Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Bittersweet concoction

R&D Cocktail Lab serves delectable infusions made from locally-sourced ingredients and liquors collected from around the world in a modern apothecary setting

By Dana Ter  /  Staff Reporter

Bartender Yann Gueroult makes a Burning Cane using a flaming blue blazer technique.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

There are no windows on the ground floor of R&D Cocktail Lab. The outside of the bar on 178 Yanji Street is a simple dark gray wall with the ethanol molecule carved in the right-hand corner. The molecule is also the only spot where curious passersby can sneak a peek.

Inside, medicine cabinets line the wall behind a narrow wooden bar. Displayed on the shelves are bourbons, bitters and a row of infusions with labels such as “black tea vodka” and “green tea gin.” On the wall are four characters: 詩朋酒侶 (shi peng jiu lu), which means to enjoy good alcohol with good friends.

Books about alcohol line the shelves on the upper level, which is more 1930s Shanghai than apothecary-esque. Old Chinese-style sliding doors portion off the room, and a partly shielded window with intricate engravings look out into a small balcony where fresh herbs such as rosemary and marigold are grown. In some ways, it’s easy to imagine the original set-up of the 80-year-old building, which was one of Taipei’s first lottery houses.

R&D, which stands for “Research & Development,” is the brainchild of three entrepreneurs united by their nerdy fascination with liquors — Spencer Huang (黃勝斌), who is half American and half Taiwanese, Yann Gueroult from France and Dale Kung (孔柏仁) from Taiwan. Kung was Huang’s language professor at National Taiwan University. Hungover from previous nights’ shenanigans, Huang would design his one-on-one classes with Kung in such a way that they were talking about alcohol each class. He eventually convinced Kung to leave his teaching position and join him and his friend Gueroult, who was a chef back in France, to open R&D in January this year.

R&D Cocktail Lab

Address: 178, Yanji St, Taipei City (台北市延吉街178號)

Open: Tuesdays to Thursdays 7pm to 2am, Fridays to Saturdays 7pm to 3am, Sundays 6:30pm to 12:30am

Average drink: NT$350 to NT$450

On the net: www.facebook.com/rdtpe


Huang and Gueroult were bartenders at Ounce, another speakeasy-type bar, where Huang says they “became obsessed with infusions.” At R&D, like at Ounce, everything is “built to spec” which means there’s no menu. Customers simply tell the bartender the flavors they like, and he’ll whip up a cocktail using whatever fresh ingredients are available. But that’s where the similarities with Ounce and other craft cocktail bars end.

Gueroult says that there’s the assumption in Taiwan that if a bar is owned by expats, or even if it’s an upscale establishment, it has to have a Western theme.

Huang thinks this is silly. “We’re white guys,” he says, referring to him and Gueroult. “So we decided to open an Asian-themed bar.”

Although many of the bitters and bourbons are collected from their travels around the world, the fruits, spices and herbs are locally sourced. Huang travels to Pingtung to buy fresh fruit from farmers, and his friends sometimes bring ingredients, such as lemon thyme, from their gardens to the bar. The ingredients available at the bar match the growing season, so while the summer months have seen more mango-rum infusions, drinks with strawberries and passion fruit will start popping up during the winter.

“There’s a lot of under-valued fresh ingredients in Taiwan,” Huang says.

During the daytime, Huang is usually experimenting with new concoctions because, as he says, “the cost of playing around is negligible.”

But it’s not as easy as it seems. When I ask for a recipe to whip up my own cocktail from home, Gueroult looks at me as if I’m mad.

“To bartend, you need a bar,” Gueroult says.

Infusions are tricky — not so much in the preparation, as that simply requires a lot of patience waiting for weeks for the ingredients to sink in to the alcohol — but more so in getting the balance of flavors right.

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