Bottoms Up!

Celebrating Taiwan’s Beer Centennial
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2019 / November

Tina Xie /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


In 2019 a Taiwan Beer gift box was marketed to celebrate the centennial of the Taipei Brewery. The gift box featured three bottles of beer with distinctly different labels: a samurai-­themed Takasago Beer label from 100 years ago; a retro label from 60 years ago bearing the slogan “Revive China, build Taiwan”; and a “Baby” brand Taipei Blonde Ale label featuring a blob-like baby gremlin and Taipei’s North Gate. However different they are in design, the three bottles together convey the evolution of beer in Taiwan and the spirit and flavors of their respective eras.


Walking into the Taipei Brewery, one sees a large red-brick building standing opposite a large green-tiled one, along with a number of wood-frame buildings mixed in among the other structures on the site. The 100-year-old Japanese-era complex has been designated an historic site by the Taipei City Government. Modern automatic equipment operates inside the buildings, where a light scent of malt floats on the air.

The tracks of time

The Taipei Brewery, formerly known as the Takasago Brewery, was Taiwan’s first beer production facility when it was established in 1919. When Taiwan returned to Chinese rule in 1945, the Taiwan Provincial Monopoly Bureau took over its opera­tions. With the departure of Japanese brewers from Taiwan, skills were lost. Consequently, the government sent ­brewery ­employees to Germany to purchase brewer’s yeast and study brewing processes. Afterwards, German-style lager beers would become the mainstream of beer in Taiwan. In 1975, the complex was renamed the Jianguo Brewery.

The brewery still displays several traditional copper mash tuns (vessels used for the “mashing” stage of the brewing process), which stopped being used two or three years ago when the plant switched over to easier-­to-­clean stainless-steel mash tuns.

The old brewery buildings have now been designated an historic site, and the walls are hung with black-and-white photographs that bear witness to the site’s earlier eras of labor-intensive production.

It used to be that the brewing process required constant manual adjustments. After automated equipment was introduced, the need for labor dropped dramatic­ally. Now each batch only requires monitoring by three operators. They sit in a glass-fronted control room with a back wall covered with control panels. The high-tech ambiance contrasts sharply with the scenes captured in the old photos.

New challenges, new flavors

Over the course of 100 years, it’s not just the equipment and personnel that have changed: The taste of the beer has also been continually evolving.

“Classic” Taiwan Beer improved on Takasago by adding Taiwan’s penglai rice. On the one hand, the move was aimed at making the beer sweeter and less bitter. On the other, it was also meant to help local farmers by absorbing a surplus of domestically produced rice that was dragging down prices.

For 50 years, Classic Taiwan Beer, with its iconic can design of blue waves, was the beer with which Taiwanese were most familiar. In the 1990s, market liberalization opened Taiwan to European, American, Japanese and Southeast-Asian beers. In 2002, Taiwan entered the WTO and dismantled the government monopoly over tobacco and alcohol production. The Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau was turned into the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, which in the face of new competi­tion began to introduce products with diverse flavors.

Back then there was a great demand for light, refreshing beers, so the company responded with its “Gold Medal” beer.

“Compared with Classic Taiwan Beer, Gold Medal has a higher maltose content, which gives it a smoother taste,” explains Aaron Lu, vice director of TTL’s beer division. “What’s more, it uses more peng­lai rice and aromatic hops, which makes for a fresh and clean aroma.” The new product won the favor of the public, replacing Classic Taiwan Beer as the com­pany’s best seller.

Following the success of Gold Medal Taiwan Beer, the unpasteurized “18 Days Draft Beer” was the next product the company launched. As opposed to pasteurized beer, unpasteurized beer dispenses with the final step of heating to kill the yeast. Consequently, the beer retains the yeast’s nutritional value and has a fresh taste. But it also loses its freshness much quicker, so it requires refrigerated transport and must be returned if unsold after 18 days.

When Draft Taiwan Beer was marketed, it too met with rave reviews. The inspiration behind it was a beautiful accident. During brewery tours, visitors would be given a sip of freshly brewed beer that had not yet been pasteurized. They discovered that its flavor and mouthfeel, along with its smoothness going down the throat, were quite appealing and distinctive. The positive reactions pushed the company to launch it as a new product.

Local is freshest

The phrase “local and fresh” originally captured the virtues of Taiwan Beer in the domestic market. When foreign brewers began building facilities in Taiwan, however, Taiwan Beer lost that advantage. Faced with new competition, TTL responded by highlighting “local spirit.” Draft beer with direct delivery on refrigerated trucks was a good first step, and the next was to launch products with “Taiwan flavors.”

Taiwan is a leading fruit producer. The pride and joy of its farmers, the island’s sweet and juicy fruits are well suited to adding to beer. Sweet and sour with captivating aromas, Irwin mangoes from Tainan’s Yujing District, Golden Diamond pineapples from Guanmiao, also in Tainan, and Black Queen grapes from Erlin in Changhua County were among those chosen for beers.

After hitting the market, these products not only attracted the notice of Taiwanese consumers, but they also became much appreciated by foreigners in Taiwan. Mango Beer has particularly appealed to Koreans, who love it even more than Taiwanese do.

A big behind-the-scenes hero in the launching of these fruit beers was the research group at TTL’s Wurih Brewery in Taichung.

Speaking of the research process involved in developing fruit beers, Chiang Hui-hsien, a member of the R&D team there, explains that at first the idea was to add some agricultural products characteristic of Taiwan. They hoped that these would lead to lighter, more refreshing beers that would attract more women consumers. When she later saw the many positive reviews of the resulting brews online, she felt that all the hard work and R&D they had put in was well worth it.

“Making fruit beer isn’t as simple as mixing fruit juice and beer,” Chiang says. “The pectin in the juice must be removed first, to avoid increasing the beer’s viscosity and speeding oxidation. Furthermore, enzymes in pineapple juice break down proteins, causing the beer’s head to collapse. Consequently, the juice has to be heated first.” They also experimented repeatedly with the temperature, humidity and pressure of ­subsequent processes before they arrived at the best methods to produce their fruit beers.

The beer, the land, and the people

“The driving spirit behind Taiwan Beer is about being close to the land and connecting with its people,” says Wu Huei-huang, a TTL vice president who has been with the company for more than three decades. Making beer isn’t just a matter of proper brewing technique—it also requires an understanding of how to appeal to the emotions of consumers and how to make connections to the stories behind the ingredients. 

The Tainan City Government has cooperated with TTL to launch “Cheng Gong Beer,” using images of Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga), the Ming loyalist general who conquered Taiwan and ruled it from Tainan. The beer’s slogan, “You need Cheng Gong!” is a pun on Zheng Chenggong’s name and the everyday meaning of chenggong, “success.” It’s a product that highlights local history.

And the company’s local push hasn’t just been directed at Tainan. TTL has also launched Taipei Blonde Ale, whose label features an image of Taipei’s historic North Gate. Part of the company’s “Baby” craft beer line, it represents the first beer produced in Taiwan using a city’s name.

At important moments for Taiwan, Taiwan Beer has emerged with new looks to celebrate special events with the public. Whether for traditional festivals, or the 2017 Summer Universiade in Taipei, or the inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan Beer has drawn the nation’s people close and demonstrated a local spirit.

For 100 years, Taiwan Beer has been produced in diverse flavors and packaging as it has evolved to meet the needs of different eras. What hasn’t changed is its inner spirit.

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找出在地的味道

台啤百年的突破

文‧謝宜婷 圖‧莊坤儒

台啤2019年推出「百年限量禮盒」,內裝的三瓶啤酒,商標形象鮮明,分別是畫著日本武士的百年復刻高砂啤酒;標示「復興中華、建設台灣」的60年復刻台灣啤酒;及印有吐舌小精靈與北門的精釀啤酒,這三瓶風格迥異的啤酒,卻一齊述說著歷史遞嬗下的時代精神及口味。 

 


走進台北啤酒工場,放眼望去,紅樓與綠樓相對立,木造建築群錯落其間,日治時代興建的廠房歷經百年時光,如今成為台北市市定古蹟,而廠房內卻運作著自動化的設備,空氣中瀰漫著一股淡淡的麥香味。

歲月帶來的改變

台北啤酒工場的前身為「高砂麥酒株式會社」,於1919年創立,是台灣史上第一座啤酒工廠,於1945年台灣光復後,改由台灣省專賣局接收,並於1975年改名為「建國啤酒廠」。日本人離開台灣後,留下了製酒設備與基礎工夫,不過核心技術沒有被傳承,因此當時政府派人前往德國學習釀酒工藝並選育酵母,造就了具德式拉格型式的台灣啤酒,就此成為台灣啤酒的主流。

酒廠內保存著許多傳統的黃銅糖化槽,於兩、三年前停用,現在轉而使用不鏽鋼製的糖化槽,以便清洗。「黃銅製的糖化槽現在很罕見,所以很珍貴。有些拍攝復古戲劇的團隊,都會來這裡取景。」台啤副總經理吳輝煌引以為傲地介紹著台啤的歷史古物。

昔日的啤酒廠房已經成為古蹟保存工場,綿長的廊道裡,牆上懸掛著泛黃的黑白照片,述說著過去勞力密集的製酒年代。其中一張,建國啤酒廠附設幼兒園的學生畢業照,就是最好的證明,當時有許多婦女在酒廠上班時,將孩子交託給幼兒園,以專注於工作。

過去啤酒的發酵,需要人不斷地手動調整,有了自動化設備之後,人力需求大幅減少,每個時段只需要三個人操作,透過操控室儀板上的各式按鈕,調整溫度、濕度、壓力等等。操作員隔著玻璃牆,背後整個牆面都是按鈕,科技感的畫面與先前的復古照片,形成強烈對比。

創新口味,回應挑戰

百年歲月,改變的不只是器材與人力,台啤的口味也不斷推陳出新。

台啤經典啤酒是最早的一款,改良了高砂啤酒,加入了台灣蓬萊米。一方面為了提升啤酒的香氣,減少原本的苦澀,另一方面,也為了幫助當時的農民,解決稻米過剩的危機。

50年來,經典台啤成為台灣人最熟悉的啤酒,酒罐上的藍色水波紋也成為品牌最令人難忘的印象。直到1990年代前後,開放歐美地區、日本及東南亞地區啤酒進口;2002年台灣加入WTO,取消菸酒專賣制度,面對這些變化與挑戰,公賣局為此也改制為台灣菸酒公司,更開始推出口味多樣的產品,以因應啤酒市場的激烈競爭。

當時啤酒口味趨向清爽,於是台啤推出金牌啤酒,回應挑戰。

「相較於經典啤酒,金牌啤酒的糖化程度提高,發酵更完全,喝起來更順口。此外,還提高了蓬萊米與芳香型啤酒花的比例,使整體香氣更為清新。」啤酒事業部副理陸耀明表示,這項新產品後來成功獲得大眾青睞,逐漸取代「經典」成為台啤的暢銷酒款。

承襲著金牌的好風味,18天生啤酒接著誕生。相較於熟啤酒,生啤酒少了高溫熱處理的步驟,因此,保留著啤酒的營養與生鮮的滋味,但保存期限因此大幅縮短,運送過程也必須低溫保存,架上的生啤酒一旦超過18天,一律回收處理,以維持品質。

18天生啤酒推出後,同樣獲得好評,而它的發想其實是個美麗的意外。當初民眾到啤酒廠參觀,試喝了一口新鮮、未經熱處理的啤酒,發現其口感、滋味與平常所喝的截然不同,清爽的感覺在喉中迴盪,因此激勵了台啤推出新產品的決心。

在地食材,才是「尚青」

「在地、新鮮」原本專屬於台啤的優勢,隨著外來啤酒廠商來台設廠,再次出現了挑戰。面對競爭者下的戰帖,台啤用「在地的精神」回應。產地直達、低溫配送的18天生啤酒已經是一大優勢,接下來更推出具「台灣味」的產品。

台灣身為水果王國,出產的果實都是農民的驕傲,顆顆香甜多汁,適合加入啤酒。於是台啤開始尋找搭配的水果,例如玉井的愛文芒果、關廟的金鑽鳳梨、二林的黑后葡萄,酸甜度高,又帶有迷人香氣,因此完美融入台灣啤酒。

上市後,不只吸引了國內消費者的注意,也讓在台灣的外國人愛不釋手,尤其是芒果啤酒,對韓國人的魅力,超越了對本國人的吸引力。根據台灣菸酒公司於2015年的韓國市場考察報告指出,位居溫帶的韓國,對芒果這類熱帶水果情有獨鍾,餐廳與咖啡店的菜單上,時常會出現芒果口味的飲品,因此台啤的芒果啤酒在韓國市場有很大的潛力。實際上,網路也出現了韓國人試喝台啤啤酒的影片,片中人物品嚐所有口味的台啤後,直呼芒果啤酒是他們心目中的第一名。

水果啤酒的創新,背後最大功臣是烏日啤酒廠的研發團隊。台啤在全台總共有四座啤酒廠,依建立時間排序為:台北、烏日、善化、竹南,以供應日益增多的啤酒需求。當初設址於烏日啤酒廠,是考量位於中部的地點,其交通運輸較合乎經濟效益,隨著時間累積,開始有研發雛形。加上2007年菸酒公司招考,一批新進同仁加入,其中幾位被納入研發團隊,台啤口味研發小組自此成形。

談起水果啤酒的研發過程,負責研發的成員江惠嫻表示,當初是為了加入台灣特色農產,也希望能做出一款酒精濃度較低、較清爽,能夠吸引女性的啤酒。當她看到網路上許多正面的評價,研發過程的努力都值得了。

「水果啤酒不是混合果汁與啤酒這麼簡單。果汁裡的果膠必須先去除,以免增加啤酒稠度、加快氧化速度,而鳳梨的酵素會分解蛋白質,瓦解啤酒的泡沫,因此要先熱處理。」江惠嫻說,除了果汁的處理,後續的溫度、濕度、壓力都要不斷試驗,才能找出製作水果啤酒的完美條件。

研發小組廣蒐具台灣在地特色的農產品,他們先在網路認識農作物特色,再到當地洽詢農夫與廠商,了解實際產況與合作機會。「我們會天馬行空發揮想像力,作任何有趣的發想,看似與啤酒不搭的食材,透過後續處理,兩者也可以擦出火花。」江惠嫻笑著說。

台啤近年走向創新,除了經典款啤酒,也開始研發多樣口味,而團隊成員多元的背景,更有助於發想新口味。有成員曾提出以台中的特色食材──麻薏搭配啤酒,認為這類蔬菜的苦味與啤酒的苦味,能夠混合產生有層次的風味。所有研發的在地食材,即使不會全部成為啤酒搭擋,但都會保存下來,建立資料庫。

親近土地,連結人民

「台啤的精神,就是要親近這塊土地,連結人民的故事。」在台啤工作超過30年的吳輝煌說,做啤酒不只是一項技藝,還要懂得連結原料背後的故事,及消費者的感情。

台啤近期推出的新口味,除了水果,還使用了更具地域性的農產,例如深葉啤酒使用日月潭的阿薩姆紅茶;桂花雨精釀啤酒加入苗栗桂花,讓台啤更貼近土地。酒瓶上的塗鴉,也跟著轉變,出現「在地限定」的特色。

台南市政府與台啤合作,推出「成功啤酒」,讓鄭成功化身代言人,搭配精神口號「一定要成功!」,創造了極具在地歷史風情的一款商品。吳輝煌回憶,不僅國人搶購,許多到台南旅遊的日本人,也加入購買行列,帶回家鄉當伴手禮。後來有日本雜誌聽聞這創意,也專程到台灣採訪,「成功啤酒」儼然成為台灣之光。

不只台南,台啤也推出了「台北城市之酒」──北啤精釀,酒瓶上印有北門圖案,由市定古蹟台北啤酒工場製作,成為台灣史上首次以城市命名的國產啤酒。

在台灣的重要時刻,台啤也會變裝出現,與大眾歡慶。從傳統節日──中秋節、中元節與國慶日,到台灣主辦的國際賽事──2017台北世界大學運動會,甚至是蔡英文總統上任,每個屬於台灣的時刻,台啤都希望與這塊土地上的人民在一起,展現在地精神。

百年時光,台啤的包裝與口味不斷多元化,以回應時代的需求,但不變的是,內在的精神。如同台啤精釀啤酒的吉祥物──嘎姆,看似洋化的名字,卻是啤酒靈魂──酵母的台語。透過擬人化的比喻,展現出經典品牌活潑、年輕的另一面。

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