If you prefer classy to brassy as you savor your favorite cocktail, take a shot of Taipei's urbane but selective bar scene. There are few better cities in which to enjoy a drink than Taipei. If you're heading that way, here are some stylish spots that raise the bar.
For top-notch drinks and views of Taipei 101, W Taipei's Yen Bar is perhaps unbeatable. Senior bartender Jay Liao, however, seldom has time to gaze at the skyscraper through the bar's floor-to-ceiling windows, or lounge on one of the signature purple sofas. He spends more than half his working hours preparing cocktail ingredients.
For his Oolong Martini, he steeps oolong tea leaves in cold gin rather than use an oolong beverage which would dilute the spirit. His Ti Kuan Yin Mojito is flavoured with Iron Kuanyin oolong leaves and Jay uses vodka rather than rum, preferring brown cane sugar for its additional flavour and crunch.
When asked to suggest a whiskey, Jay often introduces Kavalan Oloroso Sherry Cask, an exceptionally dark single malt which he describes as "reminiscent of a cognac." It is made less than 50km from Yen Bar by the people behind Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, which was recently named the best single malt whisky on Earth at Whisky Magazine's World Whiskies Awards. "Nine out of ten guests trying Kavalan for the first time think it's excellent," he says.
"The name Ounce is a homage to bartending culture in New York, which is where the bar's founders hail from," explains co-owner Yee Soong. Just like the Prohibition-era speakeasies which inspired the bar's dark wood, candlelit interior, Ounce is accessed through a secret door at the back of a coffee shop. The surroundings are conducive to conversation, or simply sitting back in the shadows while savoring your drink.
Taipei's cocktail culture is very much influenced by Japan, Yee says, and one of Ounce's goals is to educate its guests about the way cocktails are made and enjoyed in 21st-century North America.
"We're into sharing and having fun," he says. "We do what we do because we love it. We do twists on old favourites and spur-of-the-moment innovations. As well as several Japanese whiskies, we use Kavalan whisky and even kaoliang (a clear local liquor made from sorghum) in our cocktails."
This article, which featured five bars in total (the others being Marsalis Home, Trio and Alchemy), appears in the third 2015 issue of the quarterly Chinese-English magazine Indulge, which is published by the Hong Kong office of Bauer Media Group and distributed on ferries linking Hong Kong with Macao, as well as Star Cruises vessels. The photo above, courtesy Sean Marc Lee, shows one of Ounce's bartenders crafting a cocktail. Those who like a tipple may find this website useful.
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