Jim Sung opened Taiwan’s first destination brewery, Jim & Dad’s Brewing Co. (All Photos: Dana Ter)
Yilan County is only an hour’s drive from downtown Taipei but feels worlds apart. A perfect destination for a daytrip, Yilan lies between rugged mountains to its west and striking black-sand beaches to its east.
Recognizing the county’s potential to attract tourists, craft brewer Jim Sung opened Taiwan’s first destination brewery, Jim & Dad’s Brewing Co., in 2015 amid the rice fields of rural Yuanshan. Taiwan’s craft beer scene hasn’t been the same since.
Originally from Taipei, Jim wanted to differentiate his establishment from the craft beer pubs and taprooms sprouting up all over Taipei. “Where else in Taiwan can you drink craft beer and be surrounded by so much nature?” asks the bubbly and bookish Jim.
Though Jim & Dad’s sells its beers to many craft beer pubs and restaurants in Taipei, including Little London, Alphadog Craft Beer and the Corner Office, there’s still something remarkable about drinking beer next to the farms where Jim sources ingredients to brew his beers.
An impressive tasting hall greets visitors to the two-story brewery. Bright, floor-to-ceiling windows allow patrons to peek out into the rice fields as they taste their flights or sip on their pints, while red-brick walls create a cozy setting.
At the end of the tasting hall is a counter with 12 taps, which include several seasonal brews, and visitors can order off a food menu packed with choices such as baby back ribs, slow-smoked pork and Mexican-style pizza. The second floor, which doubles as a lookout tower, showcases panoramic views of Yilan.
Most days Jim can be found here with a half-pint of beer in hand talking to customers in the tasting hall or playing Frisbee with their children in a grassy area by the back porch — a spot that’s also used for summertime barbecues.
His father, an engineer, inspects the mash tuns and fermentation tanks behind a glass wall from the tasting room. Though it’s Jim who does most of the brewing, his father is a partner in the business, and the brewery is named after both of them because Jim envisioned a brewery where people would come for family outings.
Despite a growing craft beer scene, Taiwan’s beer industry is in its relative infancy. Until Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2002, a government monopoly controlled brewing and distribution and championed the national favorite, Taiwan Beer, over foreign brands.
After 2002 a greater variety of imported beers trickled in. However, consumers’ palates weren’t ready for the bitterness of North American–style craft beer, and the first wave of craft brewing quickly ebbed — but not for long.
Learning from their predecessors’ mistakes, a second wave of brewers — many of whom, like Jim, traveled and studied in the United States and Europe — adjusted their techniques so that their craft beers appeal to Taiwanese palates. This means beers that are less bitter, with a more prominent citrus flavor.
Jim’s beers blend North American–style brewing and hops with local ingredients such as kumquat, pomelo and passion fruit.
For instance, his Kumquat Wheat Beer, a light and fruity concoction, sources ingredients from a farm that’s less than a five-minute walk from the brewery. “It’s fun for us, and I hope it’s fun for them, too,” says Jim about the elderly couple who own the farm. “I’ll bring a few bottles of Kumquat Wheat Beer for them to try, and they love it … I think.”
Another example is the new Coffee Amber beer, which Jim describes as “a combination of the roasted flavor of the coffee with the caramelized malt of the amber.” While coffee is normally used to add flavor to a porter or stout, Jim wanted to do something different.
He collaborated with a few baristas — Taipei is known for its small, independent coffee roasters — to roast beans specifically for the Coffee Amber. “It was a way to introduce specialty coffee drinkers, people who like artisanal products, to the concept of craft beer,” Jim explains.
His latest mission is more daunting: attracting wine drinkers. “Anyone with some class knows about wine, but when they think of beer, they still think of cheap Taiwan Beer.” One way he seeks to change this is via the food and beer pairings that he recommends to customers.
For example, Jim recommends the brewery’s Summer Mosaic, a dry-hop pale ale with fruity undertones, to accompany a hearty bowl of fresh beef noodle soup.
“There’s so much room for creativity with beer.” For Jim, the pairing possibilities — white ale with fruit salad, chocolatey stout with dessert — are endless.
As his day winds to a close, the bonus to brewing in Yilan becomes clear. Jim can head up to the brewery’s rooftop to watch the sunset over Yilan’s rice fields. Accompanying him is his latest craft brew, paired with a perfect food selection.
Jim & Dad’s Brewing Co. is located at 411 Yuanshan Road Sec 2, Yuanshan Township, Yilan County, Taiwan