Fri, Oct 14, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Local brews go head-to-head

Microbrews are the toast of the town in a blind taste test of beers made in Taiwan

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTOS: DAVID MOMPHARD, JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

In some parts of the world, like Germany, October is

synonymous with beer drinking. And with the emergence of microbreweries in Taiwan, it's becoming increasingly true of Taiwan, too. But what exactly is brewing in this cottage industry, and how do local beers rate?

To find out, I conducted a blind taste test of beers made in Taiwan. Far from an exacting inquiry, I was more interested in finding out how a group of average beer drinkers would rate the average local brew.

All the pales, porters, pilsners, steams and stouts in the world can be divided into two basic beers: ale and lager.

When discussing the difference between the two, beer drinkers will usually talk about taste. But the basic difference between the two is in the way they're brewed. Ales use a yeast that ferments at the top of the vat and at higher temperatures. Lager ferments with a yeast that floats to the bottom and starts its business at lower temperatures.

Ale has been around the longer of the two, by about nine millennia. Lager is the new brew on the block, having first been rolled out of caves by German monks who sought to create a brew that would keep longer. By the mid-1840s, it was the toast of Europe.

Despite ale's considerable head-start, lager now holds the top spot in terms of popularity, accounting for over 90 percent of all beer consumed worldwide.

Not coincidentally, the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, brewers of the country's lager, enjoys a near-90 percent share of the local market. The remaining percentage is taken up by imports and a growing number of microbrewers.

Rather than try to sip from Taiwan Beer's market share, local craft brewers have sought out those drinkers interested in "Belgian-style" beers. Most of these breweries double as restaurants. In Taipei, the microbreweries aren't brewing anything in-house, though, as such activity is illegal within the city's limits. The breweries are located elsewhere and the beer is shipped as needed.

The test

For our test, I gathered 10 beers from five local beer makers. Of the craft brewers, only North Taiwan Brewing Company is bottling its beer for sale in stores. All the other beers I rounded up the day of our tasting, whisking them to the refrigerator at The Brass Monkey.

Most of the microbreweries have at least a couple of varieties on tap. JB's offers both a stout and a steam beer. Le ble d'or offers a stout, Hefe-Weissbier and lager. Jolly has five selections, including their pale ale, Scotch ale, weizen, stout and pilsner. North Taiwan Brewing bottles Abbey Ale and White Beer.

Figuring that 10 beers were enough for one sitting, we tasted all but the stouts. The only other local brew included was Taiwan Draft, out of the bottle. For an added measure of mystery, I threw in a "bonus" import and asked the tasters to guess which it was.

The panelists were from a variety of backgrounds. They were: David Chen, a musician; Michelle Chen, a legal consultant; technical marketing engineer Matthew Dieckman; brain research scientist David Niddam; journalist Graham Norris; Jacques van Wersch, manager of the news department at Eastern Broadcast Corp; freelance designer Wu Yi-hsien; and Alex Yuan, a consular officer at the American Institute in Taipei.

I listed the beers they'd be drinking and gave the panelists a pad of paper on which to write their thoughts. They scored each entry on a scale of 1 (sewage) to 10 (manna). The beers were poured out of sight and served in glasses marked A through K.

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