Taipei, 2015: Kiwi beer exporter Max Gilbert and an American-born Shanghai restauranteur Harn Sun fall in love. Wugu District (conveniently right outside Taipei, where it is illegal to brew beer), 2019: Gilbert and Sun launch Ugly Half Brewing Co., which goes on to become the darling of the Taiwanese craft beer scene.
Ugly Half’s delicious beers are decidedly in conversation with the modern Chinese and Taiwanese beer drinker. Traditionally, the top-selling beer styles in China and Taiwan are super light, super crispy lagers — think Tsingtao and Heineken. But Chinese buying habits are changing. Beer consumers, who are skewing younger, are buying less beer — but more premium beer.
In keeping, Ugly Half’s beers have a lighter, fresher take, with a wry and often culinary twist. Their “Though the Mist I See the Fairyland” Hazy IPA steers clear of the chewy smoothie-like hazies of the past half-decade of American brewing in favor of something more refreshing and tropical. Their ToasTEA, an amber lager, is not only inspired by Taiwanese breakfasts but literally includes them. The brewing team worked with local bakeries to take the discarded crusts that get cut off sandwiches, and threw the crusts into their brew along with Assam black tea, the Taiwanese breakfast beverage of choice.
Most thrilling is the Guava Gose. You may notice this gose has a little present attached to it: a packet of salty-sweet plum powder, which is a pantry staple in Taiwanese and Chinese kitchens. First, take a sip of the beer to taste the gose on its own. Then, sprinkle a little bit of the powder on your hand, and lick it up before taking your next sip. Feel free to “season” to your heart’s content!