By Dimitri Bruyas, The China Post Thursday, December 18, 2008, 3:54 pm TWN
Taiwan Beer, also called Taiwan Pijiu, is an icon of Taiwanese culture.
Brewed by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation (TTL), a state-owned manufacturer and distributor of cigarettes and alcohol in Taiwan, the landmark brand began as a monopoly product, but has remained the most popular beer on the island in the era of trade.
"Taiwan beer is part of the island's local culture," said Lin Tzann-feng, senior vice president of TTL, during a recent interview with Discover Taiwan, while emphasizing how original ingredients give the local pale ale its sweet bitterness.
Although the basic ingredients of beer are water, a starch source, a brewer's yeast and a flavoring such as hops, Taiwan Beer includes locally produced Ponlai rice as a secondary starch source, he explained.
Also, Taiwan Beer has won several international awards, including the gold medal of Monde Selection every year since 1977 and the Brewing Industry International Awards in 2002, he continued.
The original brew, sold in brown bottles and blue cans, the Gold Medal brew, sold in green bottles and cans, and Taiwan Beer Draft, the latest brew, also sold in green bottles, are 4.5%~5% alcohol by volume and are regularly seen in Taiwan's convenience and grocery stores.
"The distinct taste of the three light amber brews sold under the label Taiwan Beer is produced by the addition of Ponlai rice during the fermentation process," he added.
"It makes them an especially suitable complement to Taiwanese cuisine, such as seafood dishes," he remarked.
Taiwan Beer reportedly accounts for almost 80% of total beer consumption in Taiwan, with foreign labels accounting for just 20 percent.
"With annual beer consumption per capita of 22.5 liter on average, Taiwan is still far behind countries like the Czech Republic, Belgium or Japan, which have consumption per capita of up to 135 liters, 107 liters nd 50 liters respectively," he noted.
In addition, Lin said that only a small part of the 400 million liters of amber ale produced annually is exported and consumed by Taiwanese living abroad, stressing the popularity of the iconic brand amongst locals and foreigners.
Taiwan Beer has its origins in 1919, when Taiwan was a colony of Imperial Japan. The then-Monopoly Bureau of the Taiwan Governor's Office shipped equipment from Hawaii, and began manufacturing beer based on a German process.
"Nobody drank beer in Taiwan at that time," he pointed out.
After World War II, the Kuomintang Administration assigned beer production to the Taiwan Provincial Monopoly Bureau, adopted the name Taiwan Beer, and then reassigned production to the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau in 1947.
After Taiwan entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2002 -- under the name Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu, the Monopoly Bureau passed into history and TTL began operating independently of government support.
Even though China was admitted in the WTO simultaneously in 2002, Lin lamented that Taiwan Beer can't still be exported across the Taiwan Strait.
"Officials cited a law banning the use of county or provincial names in commercial products," he explained.
The argument, however, was hardly persuasive, given the number of products in China already sporting such names, including China's Tsingtao Beer, named for a city in Shandong province, he noted.
"We are confident on the opening of the Chinese market, once the trademark issue is solved, perhaps earlier next year," he said, adding that Taiwan beer is already very popular among the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.
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