DSC_1071Well, not booze – cocktail and bartending supplies.

I took advantage of a rare break in my weekday schedule to finally visit this place, MJFlairshop, which is only open during office hours. (Not that a visit’s really necessary, you can buy their products online here).

MJ Flair are probably the only place in Taiwan dedicated to selling bartending and cocktail-making equipment and supplies. You can get mixing glasses, jiggers, cocktail picks, strainers and much more besides. As far as consumables go, they have a fair selection of bitters unavailable elsewhere in Taiwan. Some of it is rather expensive, but your only other option is to get it from overseas yourself.

I’ve already bought my basic mixing equipment, but it was found at a number of places around Taipei (City Super, Hola, Hengjiu, Ikea etc). It’s nice to have some supplies in a single place like this.

The guys running the shop seem pretty laid back and friendly. You can pop in and take a look, but it’s really more of an office for their online sales business.

If you’re starting a home bar in Taiwan, their starter’s kit might be a good buy, with a Boston shaker, jigger, barspoon, hawthorne strainer and a few other bits and pieces.

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A trick I have, whilst boozehunting, is to look on the back label of the bottle and find the address of the supplier, distributor or wholesaler. I’ve found a few this way.
The best is a place in Neihu called Sundy. Here’s their website address.

They ARE a wholesale outlet – there’s a street address you can visit, but they don’t have all their stock on display, and all new stock is (apparently) on their website. The best bet is to wait until you need 3000NT worth of stuff and then they’ll deliver free in the Taipei/Xinbei area. If you’re in other parts of Taiwan, they can send it to you for a small charge.

So what do they have that you can’t get elsewhere?

Lillet Blanc – Sundy is the only place I’ve seen this super-fine aperitif wine, much beloved by cocktail geeks (and for a reason). It’s a little dear, at 1000NT, but worth it.

The entire range of Fees Brothers Bitters – I’ve blogged about how these great bitters are available at Breeze, but Breeze gets them from Sundy and they have been very short on stock recently. In fact there are few flavours left. If you want the good stuff, you’ll have to go to Sundy. I recommend the Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Bitters, Rhubarb Bitters, Black Walnut Bitters and Grapefruit Bitters, in that order.

Kirsch (Massanez) – A fine old cherry eau-de-vie (they also have pear and wild raspberry, which I haven’t tried).

Creme de Violette (G. Miclo) – An essential ingredient for authentic old Aviations, but expensive at 1900NT (I haven’t tried it – they also have Creme de Roses).

Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo) – Hard to find elsewhere, and essential in many vintage cocktails. (There are other Luxardo products. I am particularly curious about Luxardo Fernet and St Antonio Liqueur. Anyone know about these?)

Stock Vermouth (Dry) – I’ve seen this a few places recently, actually, but am very curious how it compares to Martini and Rossi (the only other brand – along with Cinzanno – of vermouth in Taiwan). Anyone know?

Goldschlager – a kind of schnapps I’ve been curious about, but have yet to try.

You can browse from their website, but the last link on the left, this one, will take you straight to a spreadsheet which is much easier to browse.
Note for newcomers, this place has good stuff for odds and ends, but for Bourbon, go to ‘Number 8 Bourbon Shop’ and for gin go to ‘9 City’.

There are three small chains of import/ boutique supermarkets in Taipei. Breeze Center (the original location on Fuxing), is by far the best, and the only one with quite a few products you are unlikely to find elsewhere. I have also blogged about the City Super in Megacity Mall (Banqiao).

The third is Jason’s, with locations in Taipei 101, Tianmu, Taipei Main Station and Banqiao (as well as Gaoxiong and Xinzhu).

Generally Jason’s doesn’t have anything you couldn’t find elsewhere. They have the range of a good Taipei bottle store (a very good one even), but at higher prices, with nothing unique. One thing they used to have going for them was ginger beer (which I now can’t find anywhere – I’d love a tip there), but now that’s gone too.

A couple of weeks ago though, I saw two new products there, which I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

First is this aged Mistral Pisco (1039 NT). Interesting. My one Pisco – Control – is delicious, and I’d love to try an aged version. It would be great to hear from anyone who has tried this stuff. I saw this at the Banqiao branch (FE City Mall), but they don’t have it at the Taipei 101 branch.

The second thing was two spiced rums from Redrum (750NT). Their standard Redrum and their Voodoo Spiced Rum. Reviews I’ve seen haven’t been particularly positive, saying that if you want spiced rums there are better options around. Well, not in Taipei there aren’t. This has got to be better than the only other spiced rum – Captain Morgan’s. Again, I’d like to hear any opinions on this rum. I saw this at both the Banqiao and 101 branches. I also saw it at Breeze the next week, but at about 100NT more.

Newsflash!!! Cheap Woodford Reserve Bourbon at RT Mart (Taiwan). That’s the chief reason for this post actually. The Woodford Reserve (Distiller’s Select) is now on sale at RT Mart for a mere 675NT (about $US22 for foreign readers). That’s about half what you’d normally pay for it. I’ve blogged about the Woodford before, and it’s bloody excellent Bourbon.

Edit: I’ve received a report that it’s not every branch of RT Mart that has this special. If you’re in the Taipei area, I can confirm that the Xindian branch does.

Edit 2: Sale’s over and there’s no plans to restock. Keep an eye open when you’re in RT, though. They have had it int he past and may have it again one day.

Normally I don’t rate RT Mart highly as a source of booze. It doesn’t have much of a range. There are two things to make it worth a visit though. That Woodford Reserve, and Havana Club Anejo Especial Rum, available elsewhere, but probably cheapest at RT Mart. Aside from that there’s little else of worth. Their cheap wine selection is better than Carrefour’s, possibly, but only when it comes to French wine and bubbly.

Which brings me to Carrefour, the best source of a few basic bottles and a few rare bottles. Carrefour is about as cheap as it’s going to get for a couple of essential things – Tanqueray, Martini and Rossi Vermouth, Courvoisier Exclusif VSOP (my basic mixing cognac). You can get these elsewhere, but Carrefour is convenient and cheap.

And they have a few things you won’t find elsewhere. I’ve blogged before about two excellent rums: Neissons Rhum Agricole, and Matusalem Platino Cuban-style rum. The Neissons is great stuff if you have slightly daring tastes and the Matusalem is just a great mixing rum – way better than Bacardi, and much the same price. They also have an amber Agricole called Saint James which is very good. You won’t find Broker’s gin elsewhere, either (but there’s better gins out there, so it’s probably not worth it unless you’re a collector). Anyway, they have stuff (new products, too) that you can’t find ANYWHERE else in the country.

While I’m on the subject of large supermarkets (hypermarkets), I think I should cover the other two in Taiwan. A-Mart (Aimai) has some good cheap wine, but nothing much in the way of spirits. Costco is disappointing. There’s nothing there that you can’t buy for much the same price elsewhere, and I despise Costco for their ‘pay for the privilege of shopping with us’ scam. They don’t even have anything in the way of rare mixing ingredients you won’t find elsewhere.

That’s all. Get down and buy some of that Woodford Reserve. It’s in a stupid looking box (they should have left it in its beautiful bottle), but it’s there in bulk. I know someone who bought six bottles.

Stupid Box

What 9City is for gin in Taipei, 八條酒庫 is to Bourbon.

If that name came out gibberish on your browser, that’s because it’s in Chinese and this place doesn’t seem to have an English name. They don’t have a website either. Or a shop really.

They’re a supplier (right in the middle of the hostess bar district of Taipei) and they have a small store front allowing single-bottle purchasers from the public.

The name transliterates to ‘Batiao Jiuku’ and translates loosely to ‘Number Eight Liquor Warehouse’ or perhaps ‘Eight Street Liquor Supplies.

Their range for most booze is uninteresting, but for Bourbon, they’re far and away the best in Taipei on range and usually price too. I’m going to call them the Number 8 Bourbon Shop.

So what do they have? Their range of Bourbon includes (but might not be limited to):

Maker’s Mark (800NT)

Knob Creek Special Batch (750NT)

Woodford Reserve (1100NT)

Four Roses

Four Roses Single Barrel (1400NT)

Baker’s

Booker’s (2400NT)

Buffalo Trace

That makes for a lot of nice Bourbon, some that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Taipei and some that is a hell of a lot cheaper. (That Knob Creek, for example, almost looks like a pricing error – The couple of other places I’ve seen it sell it for about 1200).

So what to buy? I’ve tried the Maker’s Mark, and though I see a place for it (and it IS very good), it’s not my favourite – if you like your Bourbon very smooth, though, try it, for sure. I like the Knob Creek much better, and it’s a steal at the price. I also tried the Woodford Reserve (they have limited taster bottles), and it was even better. I’m going to buy it very soon. I’m also interested in the Four Roses Single Barrel as I hear it has a high rye count, and I’m very fond of the ever-elusive (in Taipei) Rye Whiskey.

If you visit, remember that they’re wholesaler’s so you can’t really browse. Just tell them what you’re interested in, and they’ll show it to you.

Here’s a follow up post: Woodford Reserve and a Mini Bourbon Tasting.

Here’s the address:

Taipei City

Zhongshan District

Linsen North Rd.

L. 133, No. 41

台北市中山區林森北路133巷41號1樓

02-2561-6296

I thought I knew all the places to buy gin in Taipei and all the brands that were available.

Then I stumbled on this bottle store (with three branches) called 9City.

What an amazing surprise! Seven brands of gin that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Taipei! Seven! (Like all bottle stores in Taiwan they specialize in Scotch, but in comparison with most, this place is a regular gin palace).

Best of all, a gin that is old, unique and specifically called for in certain recipes, at a superb price of 450NT, and hitherto unavailable in Taiwan:

Plymouth Gin!!!

Next a few premium gins that seem like they might well be worth a try:

Gin No. 209

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

Boudier Saffron Gin

A few that I see fewer glowing reviews of:

Pink 47

Josephine Gin

William Chase

One that is only available one other place:

Martin Miller’s

Two at higher strengths:

Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength (45.2 – very keen to try)

Hendricks 1 litre (which I think is 44% rather than the usual 41.4)

If you’re interested in gin, this is the place to go. Get some Plymouth at the very least.

There are three branches in Taipei. Here are the addresses:

Taipei City, Chang An E Rd Sec 2, No. 197 (3233 9399)

Taipei City, Renai Rd Sec 4, L.112, No. 21 (2778 9338)

Xinbei City, Yonghe, Zhongshan Rd Sec 1, No. 322 (2709 5168)

I returned today to what is probably the best place to buy booze in Taipei – The Taipei Breeze Center Supermarket on the corner of Fuxing S Rd and Civic Boulevard.

They’re not the cheapest place to buy, for sure, but they have things that I haven’t found ANYWHERE else in the city, and plenty of things I’ve only found once or twice, scattered here and there.

Some things that they have which you won’t find anywhere else in Taipei (or if you have, PLEASE let me know):

Green Chartreuse

Control Pisco (only other place I’ve seen any Pisco was Mega City as mentioned in my last post)

Grappa

Martin Miller Gin (a new one, which looks great – Icelandic water and pot still distillation: I have to buy it sometime)

Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (today’s purchase)

Fee’s Brother’s Bitters (several kinds, as I mentioned in a previous post)

Galliano

Jagermeister

Limoncello

Some things that you might find here and there, but not often:

A few premium tequilas (eg Patron, Don Julio)

Havana Club Blanco and 7 Year

Cachaca

Hendrick’s Gin

Calvados

Real Absinthe

And there’s bound to be more that I’ve forgotten.

I made two purchases today. The first was the Fees Brothers Barrel-Aged Aromatic Bitters. These are aged in old charred whiskey barrels and (oddly unlike Angostura Bitters) contain real Angostura bark. I haven’t tried them in anything yet, but tasting straight out of the bottle (yes, I dashed bitters onto my tongue) they seem great. I imagine they’ll work well with a nice twist in anything calling for Angostura bitters, especially whiskey drinks like the Old-Fashioned and the Manhattan.

Next, I bought Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, which I’ve had my eye on for some time, but has been too pricey (1300NT). Maraschino Liqueur was dashed into all sorts of old cocktails as a general all round ‘improver’ back before prohibition, and has had a bit of a revival with the classic cocktail movement. It’s essential in some re-popularised drinks like the Aviation, and in Hemingway’s own take on the Daiquiri, the Papa Doble.

Maraschino has been made for centuries (first on the Dalmatian Coast, and then in Italy) from sour Marasca cherries which are infused into a spirit which is itself a distillate made from the stones of the cherry. It is then aged for a couple of years in Finnish ash barrels. The cute straw covering on the bottle was apparently to protect against breakage when shipping – built-in bubble-wrap. Like so many of the best old liqueurs it was said to have medicinal properties, to have been enjoyed by Napoleon and to have been made by monks (Dominicans in this case, and again probably bogus).

The taste is distinctive but tricky (and I’m terrible at describing tastes at the best of times). It’s easier to say what it’s not. It doesn’t really taste like cherries. It’s completely different from cherry liqueur and is actually clear in colour. It’s not terribly sweet. There’s sweetness, but it’s a sharp sweetness (very sharp – that was the thing that leapt out at me) not a sticky sweetness. It’s definitely got some bitter (I think this is the almond taste) and it’s definitely complex.

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the basic old-style cocktail and the ‘fancy’ cocktail. There is a third in the series of ‘genuine’ 19th century ‘cocktails’ (in the sense of spirits, sugar, bitters, and water) – the Improved Cocktail. It’s the basic, with dashes of Absinthe and Maraschino thrown in.

The Improved Cocktail

2 oz spirits

2 dashes bitters

1 tsp simple syrup

1/2 tsp Maraschino Liqueur

1/8 tsp Absinthe

lemon peel twist

Stir with ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Rub the rim with lemon twist and drop it in.

I tried this with my Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey and again with my Courvoisier Exclusif VSOP Cognac. I used Angostura Bitters and my La Fee Parisienne Absinthe (bought at Breeze a few weeks ago, and although it had good reviews and was very expensive, I remain generally unimpressed with absinthe).

The influence of the Maraschino was definitely apparent. It adds a nice complexity to the drink. I think I still prefer an Old-Fashioned if I want to drink my Rye this way, but the ‘Improved’ treatment was definitely worthy of the name on the brandy version. From memory, I’d say it was clearly a small step up from the basic and fancy versions of the brandy cocktail. It was silky smooth and well-rounded. All the ingredients mixed together perfectly.

Often when I’m scootering around Taipei, and don’t feel like heading home right away, I ride along looking for decent liquor stores, following a lead on an address, or checking out an import supermarket or new mall I haven’t been to.

This time I went to the new Far Eastern Mall, called ‘Mega City’ in Banqiao (almost opposite the train station).

The supermarket in the basement is (like all Far Eastern supermarkets) called City Super. I wasn’t expecting much, because the one on Dunhua S Rd doesn’t offer anything I can’t find with a better selection at Breeze.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Booze-wise, there was a great-looking gin called Darnley’s View and Chilean Pisco called Pisco Elqui Tres Erres. I have seen neither of these elsewhere in Taipei, and have marked both down for future purchase.

Another big surprise was an Italian soda called Chinotto that I’d been looking out for for quite some time (an ingredient in one cocktail I want to make). This one was part of a range of Italian sodas in very attractive bottles by a company called Abbondio. After checking them out online when I got home, I kicked myself. They have a brand of gourmet tonic water! I might have missed that. Now I have to go back and check. Unless anyone reading this knows?

Chinotto is delicious if you like bitter sodas, and as this article (by Eric Felten, a cocktail writer I really like) points out, has great potential for mixing in cocktails. I tried the ‘Della Mela’ cocktail and loved it.

While on the subject of Italian soda, I also highly recommend the Sam Pellegrino Lemonade which you can buy here too (but also at Breeze).

Finally they had a very good selection of kitchen tools. I’d say, in the area of things vaguely related to cocktails, I haven’t seen better, even at Hands Talung, Hola or Ikea. Still no Boston Shaker, but some good big tin shakers, a good citrus zester (which I’ve only seen at Hola), a cool citurs tool, bar spoons and other stuff. Oh yeah, a hawthrone strainer! Once I get the Boston Shaker, I’m buying that too.

All these things were very expensive though. In the end, being broke, the Chinotto (108NT) was the only purchase I made.

Breeze remains easily the best supermarket for booze, but Mega City is now number one for peripherals.

Got Bitters!

March 10, 2012

Just a quick news post for people in Taipei. Bitters have arrived!

Early last year, I was having trouble finding even Angostura Bitters. I eventually found some in a DIY baking store. Not long after I found two places that sell both Angostura’s Aromatic Bitters (their normal kind) and Orange Bitters. It was only in New Zealand that I got Peychaud’s Bitters – essential for the Sazeracs that I have yet to make. I also got a nice ‘travel pack’ of bitters from The Bitter Truth.

And then I was in the Breeze Supermarket today and saw that they have the whole range of Fees Brothers Bitters! At least it seemed to be the whole range. There were eleven kinds. From memory: Old Fashioned Bitters, Orange Bitters, Lemon Bitters, Celery Bitters, Whisky Barrel Aged Bitters, Rhubarb Butters, Peach Bitters, Mint Bitters, and, and that’s all I remember. The Fees Brothers website also lists Cherry Bitters and Grapefruit Bitters so it might have been those. There should be one more though. Possibly Coffee Bitters.

Also, on a tip from a fellow drinker at my local, The Green Hornet, I found a source much closer to home for the Angostura (normal and orange) Bitters. It also happens to be one of the very best liquor stores I’ve seen in Taiwan. They’re at 204 Jinfu Rd in Jingmei.

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