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Among the rows of metal tanks and before a captive audience, Jim Sung was in his element.
The young brewmaster maneuvered around wooden barrels and fermentation tanks as he explained his beer-brewing technique, pausing to pass around a bag of dried hops so each visitor could have a chance to inhale the crop’s bitter, tangy scent.
There’s no question Sung knows his stuff. A former homebrewer, he won Taiwan’s annual Homebrew Competition in 2013. Just two years later, he opened Jim and Dad’s Brewing Company (J&D), a craft beer oasis in the countryside of Yilan County in northern Taiwan.
Taiwan’s craft beer scene is relatively new — but it’s booming. Alcohol production was government-regulated until the country gained World Trade Organization membership in 2002, opening up distribution channels for private brewers like Sung. In 2015, when J&D arrived on the scene, it became the country’s first craft brewery to have an on-site taproom for public tastings; now, there are as many as 30 breweries scattered throughout the country.
To the average visitor, the brewery’s location in Yilan may seem odd. Yilan is an hour’s drive from touristy Taipei, and the brewery itself is set deep in the countryside on the site of a former abandoned gravel lot.
But to Sung, the setting for J&D — which he owns with his father — was purposefully chosen.
The building is a 10-minute walk from the famous King Car Kavalan Distillery (home to the “best single malt whiskey on Earth,” according to the 2015 World Whiskies Awards), making it easy for clients to visit both venues in a single trip.
Yilan county is also known for its plentiful natural hot springs and high-quality, consistent and sulfate-rich water source, a key ingredient in the brewing process. Wheat is sourced from nearby farms, and Sung infuses many of his brews with other locally found ingredients, such as kumquat, grapefruit, golden dates, passion fruit and ginger. However, J&D imports its hops from the U.S. and its malt from Germany and New Zealand.
After our tour of the brewery, members of my group sipped a flight of J&D’s signature brews in the on-site tasting room. My flight included three hoppy ales: Yilan Ride White Ale, Kumquat Wheat Ale (my favorite) and Summer Mosaic. Other popular options are India Pale Ale, Dark Ale and Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Red Ale.
Guests in the tasting room can pair their beer with snacks, too. J&D’s menu items feature a strong American influence. (Sung went to high school and college in the U.S.) We noshed on sliders, fries and beef ribs. Plates of whole white fish — a common culinary staple in Taiwan — were brought for us to share.
The brewery takes group reservations for $100 per person. Tours are available on weekdays and holidays (including national holidays) from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 4 to 5 p.m.