Tokyo Takeover: Give Me All Your Beer and Bourbon

Look, it's no secret that I love whisk(e)y, craft beer and good pub food so yes, of course, I've got some recommendations for Tokyo. 

Ant'N Bee

This small basement bar tucked away in Roppongi doesn't seem like much until you're presented with the twenty tap beer list divided into lagers, weizens, hybrids, ales, black beers and "strong" all from Japanese breweries. Beers can be ordered in four sizes, so you don't have to commit to something you don't know you love, except for the strong beers which only come in small because, well, they're strong. The taps rotate but my favorite while we were there was the "Maitai King", a 12.7% Imperial Stout that wasn't messing around. My preference is for dark beers and I was very happy with the number of porters and stouts available when we went, not something I get to say often.

Along with a long beer list, they also have a pretty extensive and varied food menu. More people than I would've expected were ordering some of the Italian specialties but we played it safe and went with Japanese pub classics karaage (fried chicken) and house pickles. I'm not saying it doesn't exist but I've never had bad fried chicken in Japan and this was no exception, crispy on the outside and hot and steamy on the inside, these were the perfect bite size morsels to go with beer. The potatoes that come with are hand cut and also fried to a golden perfection. We had both the regular house pickles (daikon, lotus root and carrots) and the seasonal special (pickled leaks with balsamic) and they were both delicious. My one complaint is that theoretically this bar has "smoking" and "non-smoking" areas but it's so small it doesn't really matter. Unfortunately indoor smoking is just part of traveling in Japan.

Ant'N Bee is located at 5 Chome-1-5 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo, Japan (basement level) and is open 5:00pm-6:00am 365 days a year (yep). You can find out more on their facebook page or website.

Craftheads

Wait, if this bar is called Craftheads, why are those pictures of bourbon? Well, my friends, this place does happen to have a good number of taps but THIS is the bourbon selection:

I know, I'm sorry, it was dark and I took these pictures with my phone but trust me when I say this is three rows, three or four bottles deep of bourbon. Not scotch, not Japanese whisky, not Irish whisky, just beautiful beautiful American bourbons and ryes. For those not in the know, good bourbon is nearly impossible to find outside of the US, except for one liquor store in Bratislava (true story) and Japan. After all, Suntory is really Beam Suntory these days (along with Jim, this also means Maker's Mark, Basil Hayden's and Knob Creek) and Kirin owns my favorite underrated whiskey, Four Roses. Along with more types of Four Roses than I even knew existed they also had a full line up from Buffalo Trace Distillery (Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Blantons and of course, PAPPY) so basically every one of the three pours I had that evening was an agonizing decision but I left pretty happy and I can't wait to take Dan there on our next trip to Tokyo.

Here we had delicious perfectly fried onion rings with a spicy mayo and more house pickles. I will always order the house pickles and I have yet to ever regret that decision.

Crafteads is located at 1 Chome-13-10 Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0041, Japan. They are open Tues-Fri 5PM-Midnight, Saturday 3PM-11PM and Sunday 3PM-10PM. You can find out more information on their website.

Looking for more mouthwatering food pics? Check out my new food only insta @runawaybunnyeats
 

Taipei Takeover: Drinking Your Way Through

We already know that Wa Shu might just be my favorite cocktail and whisky bar in the world (and I wouldn't blame you for just hanging out there your whole trip) but we also checked out a few more bars in our short trip, so if you're more into craft beer or cocktails a little more classic, here are some good options.

Hodala

Conveniently, Hodala is right around the corner from Yongkang Beef Noodles, making it easy for you to get some pre or post noodle brews. Hodala has a solid mix of their own beers and guest taps from around the world available and with 16 taps, you're sure to find something you like or you can do a tasting paddle if you're not sure. (I was very excited by the number of dark beers on the menu and went for the Black Bullet and Fear the Oat!, both from Hodala) The beers here range in price from around $8-$10 (US) which might seem a little crazy after you've just spent that same amount on your entire dinner but is pretty average for craft beer around Asia. The exposed bricks, odd lighting and very intentional giant water pipes running along the wall didn't do much for us in the way of decor and generally I would describe that atmosphere as trying a little too hard to be cool but since I live in a neighborhood in Seoul I sometimes describe as "Brooklyn Disneyland", I'm well familiar with this style of slightly too shiny and new industrial and once you've had enough beers you probably won't care.

Hodala is located at No. 10, Lane 4, Yongkang St, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 and you can find more information on their facebook page.

啜飲室 (The Tasting Room)

On one hand, like Hodala, The Tasting Room's exposed wood, stainless steel and soundtrack of smooth jazz, give it a feel of trying to hit a particular aesthetic and not quite getting there but on the other, it actually is also an art gallery with some pretty cool stuff on the walls and as much as I want to talk about how over the top hipster their twenty different custom made, hand crafted tap handles are, they're actually pretty cool and I'm sad I didn't get a good close up shot (the image on the beer glass is a print version of one of the handles). The taps here definitely have a pretty heavy showing from West Coast breweries like Rogue and Heretic and they only had one Taiwanese beer on tap, so if your heart is set on trying some local beers, this isn't the place but with tons of beers we can't get in Seoul (including a good selection of dark beers for me) this was a good place for us to have a few rounds when we decided we'd pushed a little too hard in Jiufen the day before and needed a rest afternoon. Beers here are around $6-$8 (US) so a bit cheaper than Hodala, but also still not full pints. It's walking distance from Wa Shu if you're interested in doing a mini bar crawl.

The Tasting Room is located at 復興 南路 一段 107 巷 5 弄 14 號 No. 14, Alley 5, Lane 107, Section 1, Fuxing South Rd, 大安區台北市 Taiwan 106, you can find more information on their facebook page.

Ounce

I didn't snap any pictures at Ounce because this small, dimly lit speakeasy just didn't seem like that kind of party and while normally I have very little shame about taking photos of my food and drink, the bartender serving us turned out to be good friends with my husband's childhood best friend (TRUE STORY) so I didn't want to make a total ass of myself. (He's also how we found out about Wa Shu after we were asking about the selection of Japanese whiskies)

Ounce is hidden inside Relax cafe but don't worry, it's not that intimidating a speakeasy, just walk in and say you're their for Ounce and they'll direct you to the door tucked in the corner. There's no menu here, just a conversation with the bartender about your preferred liquors and flavor profiles and plenty of twists on classic cocktails. The drinks here are solid, costing around $12 (US) for a cocktail and the room is small and intimate but not so pretentious that we felt out of place in jeans. If you want an only in Taipei experience, go to Wa Shu but if you're looking for somewhere a little less adventurous to relax after a day of sightseeing, check out Ounce.

Ounce is located at No. 40, Lane 63, Section 2, Dunhua S Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106, you can find more information on their facebook page.


Taipei Takeover: Japanese Whisky and House Infusions at Wa Shu

House Infusions and Distillations at Wa Shu bar in Taipei, Taiwan

"Have you thought about what flavor you would like to try next?" the bar back asked.

It was all I HAD thought about since ordering my first cocktail, an Old Fashioned made with a house infused smoked whisky. Dan had been the one to originally ask about the bottle labeled "Smoky" but after hearing the description of the cocktail he turned to me with a questioning look, knowing it was right up my alley. Next he asked about the cedar bottle which it turned out was used to make a Manhattan. These are each our cocktails of choice, so we were immediately off to a good start.

"Ummm" I tore my eyes away from the collection of Japanese whisky bottles three deep behind the bar, covering shelves around the room and snuggled into roof beams.

"Is that one Jalapeno Pepper?"

He furrowed his brow.

"Japanese Pepper?" Dan chimed in.

"Yes!"

Even better. He left to consult with the bartender over what kind of drink would be made with the Japanese Pepper whisky. Dan chose a Taiwanese Basil house distillation.

My smoky Old Fashioned bordered on just a little too much smoke, especially since the bite the friendly Taiwanese bar back had suggested with it was a smoked chocolate caramel that seemed a little too matchy matchy. The chocolate caramel with the pine infused Manhattan on the other hand, tasted like campfire in the best way imaginable.

He came back over.

"The Japanese Pepper we will use to make a sort of whisky sour. For the Taiwanese Basil we will also make a sour with a little bit of spice. After this drink, all our customers ask for fried chicken because Taiwanese chicken is made with a lot of this basil and spicy peppers"

We laugh and also ask where we can get some of this chicken because fried chicken with basil and spicy peppers is all I want to eat all day every day.

"Oh you know, just from the side of the road"

We have clearly spend our days in Taiwan on the wrong roads.

For this drink the Japanese bartender/owner comes over to prepare the drink in front of us. Until this point he's been busy with the business of setting up the bar for the evening, as we were the first customers. I thought maybe he didn't speak English since the menu was offered in Japanese and Chinese and we were relying heavily on the bar back who didn't seem to know the purpose of each liquor yet but I was wrong.

"Do you know what Japanese pepper is?" he asked.

"Is it sansho?"

"Yes," he gave a slight approving nod, continuing to pluck basil and mix efficiently while speaking with us. "It will leave a quite distinct flavor on your tongue, do you like it?"

"Very much"

The mixing continued, stirring in two cocktail shakers and then into a blender with some ice.

"Are there any bars like this in New York?" a note of pride in his voice.

The owner had been listening to our conversations with his employee. As always, we had explained that we were from New York but live in Seoul.

"No. I don't think so. There are bars that do maybe five or so of their own infusions, but nothing like this."

"They don't do their own distillations?"

"I don't know any. I don't think so"

"Tokyo the infusion are quite good but not so much the distillations"

He sets our drinks on the counter and I make a mental note to ask him for Tokyo bar recommendations for whenever we find ourselves there next. A mental note I will completely forget until we're on our way home.

I'm happy to not that my sour has the foam indicative of being made with egg white even though I hadn't been paying enough attention to see him put one in. The blended ice adds even a bit more thickness but not so much that it would qualify as a frozen drink. The cocktail is tart but creamy from the frothed white and the sansho pepper is strong but not overwhelming. I definitely get a bit of tongue tingle. Dan is happy with his basil sour but doesn't love it as much as he had loved his Manhattan.

For our next round I choose Yuzu Salt Shochu and Dan chooses Raspberry Whisky. These are also both made into sours, mine with the added addition of a salt rim and a slice of dried yuzu on top. Dan's was a bit a sweet and syrupy for our taste, the only major miss of the night, though I'm sure for somebody who regularly drinks fruity drinks it would be delicious. I loved my Yuzu Salt Sour and it's a hard call between that and the Japanese Pepper for my favorite drink of the night. I really loved the sansho, but I could probably drink more of the yuzu, though I can't imagine ever going to Wa Shu and not wanting to try yet another concoction.

We discuss another round and I'm torn between wanting to try another flavor and my love for the Japanese whisky hidden in every conceivable nook and cranny in the bar. This may be the only place able to ride out the Japanese whisky shortage without have to significantly raise prices, there's so many bottles.

"Are you ready for just whisky?" the bartender asks us.

I let Dan choose first because I'm still thinking.

"Do you have the Hakushu 12?"

Nothing crazy, but I've gone to Japan three times in the last year and never managed to get my hands on a bottle of Hakushu with an age distinction, even at the Yamazaki Distilery.

He thinks a minute then turns to the bottles directly behind him and pulls out one of the green bottles hidden in the back. He looks at me.

"I'll have the same"

"Ice?"

"No"

"You are able to get this in New York?" he asks, surprised.

"Oh no, well maybe you can find it but it's very expensive now. We live in Seoul though so we have to go to Japan for good whisky"

He nods and pushes our pours across the bar before getting an order from the bar back for the large group that had arrived shortly before. A wealthy Taiwanese man who we've been told always travels with a posse and has recently become a regular customer.

"It's ok if there's one of these guys but I don't want two in here. I don't want arguments over who is the bigger man, you know?" he puffs up his chest in slight mockery before lining up a row of glasses and taking out what looks like two glass vases. Next a small torch and a tool I don't recognize with a hose attached.

He pours alcohol into the vases, lights something and then fills them with smoke. He caps each for a minute before pouring them into the glasses and bringing them over to the table and then returning farther down the bar to mix more drinks. I regret that we don't speak Japanese or Chinese so can't read the actual menu to find out what this drink is.

We sip our whisky. In one hour I will be thirty and I think that I miss the friends we would be celebrating with if we lived in America but this is still a pretty good way to end my twenties.

We finish our whisky and ask for the check, without having seen the menu, we're not quite sure what we're in for, especially with our pour of whisky and we're shocked when we see the bill.

Every drink was about US$10, including our pour of whisky which seemed incredibly reasonably priced for such unique creations and conversations with a bartender clearly knowledgeable and passionate about his business. At the good speakeasies in Seoul, drinks start at $25 for a classic cocktail and are usually just okay (which is why we never go to them). We were pretty sure that wasn't going to be the situation in Taipei where other cocktails and craft beer we had already had was priced like New York, but we weren't expecting as low as ten dollars. It's probably a good thing we don't live in Taipei because this would quickly become my favorite bar and I would want to go until we had tried every infusion and distillation, not to mention what had to be hundreds of bottles of hard to find whiskies.

We pay our bill and make our way back to the subway, hoping for the last train.

Wa Shu is located at 忠孝東路四段101巷39號, Taipei, 106, Taiwan (No. 39, Lane 101, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106) for more information check foursquare, their facebook or their website (not in English)

Beijing Break: Craft Beer at Slow Boat

Vanilla Imperial Stout

There are two reasons we ended up at Slow Boat:

1. It has gotten a lot of awards, some of which are for the best burger in Beijing

2. I had a migraine but needed to eat something and it was about a five minute walk from where we were staying.

On a Saturday night, the Slowboat Taproom is small, well lit and raucous. An Australian is ordering from the Portuguese bartender in an accent so thick, even I can't understand half the words. She's seems a bit frazzled. They're out of change. This guy wants a tasting paddle but instead of choosing specific beers just says "give me all the pale ales or whatever is like a pale ale".

We sit down at the bar, the only available seats. Maybe not the best decision for my migraine, but here we are. After our huge dumpling lunch we decide to split the infamous "Fry Burger" and get a side of the beer battered seasoned fries. Dan started with the Malty Dog Red Ale and I went for the Endeavor Vienna Lager. The lager is refreshing and crisp and turns out to be my second favorite beer there, it is very drinkable. The Red Ale turns out to be Dan's favorite.

The burger turns out to be pretty disappointing. In theory an all beef patty, American cheese, seasoned fries and their IPA mustard aioli should be a delicious combination but in practice... the patty was just not that good and on top of that, was beyond well done. We weren't asked how we wanted our burger cooked, so I'm willing to give some leeway, especially with a thin patty, but it was incredibly dry. The beer battered seasoned fries on the other hand, were delicious. I wished we had just ordered a full bucket o'fries instead of the half bucket and burger. We debated getting another drink, but after struggling to get the bartenders attention for a bit, I decided my migraine was too bad for my to handle anymore time out and we decided to come back the next night.

Sunday night, the atmosphere was much more relaxed (though they still seemed to be having a small bill shortage). We ordered at the bar and then snagged a seat at the table. I decided to try the Helmsman's Honey Ale which I'd heard the bartender from the night before recommend quite often. I was a little worried it would be too sweet for me but it turned out to not have much honey flavor at all. I didn't hate it but it didn't do much for me either. I decided to switch it up and go for the Sea Anchor Imperial Vanilla Stout. The stout is served as a 330ml pour in a snifter which seemed unnecessary since it had a pretty light body and low abv for an imperial stout. I LOVE Imperial Stouts, but often find that chocolate/coffee/vanilla stouts can get a little too sweet or cloying. This stout was only slightly sweet but still had a strong vanilla finish. Instead of trying another beer, I had two rounds of it. Dan tried the Monkey Fist IPA and The Captain's Pale Ale before returning back to the red ale. His verdict was that they weren't bad, but nothing memorable.

If you live in Seoul and are just looking for a burger fix, wait until you get back and go to Libertine or Left Coast. But if you're exploring the hutongs and need a craft beer break, definitely stop by.

Slowboat Taproom is located at Dongcheng Qu, Dongsi ba tiao 56 hao 东城区东四八条56号 you can read more about their beer and menu on their website, twitter and facebook.

Flower Gin

It's possible my favorite bar in Seoul is a tiny place in Kyungridan called Flower Gin. It only serves drinks made with Hendrick's, it's also a flower shop and sometimes there's a small dog named Coco running around and snuffing you. It's wonderfully bizarre.

The shop itself is quite small, maybe only ten seats. There's another row of stools outside at a bar against the window, but so far we've only gone in cold weather. There's not much too see on this stretch of Noksapyeong-daero, so I'm not sure I'll take advantage of the outside stools when the weather warms up a bit more anyways. I will probably take advantage of the gin and tonics to go, though.

Inside, the lighting is low and the air heavily scented with roses. The size and the warmth make it feel cozy and inviting, but the soundtrack and decor make me wonder if I'm quite cool enough to be there. I've never associated a flower shop with somewhere that's too cool for me. Almost everything in the bar is Hendrick's branded.  Lots of alcohol branding in a bar is usually something I find obnoxious, but here it's so whimsical and surreal it only adds to the charm and makes me wonder where and for how much I can get my hands on a set of Hendrick's coasters.

For drinks I usually stick with a simple but beautifully presented gin and tonic. There are a few other drinks on the menu and I occasionally branch out but we go here more for the subdued, but by no means boring, atmosphere than for fancy cocktails. I like it as an early in the evening, figuring out your plans for the night spot though I also think it would be a good, low key but unique first date location.

Flower Gin is located at 666 Itaewon-dong on Naksopyeong-daero.

Flower Gin Bar Kyungridan Itaewon Seoul