Thu, May 15, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Enter Taipei and its quiet craft cocktail revolution

Taipei is polishing up its bars and drinking cocktails differently as imbibers politely decline cosmopolitans in favor of bitters, bourbons and craft cocktails

By Olivia Wycech  /  Contributing reporter

Order off the vintage cocktail menu, recommends Alchemy owner and head bartender Angus Zou, which is where you will find an Old Fashioned.(Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health.)

Photo: Olivia Wycech

Taipei bars have typically taken a generic approach to cocktail-making — weekends only, gin and tonic, lowball glass and, if you’re lucky, a maraschino cherry from a jar. But change is on the horizon and the drinking landscape is moving from clubs to clandestine locations. Hidden behind unmarked doors, bracingly strong craft cocktails have quietly come back to life and, thanks to the renaissance of the speakeasy concept, retro hideaways that focus on technique and creativity are creating queues in Taipei — even on Monday nights.

In lieu of advertising, these bijou drinking dens rely mostly on word of mouth, as they prefer to cater to cultivated imbibers, rather than big crowds. Kitchens are instead being used to muddle fresh ingredients, distill in-house additives like bitters, generate unique flavors and experiment with eclectic pairings, which are all blended over the bar with infused seasonal offerings and quality aged spirits. The atmosphere is dark, the music quiet and the focus is on the drink, the company and the conversation. Here is an adult guide to drinking in Taipei.

ALCHEMY

Step through a secret door that doubles as a bookcase into the prohibition era at Alchemy. The quintessential dark wood and leather accenting has created a 1920s haven for nostalgic liquor lovers who enjoy a touch of jazz while sipping on an Old Fashioned (NT$450). The drink can be ordered off the vintage menu and is also what owner Angus Zou (鄒斯傑) recommends, despite Alchemy’s extensive selection of cocktails. He says it possesses the four elements that are dear to a cocktail — sugar, water, spirits and bitters. Bourbon, sugar cane and bitters are served elegantly in a Waterford-style crystal tumbler and the drink is redolent of Christmas thanks to a twist of orange rind.

The Chrysanthemum Fizz (NT$450) is a drink that’ll probably appeal more to women. The gin-based cocktail is light on the liquor, and subtle floral hints are emulsified into a tart and tangy grapefruit concoction. A stronger yet still introductory drink would be the Beginning of Prohibition (NT$450), as it starts to get into edgy bitters. Angostura 1919 rum, maraschino, lime juice, sugar and bitters are served over crushed ice in a tall water carafe.

As with Alchemy’s decor, much attention has gone into both the presentation of cocktails and how they are made. The Misu-Tini (NT$500), for example, captures Japan’s signature sweet and salty flavors in a single sake cup, and gets the job done with the delicate addition of gin.

Address: 2F, 16-1 Xinyi Rd, Sec 5, Taipei City (台北市信義路五段16-1號2樓)

Telephone: 0953-585-759

Open: Mondays to Saturdays from 9pm to 2am

Average drink: NT$350 to NT$1,000

Details: Service available in Mandarin and English, cash and credit cards accepted

On the net: www.facebook.com/BarAlchemy

How to get in: Make a reservation 1-2 days in advance as neither walk-ins nor standing are accepted and seating is limited to 50 people. Live jazz and blues on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Enter through Marquee at the hostess stand.

OUNCE

There is no menu at Ounce. Instead, earnest bartenders whose heads are filled with an encyclopedic knowledge of booze combinations, will sit down and discuss with you what flavors would best suit your palate before returning with an arcane concoction. The back bar will impress even Hemmingway-style drinkers, but still welcomes and encourages novices.

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