Sat, Jun 18, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Trouble brewing

Two brewery suppliers based in Taichung talk about Taiwan’s burgeoning craft beer industry and the legal restrictions that might hamper its growth

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

A homebrewing class takes place in Taichung.
Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health.

Photo courtesy of Pacific Brew Craft

Before he was a commercial brewery supplier in Taichung, Michael Forncrook worked as a software engineer in California’s Silicon Valley where he also started homebrewing as a hobby.

“Beer was my distraction from the stress of the tech world,” Forncrook tells me when I meet with him and his business partner, Jessica Huang (黃湘淇), at a cafe in Taipei.

When Forncrook and Huang, who worked in the tech industry in Hsinchu, launched Pacific Brew Craft (金鼎豐) in 2012, they were responding to a growing market. It was during this time that the Facebook group HomeBrew Maniacs (自釀啤酒狂熱份子俱樂部) was formed. A few years later, new craft breweries such as Hardcore Brewery, 23 Brewing and Taiwan Head Brewers were popping up all over the country, with many of these brewers getting their start learning how to homebrew via the Facebook group.

Currently, Forncrook and Huang import wheat, barley, hops and other ingredients from Europe and the US and distribute to both homebrewers and commercial breweries (while Taiwan does grow wheat and barley, it’s not enough to sustain the industry).

In addition, they also distribute homebrewing equipment and teach homebrewing classes at two universities in Taichung, the National Taichung University of Science and Technology and Hungkuang University.

NICHE MARKET

Beer production was something that the duo saw as a growing industry in both Taiwan and Asia (Pacific Brew Craft also has offices in Hong Kong and Xiamen).

Forncrook attributes this to a number of factors. Most importantly, young people in their late 20s and early 30s have more disposable income to spend on so-called “niche” markets like craft beer.

At the same time, foreign beers have been pushing their products into Asia over the last couple of years. Bars like Beer & Cheese and Chuoyinshi (啜飲室) have an extensive selection of North American craft beers on tap. Meanwhile, homebrewers from Taiwan are seeing other local brewers taking the plunge and opening breweries, thus providing more impetus for them to start their own businesses.

Of course, the market is still nowhere as big as it is in the US, Europe or Japan, where there is more of an ingrained drinking culture.

But as Forncrook says, the market is currently “fashionable.”

Huang is less optimistic. She believes there is a deep-rooted reason why craft beer has yet to infiltrate the market. While younger people, especially those who have traveled overseas, are generally more open to a tipple, Huang says older generations “tend to view drinking alcohol as a bad thing.”

Huang ascribes this teetotaler culture to Buddhist influence. Europe, she says, could not be more different. Whereas beer was produced as early as the 11th century by Benedictines in Bavarian churches, Buddhism for the most part prohibits alcohol consumption.

LEGAL RESTRICTIONS

In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that craft beer is still part of a counter-culture movement. Though it’s illegal for homebrewers to sell beer without a license (as it is in other countries), there are government regulations that restrict alcohol brewing.

Put simply, it is technically illegal to pay to learn how to make alcohol — though this law is neither strictly enforced nor monitored. Contrast this with the US, where colleges not only offer homebrewing classes but also degree programs in brewing.

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