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.


Captivating Kansai: Beer Komachi

Karaage at Beer Komachi in Kyoto, Japan

We went to Beer Komachi at the recommendation of my twitter friend and craft beer lover @megoizzy, primarily to sample some Japanese brews, with the intention of having dinner but not really having much in the way of expectation for the food. The Japanese beers were good, but the food, which is primarily a modern take on izakaya classics, was great.

For beer, I started off with the Pumpkin Ale from Iwate, which isn't a typical choice for me, but nothing else really struck my fancy. It was more of just a pale ale than a pumpkin ale, which was fine with me but I didn't love it.

To start neither Dan or I can ever resist ordering Japanese pickles and the spread here couldn't have made us happier. Alongside the more typical radish, cucumber and cabbage, was pickled eggplant, something I would've never even thought to pickle and would have guessed I would hate. I'm not a huge eggplant fan, so I did let Dan eat more than me, but I couldn't resist such an interesting combination of flavors and texture. This was definitely bar food taken to the next level and we were incredibly excited for our next courses.

Next came the house smoked selection of the day; egg, seasoned cod roe (mentaiko), Japanese radish, cheese, salmon, edamame and pork liver. I like liver in pate and mousses but I very rarely like it whole but the smoked pork liver was an exception. I'm always a little mixed on smoked cheese, I find too often instead of a balance between creaminess and smoke, you can end up feeling like you're just eating a weird hunk of solid smoke but this one was done perfectly, slightly smoky on the rind but still creamy and delicious in the middle. The smoked egg was perfectly done with a still translucent yolk. There wasn't a loser on the plate but the smoked mentaiko absolutely stole the show. It's no secret that I absolutely love cod roe but Dan was also on board with me when it came to this being the winner. A punch of salt and smoke with a texture unlike anything else, the serving was almost too much but also made me only want to eat that forever. If Peach flight prices drop insanely low again, don't put it past me to fly to Kyoto just in hopes that the mentaiko will still be on the menu.

Our "main course" was karaage and french fries because I'm also incapable of saying no to Japanese fried chicken. I stole Dan's Black IPA from Tochigi when it turned out to be more like a porter and less like an IPA which was ideal for me. The "fried potato with Kyoto chili peppers" were nothing exceptional but they were well seasoned. The beer battered karaage was beautifully fried, crunch on the outside, well seasoned with just a hint of ginger and steamy and moist on the inside.

With it's low key atmosphere and our seat at the bar allowing us to watch the preparation of so many delicious foods coming out of the tiny kitchen behind the bar, we wanted to stay for another round (and considered ordering more food even though we had had plenty) but unfortunately it's cash only and we realized we had just enough on us to cover our four beers and four plates so instead we settled up and headed back to the train to Osaka. But if we go back to Kansai, we might need to stay in Kyoto instead just to be able to stop by more than once.

Beer Komachi is located at 444 Hachikencho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, you can find more information on their facebook page or twitter.

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.