Sat, Mar 26, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Drinking Taipei: Yilan’s beer oasis

A former homebrewer from Taipei is making ales infused with local fruits and spices from his brewery in the middle of Yilan’s rice fields

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Jim & Dad’s makes ales infused with local fruit and other local ingredients.
Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

Taipei native Jim Sung (宋慶文) got his start in the craft beer industry the way many other brewers in Taiwan did — by home brewing. He worked a couple of desk jobs in Taipei after returning from college in California and started home brewing as a hobby on the weekends. His mother was concerned that he wasn’t out with his friends.

But as the 28-year-old tells me, “I was hanging out with my best friends, the yeast.”

Sung’s hobby has paid off. Opened in September of last year, Jim & Dad’s Brewing Company in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山) is a homely, two-story structure with floor-to-ceiling windows and a small lookout tower. At the back is a patio for outdoor tasting and a grassy area for children to run around — Sung even has a collection of toys for kids to play with while their parents drink.

The first floor tasting area boasts red brick walls and wooden tables, chairs and floors, as well as windows for patrons to take a peek at the various tanks that are used to brew the beers. On display near the bar with 12 taps is Sung’s home brewing equipment — a reminder of his humble beginnings.

When I visit, the air is crisp and chilly. Jim & Dad’s is surrounded by an endless mountain range and rows of rice fields. Kavalan Distillery, which won the award for the world’s best single malt whiskey last year, is a stone’s throw away. Next to the brewery is a pristine river that leads to a hiking trail and waterfall.

Sung says that Yuanshan Township has been dubbed Taiwan’s “hometown of water” (水的故鄉) because it has the freshest water in the country.

If it weren’t for the mountain of gravel just across the street, I never would have guessed that the land the brewery sits on used to be a gravel plant more than 20 years ago. It was abandoned for years and the layers of cement beneath the ground made it ill-suited for farming — though it was the perfect site for a brewery.

Jim & Dad’s Brewing Company (吉姆老爹啤酒工場)

Address: 411 Yuanshan Rd Sec 2, Yuanshan Township, Yilan County (宜蘭縣員山鄉員山路二段411號)

Telephone: (03) 922-7199

Open: Mondays, Wednesdays to Fridays from 11am to 6pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm (closed Tuesdays)

Drinks: NT$50 for a small glass, NT$150 for a large glass

On the net: www.facebook.com/janddbrewing

Getting there: Take the bus from Taipei City Hall Bus Station (市府轉運站) to Yilan Bus Station (宜蘭轉運站) for NT$120, then hail a cab to the brewery for around NT$250, total commute time is one-and-a-half hours


LOCAL BREWERY, GLOBAL OUTLOOK

When the government legalized private breweries in the early 2000s, a handful of home brewers jumped on board. After a few years, the industry tanked. Hengchun 3000, located in the south, closed down but recently re-opened and Le Ble d’Or and Jolly’s had to open restaurants to survive. It seemed that people’s palates simply weren’t ready for craft beer.

It wasn’t until after 2013 that craft brewing companies started to appear in earnest. This second wave was driven predominantly by expat home brewers, but also by young Taiwanese like Sung who had lived abroad.

Jim & Dad’s is arguably Taiwan’s only destination brewery. Strict laws confine breweries to industrial areas, and while Yuanshan Township is technically an industrial area, it is also blessed with abundant nature.

The location was important for Sung as he envisioned a brewery where people would come for day trips and family outings. Not to mention the name, Jim & Dad’s, which conjures up a warm, family vibe. Sung’s father, an engineer who previously worked in a factory for 30 years, was instrumental in setting up the brewery and helping Sung run it.

The other staff are Yilan natives mostly below the age of 30 (the oldest full-time employee is 31). It was a conscious decision as Sung wished to project an image of young, local people drinking top-quality craft beer.

He says that for too long, beer in Taiwan has been marketed as a cheap beverage that people drink from a can for the sole purpose of getting drunk. Sung hopes to change this mentality by using the brewery as a means of educating customers on the different varieties of craft beer, from light and fruity, to more roasted and bitter.

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