Aki Wang is the owner of Indulge Experimental Bistro in Taipei. He makes us two cocktails, one with Gin and Savory Soda and the second with Tê Liqueur and Suze.
Aki introduce yourself
I’m Aki Wang, I started my career in a coffee bar when I was 16 years old to help support my family. I then started at a bar and restaurant named Wonder Bar. In the kitchen there was a cocktail book which was hidden, so I took it to study. When the general manager discovered I had taken it he gave me my chance behind the bar, because I was the only person to ever look at that book. After that, I won the blind tasting from the Wonder bar owners and they promoted me permanently to the role of bartender. It was not enough regarding money and I continued to work four jobs at the same time. I was very tired but I could see that working behind the bar was what made me happy. To progress, I needed to leave Taiwan so I moved to Japan for a year where I learnt a lot regarding attitude. Then I moved back to Taipei and I was a bartender at night and sold insurance during the day. In 2007 I participated in an international Belvedere competition and won. After that, I moved to London, Warsaw, Paris and New York for two years. I opened Indulge Experimental Bistro in 2009, but I struggled for the initial two years because people didn’t understand what I did. So I changed my style to make it more understandable. At the same time I started to import different products for my drinks. In 2017 we started to do guest shifts abroad and Indulge and Taiwanese culture started to be known outside Taipei. Our new project for January 2020, is called Liquid Art and it a lifestyle liquor store open from 2pm to 8pm. You’re there to buy booze, but if you want you can DIY your own cocktail with people who help you with a little markup for the products. We have 8 cocktail stations covered with a wooden top and underneath only fresh ingredients for your cocktails.
The classic you want to show us
Savor of Wild Forage
45ml of Botanist Gin
Top with Homemade Savory Soda (Yuzu, Plum, Wasabi and Sea Tangles)
The bar you dream of
My dream bar will be called soul and scents. Scents is about smell and how it can bring back memories from your past. Soul is about your mentality and things you’ve experienced. So it will be a Soul kitchen and Scents bar. Same venue, same floor but when you arrive you have a stone door with two logos to choose between food or drinks. For both places, the kitchen or the bar will be in the center so everyone can enjoy the show. Each side can hold 50 people and sometimes we’ll open the walls, so people can see both sides at the same time. We’ll have collaboration with young artists for exhibitions and the customer will be able to buy the art. We’d have DJ playing experimental music, because just like cocktails or food, music is art too.
What do you do in your time off
I don’t take time off because what I do is not work for me, contrary to when I worked to survive. Now it’s my choice and I have a better life. My wife says she likes that because I never complain and am always happy. Sometimes if I feel bad, I make a cocktail for someone who smiles and it makes me feel better.
The spirit you like the most
Calvados. During a competition, two ambassadors taught me a lot. They added apple juice to many cocktails and it was a real game-changer regarding complexity. When I discovered Calvados in France it was like using apple juice, in a better way. Calvados can work with everything. And it’s kind of romantic for me. When I am with friends Calvados is my drink of choice.
What makes a good cocktail
A good cocktail should be based on a true story. Too many bar people try to make a show regarding the garnish, the colour, the smell etc. but there is nothing after that, it’s like silence. Sometimes we are in a rush and we don’t have enough time to explain everything to the client. Who should speak if not the cocktail itself? Your cocktail speaks for you so it needs to be understandable when you drink it.
What ingredient do you enjoy using in cocktails
I started to think ten years ago when I was in New York, after a meeting when everyone brings something from his country: bourbon, wine etc. They asked me, what is the iconic ingredient from Taiwan, and I think it’s tea, especially oolong tea. Then I learnt about tea for ten years, so tea cocktails are now part of the Indulge identity, you can experience it even in our strong drinks. The next step for us is creating a tea liqueur. We learnt from a whisky distillery how to blend different tea and grow our own. The real issue was about consistency for each batch. We’ll be ready to launch our brand, Tê, in a year. We are launching in London because the first Chinese tea ballot exported from Taiwan was there, so it makes sense.
The signature cocktail you want to show us
50ml of Martin Miller Gin 9 Moons
2 Barspoons of Mancino Secco Vermouth
1 barspoon of Suze
20ml of Tê Liqueur
Where do you think we need to go to interview another bartender
In Taipei, you should go to visit Dick’s Place. Dick is the first generation of bartenders in Taiwan. He’s been open for 30 years, he is almost 70 years old and he is my legend. For me Dick’s Place is all about our heritage.