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Sunday, June 28, 2009

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.

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