Drinking and Drawing the Craft Beer Revolution in Taipei

Ted Profile-02Columnist: Ted Pigott 
Ted's Beyonder Story

(Part Three of a Three-Part Series) 

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Though this quote is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, there is actually no proof that he ever uttered these words exactly, though he may have said something close to this about nature and wine.

But I like the sentiment behind it.

Basically speaking, beer makes me happy. I’m happy when I drink it. And I’m happy when I draw it. Suffice it to say, I really like beer.

In my first article for my Beyonder Times column, I mentioned the importance of drawing what you love. In other words, draw what you are passionate about. And for me that’s definitely beer.

But even if you have a strong interest in something, I still think it is important to take it one step further and set up a “Personal Passion Project (PPP).” In my case, this turned out to be something that I came to call my “Year of Drinking and Drawing Beer.” (Check out the drawings in this series at #yearofdrinkinganddrawingbeer.)

 

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Year of Drinking and Drawing Beer

In the Fall of 2014, I came up with what some would call a crazy plan: to draw every beer I would drink for a year.

To be honest, it could have been anything–every coffee I drank, every ride on the MRT I took, every hibiscus I saw. The important thing was having a structured ritual and dedicated goal, especially something that would encourage (or some might even say “force”) me to draw even more than I already was.

As an artist, I’ve found having a PPP to be very beneficial. I also really like the idea of focusing my artwork on a specific theme and developing a series of drawings based on that theme.

In this case, the theme was beer, and since I was drinking a lot of it, I got to draw a lot of it. It was a clear win-win: Drink beer. Draw beer. Drink beer while drawing beer. Draw beer while drinking beer.

I was definitely happy, just like old Ben Franklin probably would have wanted.

 

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A Very Short, Personal History of Beer in Taipei

My experience drinking beer in Taipei actually mirrors my experiences with coffee and pizza in the city, as I chronicled in the first two articles in this series for Beyonder Times.

To cut a long story short (and to reference Spandau Ballet), there wasn’t much choice when I arrived in Taipei in 1996. In fact, there was really only one choice—Taiwan Beer.

 

A Short Aside on Taiwan Beer

I must admit that over the years, I’ve grown to like this light lager, especially with the spicy, salty dishes at the local 熱炒 restaurants. I might even go so far as to say that it’s perfect when you’re sitting outside on a little stool at a local street-side restaurant, washing down plate after plate of Taiwanese food with glass after glass of 台啤.

And I’m a big believer in the whole idea of enjoying local specialties wherever you are. So, “When in Taiwan, drink Taiwan beer.” (And “When in Laos, drink Beerlao.” “When in Cambodia, drink Angkor beer.” Etc.)

 

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And to its credit, Taiwan beer has tried to introduce some new beers to the market, including a wheat beer, and a beer that is meant to be eighteen-days fresh, and some various fruit and honey beers.

 

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And I really like some of the creative labels they’ve been coming up with lately, in collaboration with local designers and artists, particularly the commemorative bottles for the recent inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s first female president.

 

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But if I’m really being honest, I have to admit that I don’t think Taiwan Beer is the best beer in the world, though I am certain that it is definitely the best with Taiwanese food. And while Taiwan Beer may not be my favorite beer in the world, Taiwan is definitely my favorite place to drink it.

 

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Gradually, and Then Suddenly

When I think of the craft beer revolution in Taipei, though, I’m reminded of a quote from The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, which also appears at the start of Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, and then suddenly.”

And gradually, things improved for beer drinkers in Taiwan, with Geert down in Kaohsiung bringing in a bunch of Belgian beers in the late 1990s. Interest in drinking different beers continued to grow, and things took a major turn for the better in 2002 with Taiwan’s entrance into the World Trade Organization.

 

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Not long after, supermarkets like Breeze and Jason’s started to feature wider selections of beers from around the world. A few independent Taiwanese breweries popped up, such as Le Blé d’Or, Jolly, and North Taiwan. Anchor Steam appeared one day, and the local convenience stores started stocking better beers from Europe, America, and Japan, especially during the summer beer promotions.

 

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The Craft Beer Revolution in Taipei

Then, suddenly, a few years ago, the craft beer scene in the city seemed to explode, with home-brewers, both local and expat, setting up breweries, and importers bringing in excellent craft beer, from Evil Twin to Ballast Point to Founders to Stone.

 

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Of course, I am biased, but I would now firmly rank Taipei as one of the best cities for beer in all of Asia. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to drink some excellent local brews here, as well as some world-class craft beers that I never thought I’d ever be able to get my hands on. And the beer-drinking scene in Taipei just keeps on getting better and better.

 

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Make no mistake, when it comes to beer, Taipei is still not quite on par with the likes of San Diego or Chicago or Bruges or even Tokyo.

But it’s exciting, for me at least, to be in a place where people are excited about beer. It’s great to talk with locals and expats alike who are interested in—and even passionate about—finding great beer and drinking it here in Taiwan.

I, for one, am happy to be living in a city like Taipei that is smack dab in the middle of a craft beer revolution.

 

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Local Brewers

When it comes to craft beer, I always like to “drink local” when I can, and fortunately for me, the offerings from the ever-growing list of local brewers are usually quite good.

My favorite brewing companies in Taiwan right now include 23 Brewing Company, Redpoint, and 55th Street.

 

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I look forward to trying more beers from Alchemist (the Taiwan brand, which, unfortunately, has the same name in English as the long-established Alchemist out of Vermont), Taiwan Head Brewers, and Sambar.

And I can’t wait to make a road trip out to Jim & Dad’s on the East Coast, to sample the beers they are brewing up there.

 

Local Bars and Bottle Shops

There is also definitely not a shortage of places to drink craft beer in Taipei these days—so much so that I have yet to visit them all, especially since new beer-centered places seem to be opening almost monthly.

My favorites include Revolver, which has the best deal in the city on draft craft beer (NT$150 for a full pint!) during its Happy Hour; 啜飲室 (a.k.a, the Sipping Room) and 啜飲室 Landmark; old-favorite Beer & Cheese Social House; and newcomer URBN, which features vegetarian fare and at least eight beers on tap.

 

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I’m also a fan of ZhangMen (formerly known as “Hodala”), since it’s nice to finally have a beer bar in the Yongkang Street area, and it’s close to my home.

 

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When it comes to restaurants serving craft beer, Eddy’s 1 and 2 up in Tienmu, have to be mentioned, and BING 繽 makes a great burger to go with the craft beer on offer there.

 

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Places I still need to visit (or visit more often) include Something Ales, which seems to open late; Alphadog Craft Beer Bar; Crafted Beer & Co., up near Maji Square; Privado; Baird Beer Taiwan; Beer Geek MicroPub Taipei; and Eleven Beer House, near Wenzhou Park; not to mention a whole host of places in New Taipei City that I have yet to (but would like to) check out.

 

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And I’m super excited to drink and draw in the Mikkeller Taipei bar that opened this summer, since I like Mikkeller beer and I really like the Mikkeller labels and artwork.

 

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Home Beer Home

Truth be told, though, my favorite place to drink and draw beer is my own home.

 

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At the end of the day, I enjoy sitting down at the kitchen table, breaking out my sketchbook, and opening up a craft beer. Sometimes I listen to my son practicing the piano or violin; other times I listen to my favorite music on my iPad. I then take that first sip and start to draw. Pure bliss invariably follows!

 

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In the past, I used to try to draw the whole bottle and the label of the beer I was drinking. But now I just draw whatever interests me about the beer. Maybe it’s part of the label, or the beer in the glass itself. Or maybe it’s something that the beer inspires in me. It’s been fun to become a little looser when it comes to my “Year of Drinking and Drawing Beer,” though I still enjoy the challenge of trying to draw every beer I drink. (Since I drink faster than I draw, however, I’m still pretty far behind in this challenge.)

 

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I also really enjoy tasting sessions with a few good friends, with each of us bringing rare or unusual or hard-to-get “whales” for the others to try. It’s fun to sit around and drink beer and talk beer, and in my case, draw beer. For some reason, beer just seems to taste better when it’s shared with friends.

 

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For these sessions, I’ve tried something new—which I’ve come to call “One-Beer Sketches.” This means that I have to draw up as much of each beer as I can in the time it takes for my friends and me to finish that beer. It also means that I don’t go back later and add more detail. It’s fast and furious—and fun.

 

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Beer Makes Me Happy

It’s now 2016, and my “Year of Drinking and Drawing Beer” continues on, though it’s now turned into two years and counting.

 

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But I have no plans to change the name of this Personal Passion Project, nor do I have any plans to bring it to an end anytime soon.

 

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You see, I believe in the famous words that Ben Franklin never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants to be happy.”

 

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Because I am happy when I’m drinking Taiwan Beer in a 熱炒 restaurant in Taipei, or drinking and drawing an IPA from Half Acre at my kitchen table at home, or sharing “whales” with friends at a tasting session.

 

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It all comes down to this, for me. I like to drink good beer from Taiwan and the rest of the world, and I like to draw it up while I do.

 

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Thankfully, for me, at least, Taipei is definitely now a great place to do both of these things.

 

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May the craft beer revolution in Taipei carry on forever!

 

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