Taiwan may not have a huge tradition of alcohol consumption, but there is no denying that it has begun to embrace a much wider variety of beers and spirits in a big way in recent years. For a long time, alcohol production in Taiwan was a state monopoly, with the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation holding the country’s sole license to brew and distill booze. It was not until as recently as twenty years ago that this monopoly was finally lifted and independent brewing was permitted in Taiwan.
After a slow and steady start, it is fair to say the craft brewing scene has exploded in Taiwan in the past ten years. Whereas once most people would find themselves drinking either in a restaurant, an ex-pat pub or at the tables outside a convenience store, today you have to look far in any of Taiwan’s big cities to find a bar or a tap-house. There are no shortage of craft beer shops and off-licenses stocking locally produced drinks either.
And tapping into the recent craze for factory tourism, many of the breweries and distilleries have open their doors to visitors, allowing them an insight into how they produce their drinks as well as the opportunity to sample their wares and, of course, purchase them too. If you have an interest in alcohol, these tours can be fascinating, and in this article, I have highlighted just a few of my favorites.
Kavalan Distillery, Yilan - 噶瑪蘭威士忌酒廠
Kavalan Distillery. (Photo by Pixabay user Liusan1208)
While craft beer is growing fast in Taiwan, there is no doubt that whisky is the country’s most popular drink right now, with Taiwan currently the fourth largest importer of Scotch Whisky in the world. But exports are growing too with Taiwanese distilled whisky rapidly making a name for itself on the global whisky stage. There is no question that Kavalan is the premier Taiwanese whisky brand right now, a status cemented in 2015 when its Solist Vinho Barrique whisky won the coveted World Whiskies Awards title as best Single Malt on the planet.
The Kavalan Distillery, which is located in Yilan, is the biggest in the country and is open to the public all year round for free. Visitors can tour the production line and see how Kavalan whisky is made, learn about how it is aged in traditional oak barrels, understand more about how the King Car company - which operates Kavalan - turned its hand to whisky, and of course sample its single malts. Guided tours are available in Mandarin, with English ones also offered if you make a request in advance via their website. And there is a great shop where you can buy all different brands of Kavalan whisky as well as other unique souvenirs.
Jim and Dad’s Brewery Yilan （吉姆老爹啤酒工廠）
Jim and Dads. (Photo from Facebook page janddbrewing)
Jim and Dad’s is perhaps one of Taiwan’s most recognizable craft beer brands. As the name suggests, it is a father and son operation which only began in 2013 after Jim, who had long been home-brewing, won a brewing competition. That led to them setting up a small craft brewery on an old gravel yard, which is situated just a few hundred meters from the much larger Kavalan Distillery.
Today this small brewery is popular with tourists and locals alike. Visitors can sample the various different Jim and Dad’s beer varieties as well as witness the brewery at work. There are three different tours of the site available, but these need to be arranged in advance. If you are just dropping in, the site has a fine restaurant with several Jim and Dad’s beer available on tap. There is also an outdoor play area and a fairly ugly viewing tower, which admittedly does offer impressive views of the surrounding Lanyang Plain.
Taiwan Beer Brewery, Hualien （台啤花蓮觀光酒廠）
Taiwan Beer. (Wikimedia Commons)
Taiwan Beer is an iconic Taiwanese brand and its logo and products can be seen on just about every street in the country. Taiwan Beer was for a long time the only beer produced in Taiwan, and it continues to be brewed by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation that held a monopoly here for so long. Their enormous brewery is located in Hualien and these days is open for visitors to explore.
You have the chance to see the brewing process which goes into making and bottling Taiwan’s most popular beer. And there is also the chance to try of Taiwan Beer’s more unique and unusual varieties. There is the inevitable Taiwan Beer shop, but also a well-regarded restaurant which offers pretty decent food in addition to Taiwan Beer on tap of course. It is an enormous campus and visitors can also enjoy a picnic or playing on the expansive grassy meadow at the entrance to the site as well as have the chance to try some traditional Taiwanese folk games and take in the Aboriginal-inspired architecture.
Kaoliang Liquor Distillery, Kinmen （金門高粱酒廠）
Kaoliang. (Image from kinmen.travel)
Kaoliang is a traditional strong spirit which is fermented from sorghum and which has been popular across south-east Asia since the Ming Dynasty and which is almost exclusively manufactured in Taiwan. There are popular brands distilled in Yushan and on Matsu, but the most famous distillery is the Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor distillery situated on the island of Kinmen. There is much from Taiwan’s historic struggle with Communist China to be seen in Kinmen, but the Kaoliang Liquor distillery continues to be one of the islands most popular tourist attractions.
It offers a fascinating Liquor Museum where visitors can learn about this unique spirit’s long history. This includes an observation walk which takes you through some of the companies most interested and valued cultural relics. There is the opportunity to taste some Kaohliang for yourself and also to buy some of course. And this huge site also includes a sizable scenic garden. Guided tours are available too and the site is open all year round.
Takao Beer Brewery, Kaohsiung （打狗啤酒廠）
Takao Beer. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Takao Beer is brewed in Kaohsiung, but has enjoyed some notable recent successes, with its beers cropping up on the shelves of Carrefour and other supermarket chains across Taiwan as well as many craft beer shops. They are a small operation located close to Kaohsiung Airport, but their beer store still makes for a great place to visit.
It is called a beer store because it is less a brewery and more a bar or shop, but factory tours can be arranged if you contact them in advance. If you visit on a whim you will be able to do some beer tasting in-store as well as buy their products as well. For craft beer fans in the Kaohsiung area, it is definitely worth a visit.
Tsai’s Actual Brewery, Nantou （蔡氏釀酒觀光工廠）
Tsai's Actual Brewery. (Photo from Pixnet)
If you take your craft beer seriously, this place is probably not for you, but if you like the idea of seeing craft beer being done in full-on Taiwanese tourist style, this place is a lot of fun. It is more of a visitor center than a brewery, but you can see their craft brewing process in operation too. If you arrange it in advance and are willing to pay more, then a more in-depth tour is available too.
The enormous building which houses this site has been built in the style of a British pub and there are no shortage of rather tacky mocked-up pub fronts for visitors to pose for photos in front of. They do host tasting workshops and have plans to introduce DIY classrooms where you will be able to learn the home-brewing process as well as have lessons is other arts and crafts. There is a restaurant where western-style food can be enjoyed along with their own craft beers on tap. This is a brewing experience intended to keep beer lovers and non-beer lovers alike happy and there are things for the whole family to enjoy.