I first came upon 55th Street 五十五街精釀啤酒 when doing an assignment at 香色 during a long day of shooting/interviewing for an upcoming Taipei guide. We ordered an array of food & drink for the table – saw a local beer listed on the menu and figured, well, why not, it was almost noon. We had a sweet amber lager, brewed with dried longan fruit – a type of local fruit related to the lychee. Just like Jesus always taught us – it’s the outside that matters, and the 55th Street bottles were gorgeous – I actually took my Amber ale bottle home. At the next stop – FujinTree 台菜香檳, I was handed the menu and saw 55th Street again. 55th Street once again popped up (amongst other places) that day during post-work drinks – seen on the chalkboard at my favored haunt Tasting Room, pretty much completing the trifecta of signs that this is now my beer of choice.
Founded in 2014, 55th Street is run by a husband-wife duo, Johan and Jack: she a model, he a Colombian-raised Taiwanese who had a dream brewing (ha!). Upon moving to Taiwan, Jack decided to pursue his passion for making beer – and Johan put her modelling career to the side to support him, and lo – 55th Street Craft Brewery. The two had little experience prior to starting 55th Street, and taught themselves by painstakingly poring over books and manuals. But hard work and persistence led to the release of three beers: Longan Amber Ale (made with dried longan from Miaoli), an IPA and ㄞ po ㄧ ei (floral, citrus), and judging from their current partnerships, they’re capturing a certain segment of the Taiwanese F&B scene that will help propel them even further.
I reached out to Jack to find out a bit more about 55th Street and their future plans:
1. One of the things that first caught my eye was the gorgeous labelling on your Amber Ale and IPA bottles. Could you talk a bit about the design/who designed it?
Thanks! We’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about our labels and image, but what we really want to do is to be able to cooperate with local artists and showcase their work through ours. For instance, we are working on a set of special release beers that will feature the work of different local street artists. The brewery logo and most of the lettering work for our Amber and IPA was done by a very talented calligrapher called Mr. Kams whom I met via Calligraphy Masters.
The design for our first limited release (Session IPA) was done by a local graffiti artist called Ahdiaone. As far as the label design – I learned a bit of Illustrator so I could put everything together and could edit stuff quickly, and work on promotioal stuff for the brewery.
2. I see that the Amber Ale features longan fruit. Why did you decide to use longan, and how do you incorporate it into the ale?
We are constantly in pursuit of making every beer as interesting as the last. So to kick off the brewery we decided to use a very local ingredient that no one had used before in a beer (at least commercially). We wanted something that was available year-round, or that could store well, such as dried longan.
We work with a local family-run fruit farm in Miaoli, where they grow, pick, dry and process all of their fruits by hand and some basic machinery. We chose them above other longan growers for the particular variety of longan they grow, which is more aromatic than dried longan found in super markets, less smokey and has a faint acidity which matches well with the caramel malts we use to brew our Amber Ale.
At the brewery, we incorporate every element of the fruit into every step of the brewing process so as to maximize its flavor yet not making the beer a sweet and syrupy one but a solid Amber ale with a nice “longany” finish.
3. It’s not only important to make a quality product – distribution is key. I found that you were stocked at three of my favorite F&B concepts in Taipei:富錦樹台菜香檳 at FujinTree, Xiang Se 香色 and Tasting Room 啜飲室. How did you start to approach these retailers?
Currently, we self-distribute all of our bottles and some of our kegged beer. That means lots of knocking on doors and lugging samples around town. But also, we’ve been lucky enough to be approached by restaurant, bar and coffee shop owners/managers for our beers, which is always a thrill! Johan says it’s 緣分 -we met our very first customer in a parking lot thanks to our dog!
4. What are some of your plans for distribution for the future? Any new beers in the works?
55th St. is a tiny brewery: technically, we’re a nanobrewery. We’ve almost reached max capacity so any further plans for distribution would require a larger operation. However, in the spirit of keeping things interesting, we are working on a bunch of limited release beers to be released seasonally.
The first one is a Session IPA -a 4.8%, highly aromatic and refreshing beer- which will be available until the end of October. We’re still testing and tweaking our next brew which will have a higher alcohol level to keep everyone warm for the upcoming weather yet flavorful enough to order the next round.
5. What do you feel like is the most important aspect in order for a craft brewery in Taiwan to become successful?
Integrity as a business, respect and passion for the craft, creativity as fuel and an unrelenting willingness to sweat one’s ass off!
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