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Is Taipei the heart of Asia’s home-grown cocktail evolution?

While Japan is no doubt the country where cocktail culture is most ingrained, its bartending tradition might be seen to hold back creativity at times. Cosmopolitan Singapore andHong Kong S.A.R China are vying for the crown of most diverse bar scene, and the melting pots of Shanghai, Seoul, Bangkok and Jakarta are finding their places in the global cocktail scene as more internationally trained experts bring in their bartending influence. Taipei, meanwhile, has quietly been honing its craft and identity, and its progressive home-grown talent has started to spread its bartending influence across the region.

Taiwanese talent drive bartending scene

While in other Asian cities, local operators are driving the bar scene forward, most are still relying on expat management to put cocktail culture on the map. This is not the case in Taipei, where local and overseas-educated Taiwanese are the bartending driving force, and it is what puts this unpretentious city a step ahead.

Taiwan has a diverse background moulding its cocktail drinking culture – Japanese influence bringing attention to detail in bartending, close ties to the US fostering an openness to international cocktails, as well as a proud and creative local bartending culture at its foundation.

It was London bartender Pete Kendall, of Milk & Honey fame, who ignited the fuse for the new generation of bartenders, when he arrived in 2005. Staying for some years, his influence and creativity has left behind an inspired home-grown bartending community who have stepped up to the mark.

Local bartenders to lead the way

Local mixology talents Angus Zhou, Aki Wang, Mark Huang and Kae Yin, are the thought leaders in Taipei's bartending industry, and are now being sought after by brands and businesses across the region. Happily, Taipei is also home to a knowledgeable consumer base (Whisky Live Taipei is the largest in the world and its audience younger than any other country), which allows them to nurture their bartending craft and inspire a new generation of cocktail drinkers.

I have no doubt that across Asia, the next wave of mixology pioneers will be locals, blending the bartending influence of the West with their own culture, but for now, although the cocktail scene in Taipei may not be the largest in Asia, it is the most progressive home-grown bartending scene and provides a blue-print for emerging local mixology talent in other cities.

By Andy Gaunt for Drinks World Asia, a quarterly trade magazine for the Asian beverage industry.