Geek Flora and Geek Choc had the pleasure of meeting Mr Michael Hsieh, founder of ARen Trading Co. in Kaohsiung when we attended WhiskyFair TAKAO in early December 2017. ARen Trading Co. is the official trading partner of The Whisky Agency as well as Säntis Malt. Mr Hsieh is also one of the organisers of WhiskyFair TAKAO, alongside with Mr Li Chunfeng, founder of The Drunken Master.
Michael is a man of many talents. He is not only an independent bottler in Taiwan. He is also an avid whisky lover, an author of amazingly detailed whisky tasting notes for his own bottlings and the author/translator of the Chinese version of the book, Whisky Rising. Whisky Rising is a book written by Stefan van Eycken. It talks about Japanese whisky and is considered to be one of the most comprehensive books ever written on the subject.
WhiskyFair TAKAO’s Inspiration
The photographs of Michael’s visit to Limburg (the birthplace of the famous WhiskyFair Limburg) created WhiskyFair TAKAO. His pictures and stories of Limburg inspired Mr Li Chunfeng to suggest holding a whisky fair in Taiwan. Back in 2016, Michael attended WhiskyFair Limburg and came back with photos and stories of the whiskies he drank and the people he met. Chunfeng reciprocated Michael’s passion and enthusiasm and suggested holding a similar whisky fair in Kaohsiung. That was the beginning of their collaboration for WhiskyFair TAKAO that resulted in the highly successful show in December 2017.
The Chance to Drink Rare Whisky
Michael attended the yearly WhiskyFair Limburg, and he shared his experiences with us freely during our chat. When WhiskyFair Limburg first started, it had 20 stalls. In the latest one in 2017, it has doubled to 40 stalls. The good thing about Limburg is the affordability of rare whiskies that you get to try. By paying a fraction of what you need to pay for in a bar, you get to taste good and rare whiskies at the fair. WhiskyFair TAKAO used the same system, and it was an excellent way to filter out the real, serious drinkers and those who were there to look for free booze. Michael shared that he first drank Karuizawa at WhiskyFair Limburg and his first Port Ellen was similarly from Limburg too.
Paying for the drams also ensures that visitors control what they drink. Serious drinkers are likely to pay for good drams that they want to try, while the beginners will seek those which are affordable. It prevents overdrinking and discourages drunkards at their fair.
ARen Trading Co.
Mr Michael Hsieh is the President of ARen Trading Co. He set up the company in 2013 and has since, been a trading partner of The Whisky Agency and Säntis Malt from Switzerland. The company started partly because of Michael’s passion for whisky, but it is his talents for the business that got the company to where it is today.
Labels and Whisky Bottles
Taiwan IBs have beautiful labels on their bottles. When we quizzed Michael regarding labels, he said, “To us, labels are free. Most IBs do not use a back label because it cut costs, but to me, that’s not true! Because you can use the back label to advertise almost anything! Of course, you need to ensure the liquid inside is good.”
Independent Joint Bottling
ARen Trading Co. functions as an independent bottler (IB) and buys whisky casks from The Whisky Agency (TWA). The reasons that Michael wanted to work with TWA are numerous, but one of the biggest reasons is their flexibility in allowing Michael to use his independent labels on the whisky bottles. Similar to Chunfeng’s desire to have his individual labels, Michael wanted to use his labels as well.
Michael’s unique positioning stems from the fact that he is always looking out for innovative ideas to help others. Looking at other IBs, he realised that not many IBs make use of labels at the back of the bottles that they released. In a burst of creativity, Michael came up with the idea of using labels as a way of advertising.
With the idea of promoting new bars in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia in his mind, Michael approached bars in Japan to check if they are interested in doing joint bottlings. His idea was highly appreciated, and hence, the series of World Bars Tour from ARen Trading Co. was born. Here are some pictures of the bottles available at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar.
Success after Success
These initial joint-bottlings became so popular in Japan and Taiwan that other bars around the region wanted to be part of it. Other bars began to approach Michael for joint bottlings, and the World Bar Tour series expanded. The latest one was a joint bottling with six different bars across Japan, Taiwan and Australia.
Such joint bottlings are win-win solutions for the bar and the consumers. On one end, the bars get the necessary promotion. On the other end, the consumers get to drink good whiskies!
A Whisky-Loving Businessman
How did Michael succeed in such a challenging environment? His secret lies in being humble and from learning all the time. Michael loves whisky. His business is flourishing because of his passion for whisky and his determination to provide the best service to his customers. He has a faithful following of whisky drinkers who trust him to bring them good-quality bottles. Why do they trust him? Well, that’s because he has been steadily writing detailed tasting notes for his customers from day one and has not stopped doing so whenever there are new bottlings. All his customers have come to trust in his notes and know that what they buy are bottles that they will love – based on Michael’s tasting notes. Nowadays, Michael’s bottles sell out before they arrive on Taiwan’s shores because his customers pre-ordered them.
On Writing a Book
Michael is the author/translator for the Chinese version of Whisky Rising, a definitive book about Japanese whiskies. While he is considering to write his own book, he is not keen to start it yet. “I need more time, and more experiences,” he said. Nonetheless, he welcomes the idea of doing a translation of another popular whisky book into Chinese so that more Taiwanese can enjoy it.
Interest in Michael’s book and Whisky
If you are interested in buying Michael’s book and whisky, drop us a note at email@example.com, and we can help you to find out how we can ship them over to your country of residence!