposed drawbacks of Taiwan beer. It is about the same, really, as Molson Canadian, and it is slightly better than Budweiser. It is about the same quality as Miller, I think.

Have you tried Tiger Beer (from Singapore, served at a bar which a lot of foreigners here go to to dance, etc.). It is tasty, sweet, and goes down easily. Of course, there are a heck of a lot of beers out there that are pure poison (Toreader, and Colt 45, a malt liquor beer, come to mind), that have high alcohol content, so alcohol content is no indication! Not that I am suggesting you imply that, but it's a thought.

Taiwan Beer is not that bad. C'mon, man, just face it. You just like to complain about Taiwan.

While I agree that politics here (the latest clampdown on civil liberties, particularly the discouragement of academics, or even researchers, to express political opinions, be it by wearing a Che shirt, a Chen shirt, let alone a Ma Sucks shirt - the latter particularly ironic in light of still-to-be fully reported on rumours of Ma's homosexual love affair with an ICRT radio host), pretty much every post you write is full of complaints about how bad Taiwan food is. I agree that good food is hard to find in Fengyuan, even in the big supermarkets. But look elsewhere, or try the different sorts of Chinese or Taiwanese foods that are not at the usual touristy spots, yet are still somewhat popular amongst the people in various neighbourhoods around Taiwan, and you might not be disappointed. Just think how much more difficult to find something for my particular palette, since I am vegetarian. Yet Sharon and I occasionally go to East Hsinchu, in the University district (almost every neighbourhood is a University district in Hisnchu with at least five, if not more universities!) to savour the excellent noodle soup (cooked just right!, and with just the right amount of spices and herbs!), along with a delicious plate of stinky-but-not-too-stinky tofu! Mmm, mmm, my mouth is watering already.
So often, you complain about how bad Taiwan is. Try to be more positive! Not fake, of course, but let's face it, while originally, a place might have chosen you, for various reasons, we have to choose the place for it's amazing qualities. But maybe you have to find the right city. In that case, though, I guarantee you, you would hate Taipei: too many crowds at the interesting nature spots (Yangmingshan, ugh, yikes! Beautiful, but the people. No more charm, as far as I am concerned!). Taipei as convenient? Are you joking? The streets are more squarish, perhaps, than the streets in Taichung county, but if you want to go anywhere, things are just as convoluted, with the addition of extended distances, and overly busy people, whom if you ask them directions, will not want to respond. Yes, there are a lot of friendly people in Taipei, but it ain't Chiayi, Kaohsiung, or even Taichung or Hsinchu, all of which contain more amicable and warmer people who look up from their walking or waiting for the traffic lights - even if the level of English speaking in Taichung is pitiful.
Jun. 27th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Beer, Part 2...
Anyway, it is up to everybody who lives here in Taiwan, including us foreigners, to do our small part to make the country a better place, whether it is just by enjoying ourselves and being as friendly as we can to the people here, or by trying great ventures like opening a store, be it a bar, a café, or a sandwich shop. I am starting to see the great things about the city I live in. Hopefully, you can still be convinced, and you won't just stick to your view, until you're 102, that you could only be happy living in Seattle or Fukuoka, and that nothing in Taiwan could surpass Japan. Quite honestly, Kaminoge, my mouth drops when you imply such things! I find such places as the "clean" parts of Vancouver (which is like Seattle, way too sanitized, expensive, and just built for mindless rich people who have done nothing for the advancement of culture, East or West. As for Japan, there are too many rules. While I would love visiting there (even for two or three months) it is inconceivable as a place to live for most Westerners of my age. LIke Taipei, it has way too many rules, which don't necessarily make the streets safer or everyone more comfortable. The West, as it is currently (in both Europe and North America) have taken to the same strategy in the past ten years or so, of trying to change society and people's behaviours in it top-down, and clamping down on individuality. You can't even choose the colour of your own living room curtains in your own condo anymore. This really cheeses me off.

One place is pretty much the same as everywhere else, in my opinion, as long as it is not completely repulsive to me. This is a more healthy view, for the long term, and ultimately, that will help one's short term survival, too. Of course, there are many places where a foreigner like you and I won't be able to even dream in a long, long while of tasting, looking at, experiencing, and communing with various cultural aspects. Many places are like this. I agree that where you are living is probably not ideal. But that is not Taiwan with a Capital T.

P.S. I really enjoyed the photographs taken from your Fukuoka trip, by the way! I hope you get to travel more!
Jun. 27th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Beer, Part 2...
Sorry, Part 2, Anonymous is me. Livejournal or Blogger didn't recognize the cookies for the second message.
Jun. 27th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Beer, Part 2...
"There are too many rules in Japan"

I've heard this from other Westerners in Taiwan, and always from people who had spent at most only a handful of days in the country. Where does that ridiculous canard come from? I lived there for years, and never felt that way at all. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that is true. If I had moved to Taiwan in my younger days, and had not spent any significant amount of time in any other Asian country before doing so, I would probably love it here too. The freedom, the girls, the easy lifestyle, the breaking of traffic laws with impunity and so on. But I'm in my mid-40's, I have a child, and I worry about her health and safety when it comes to things like the environment, traffic and so forth. Maybe I'm just old, but I'm learning to appreciate the civility that comes out of having "rules", and where I don't need to worry about the speeding scooter rider tearing through the streets of a school zone filled with kids, and barely missing mine, as happened Saturday evening as we were leaving an event sponsored by my daughter's day care center.

But I guess I'm just complaining again.

BTW, if you were to offer me a Taiwan Beer, I'd drink it. Crappy beer is better than no beer. Just don't ask me to extol the virtues of Formosa's "world famous" brew. And if you look on Facebook, it seems like I may have offended some long-term residents. I guess I should hold off on those posts I've been meaning to write ridiculing Compass Magazine and ICRT!
Jun. 27th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Beer
Of course I have an aversion to many things Taiwanese! It isn't a secret that I've been hiding all these years. I think either you missed my points, or I didn't explain them clearly enough. Simply put, it's my humble opinion that Taiwan is not a great country for beer lovers, which is reflected in both the lack of available quality beers, and the poor taste of the local brand. My second point is that I was taking a little bit of the piss out of those local Western residents who think that by drinking TB, they are somehow "fitting in". I ran into this phenomenon in Japan as well, and it involves a lot more than just beer (food, language, music, TV shows - the list goes on an on).

I think what triggered this particular post was the reaction made by a Canadian co-worker in Fengyuan who is also a long-time resident of central Taiwan (and whose social life is based around what Compass Magazine tells him to do each month). I was telling him about my Father's Day gifts, and of how poor Taiwan Beer was in comparison, and he told me how much he loved the stuff. When I remarked that it tasted like too much like Budweiser, he turned around and conceded my point. Which then got me to thinkin'...

As for food, a more erudite blogger than myself once wrote a great post on what it's like to be the heretic who doesn't accept the Conventional Wisdom on the wonders of Chinese/Taiwanese cuisine. Burn me at the BBQ stake and serve me up at the night market, but I've eaten up and down Taiwan, and while I've enjoyed a number of dishes (and my wife is a great cook!), when I'm asked what I would like to have to eat, after all these years I'm still at a loss for an answer. In short, nothing has wowed me yet. My mind, and palate, are open on this issue, however.

Finally, I don't know why I have to keep repeating myself on this point, but I'll say it again...Taipei does not "wow" me (let alone be intimidating). I have experienced life in other Asian mega-cities, especially Tokyo, and I find Taipei to be comparatively quiet, easy to navigate and, get ready for it...not especially crowded. And some of the worst Chinese meals I've had in Taiwan have been in...Taipei, though it's probably my own fault for choosing to eat cheaply. You get what you pay for, after all.
Jun. 29th, 2009 05:12 am (UTC)
I'm a fan of nearly all decent beers. I'd say Taiwan beer is good, especially in the bottle; the Gold Medal is sweet, which wins it many more votes among most people both foreign and domestic here. I also like the Strong Red and Strong Black products which have just come out, though the Mine malt beer isn't my favorite.
Jun. 29th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
To each his (or her) own. As for me, Taiwan Beer will always be the suds of last resort. To all the TB (interesting initials) lovers out there, I say...

This Bud's for you!
Jul. 2nd, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
i've never lived in Taipei, never heard of Compass Magazine, had a single on top 40 radio, and i do like the Gold Label Taiwan beer, but i can only drink one bottle and then i've had enough. once i went drinking with a Taiwanese friend and we had quite a few bottles of the original Taiwan Beer. i felt ill for days. there is some unknown (to me, anyway) element in the beer because i've never felt that way from drinking beer before, ever. btw, i used to really like Molson Brador. i also enjoy Japanese beer and whisky very much.

MJ Klein
Jul. 3rd, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
MJ, I think you've provided the best reason so far for avoiding Taiwan Beer!

What was the name of your Top 40 single?
Jul. 2nd, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Taiwan Beer isn't all the same
Every time I drink Heineken I get a headache. It doesn't taste good, but it feels even worse than it tastes. For me, that's the worst beer in Taiwan, and I have no clue why Taiwanese (or Americans) like it.

The regular Taiwan Beer in a can can be pretty bad. Gold Medal is a big upgrade from that, but it's not a craft beer--it's for a general audience and for having a decent shelf-life. The best Taiwan Beer (and it really is decent) is draft Taiwan Beer fresh. So you need to be real clear what you're drinking when it comes to Taiwan Beer.

There's a craft beer from a local microbrewery you might like if you haven't tried it yet. It's called North Taiwan Beer (Beitaiwan Pijiu). It's kind of like a cult hit, and you can only get it in certain restaurants or if you order in bulk directly from the brewery. I personally liked it a lot.
Jul. 3rd, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
Re: Taiwan Beer isn't all the same
I've never thought it about before, but actually there isn't much difference in taste between Heineken and Taiwan Beer. That could explain its popularity here.

I've tried Taiwan Beer in all its various guises, and it always seems to me to be the same product in different packaging. I agree that draft is the best, but that's true in general for virtually every beer.

Thanks for the head-up about North Taiwan Beer - I'll keep an eye out for it. Craft beer is slowly crawling out of the woodwork in Taiwan (or should that be ferro-concrete, or corrugated metal?). Considering the fact that Taiwan Beer enjoyed a monopoly for decades on the beer market, it's going to take a while for microbreweries to overcome the damage done to local palates (my wife, for example, finds most of the beers I like to drink to be "too strong").
Jul. 3rd, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
Great conversation here.
The tall green glass bottle of Taiwan beer is pretty good. A six pack of Taiwan Beer for what 166NT - it has to be ice cold.

But I am still a solid Asahi man.

Jul. 3rd, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Beer
I rarely drank it when I lived in Japan, but Taiwan Beer has driven me into the warm embrace of Asahi Super Dry!

Funny that you mention ice cold - my first experience with Taiwan Beer was at a tea house in Taichung. It was served at room temperature, along with a glass full of ice cubes! That might explain why I'm not a fan of the stuff!

Jul. 6th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
reading this is very sad, KAMINOHE is tragic figure
Mr Kami,
reading your blog post for the first time, about TB, is sad. You are someone who seems to just compare compare compare Taiwan with some mythical paradise you call Japan, which in fact does not exist, but because you lived there before you came to Taiwan, you seem to dislike your life here, hate your life here, so why don't you go back to your precious Japan and drink your world famous beers there? Sir, life is not about what beers you drink? It is about human relations, day to day human interactions. If you are not happy in Taiwan, that's okay, find a place where you can be happy. But please stop whining and oomplaining here. You say you are 45 year old bloke? You seem more like immature 20 year old kid. Go back to your home country if you don't like it here, sir. I have never been to Japan and I am sure it is a nice country, why don't you go back there then? Since Taiwan sucks so much, why did you come here anyways? And if you raise your little daughter with your mindset that Taiwan sucks, why kind of father will you be? She will grow up to hate Taiwan, too, and that is sad. You should be setting an example, not hindering her. Blokes like you make me sick, although I am sure you are a nice guy beneath it all. Wake up and smell the flowers, mate. Or come live in Oz, we enjoy life here to the max. BEER? You actually rate a country around beer? You are a pathetic sad ugly american, even if you are canadian or UKish. Ugh. SHUT UP, mate. ever hear of that? just keep quiet. if ya aint got nottin good to say about Taiwan, shut the eff up. You worry about beer? omigod!
Jul. 6th, 2009 08:34 am (UTC)
Re: reading this is very sad, KAMINOHE is tragic figure
You don't have to call me "god", really (Kami=神)! And it's "Kaminoge" with a "g".

I may seem like an immature 20 year-old, but who is the one leaving abusive, anonymous comments on another person's blog, especially ones riddled with grammar, punctuation and spelling errors? Not exactly a sign of a mature, thoughtful person. For someone who states that life is about "human relations", why would you go to the time and trouble of leaving several nasty, anonymous rantings/ravings on a blog by someone you know nothing about, just because that person expressed an opinion about something as insignificant as a beer.

"...come live in Oz"
If I thought Australia was full of people like you, that wouldn't be much of an invite. Fortunately, I've had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of great people from Australia, so I'm not about to dismiss an entire nation just because of one cowardly troll. "...pathetic sad ugly american"? Is your idea of "human relations" judging human beings solely by their nationalities?

And by the way, "American" and "Canadian" are written with upper case letters, and there is no such thing as "UKish" (try "British" next time - it isn't a hard word to remember). Your drive-by comments would be more effective if you would take the time to master the English language first!
Jul. 6th, 2009 08:56 am (UTC)
Re: reading this is very sad, KAMINOHE is tragic figure
LMAO... Maybe Anonymous from Oz is actually a Chinese nationalist on the Beijing payroll. Thank you for defending Taiwan in your strange way, Anonymous Troll.
Jul. 12th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
I can't believe it !!
I haven't read much of your blog so I may be misjudging you...

However, all the belgian, northern French beers I've seen here are the ones only hobos (tramps I mean it wasn't a typo) would buy ... at least the biere du boucannier is... why not a Finkbrau while we're at it...

I guess easy nice ones to pick up would be Leffes (some have high alcohol content if that's what your after). I've come across other stuff like delerium tremens or Kwaks.

I've tried bud an molson before and I'm not suprised they aren't sold in Europe, they're just water - ANd I'd rather drink a cool Taiwan beer ( even if it had the urine taste ) than a tasteless Miller Bud or Molson...(or corona's for that matter)

However maybe there are nice beers hiding somewhere in the states

I do agree with Heineken, having worked with them they have had sucessful results and market penetration in the last few years and also shined their image back home.

but all this to say please stop hurting yourself drinking that low cost crap marketed as "rural" to foreigners (or cheap to distributors) and pick up a decent beer
Jul. 12th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
Re: I can't believe it !!
Actually, you've just (inadvertently) proved my point - even European vagrants have better taste in beer than the Taike locals!

Vindication is sweet - even if Taiwan Beer isn't.
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
Re: I can't believe it !!
Dear guys, i comment from Italy, not a greatly known bier producer.
Just for being part of statistics, i vote THUMB UP for TB.
I must agree totally about the inconsistency of almost 99.8% of america biers.
In italy, if one wants a decent beer, he must go for nothern products, with a wide variery of tastes, from Tchek (east) to English (west).
Or, in alternative, to some LOCAL, small breweries (http://www.birrabeba.it/nuovosito/default2.asp)
Italian "industrial" product has far too many bubbles; this is why i like the mildly gassed TB, in bottle, cannot stand the can; this is valid for all biers: forget about cans, please. Drink it from tap or, if you can't get that, go for a bottle.
One more opinion: beer is not necessarily to get drunk; it is a mild drink, 1st of all, to quench everyone's thirst, minors included (in a small amount); germans know it well, they need to go for 2l or 5l "boots", before they start walking in the clouds... (with the help of some schnaps)
enjoy... massimo
Jan. 7th, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
Re: I can't believe it !!
Italy may not be known as a beer producer, but I used to often eat at an Italian restaurant in Shimo-kitazawa in Tokyo, and would have an Italian beer with my meal. I don't remember the name, unfortunately, as it was a long time ago, but I do recall that it was pretty tasty.

As for the subject of American beers, Massimo, I know Europeans have difficulty grasping just how large a country the USA is, so I can understand the ignorance behind the statement that 99.8% of American brews are "inconsistent". The mass-market brands like Budweiser, Coors and Miller are consistent..consistently awful, that is. On the other hand, a quick check on Google revealed that there are roughly 1500 craft breweries in the US producing thousands of different brands of micro-brewed beer, and controlling close to 10% of the total market. Many of these brews rank right up there with the best in the world.

Taiwan, too, has several craft breweries that produce great tasting beer. The problem here is that the treated urine bottled under the name "Taiwan Beer" has had a stranglehold on the local market for so long that
a.) your average Taike isn't aware that there are alternatives to TB other than Heineken and the major Japanese brews. And
b.) if he did try a locally-made craft beer, he would find the taste to be "too strong".

I agree with you as well that beer is not necessarily to get drunk. My wife can down several cans of Taiwan Beer without any noticeable effects (she even drinks it through a straw!).

Giving Taiwan Beer a "thumbs up" is like saying Jay Chou is a badass rapper!
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )



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