Sip Trips #64: Asian Antics (Part 2)

With our cruise over, Mrs. Sip and I, along with her sister were on our way to Japan for two weeks of riding the rails, sightseeing and taking in the country’s fascinating culture.

I learned quickly that there were some craft beer options in Japan and picked up bottles and cans whenever the opportunity arose. Some of our favourites included releases from Cuedo Brewing (hefeweizen, IPL, pilsner, and a very interesting imperial sweet potato amber); Suntory (stout, IPA, weizen, amber ale, etc.); and what we can only call “frog beers” (saison and American wheat).

Japan Ready for War

Switching gears to the macro side of things, we were lucky to tour the Kirin Brewery outside Kobe, Japan. The shuttle that takes visitors from train station to factory is designed to look like a beer can, so things get off to a great start and only get better from there with a free tour and samples. Sure, you have to go through a tour that is only done in Japanese, but the sacrifice is well worth it!

In Osaka, we explored the Dotonbori area, known for its vibrant nightlife. Some research led us to the Space Station Video Game Bar, where drinkers can enjoy a beverage and a vintage video game. As expected, the drinks and shots available are themed after video games and popular characters. I had the Gin & Sonic (a G&T with Blue Curacao added to emulate the classic Sega speedster), followed by a Triforce shooter of Legend of Zelda fame. The owner made sure to get us set up with a great game called Ibb and Obb, while the bartender was very helpful with describing their extensive menu.

Our Air BnB in Tokyo was located just minutes away from the Golden Gai area of the city. Here, there are an estimated 300 little bars, some of which you would struggle to get more than a handful of people into. Some of these spots only welcome locals, while others may be open to tourists, providing they pay a cover charge. We tried to stick to bars that allowed foreigners (or gaijin as they are known) and didn’t have cover. We worked our way into four very unique settings, including one honouring classic movies; one where karaoke filled the venue; Death Match in Hell, which was a tribute to death metal and horror movies; and 5 Gallons, which was just straight up fun.

Japan Weird

The next night, we enjoyed a two-hour all-inclusive drinking experience on the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt, in their Peak Bar. Dubbed the Top of Tokyo, my strategy was to challenge the bartender to make her best cocktail with [insert liquor here]. It yielded some great results, such as a Cherry Blossom. This was joined by copious other beverages, including manhattans, mojitos, daiquiris and whiskey sours.

We wrapped up our Asian journey with a few days at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Drinks could be had in the Disney Sea park, which meant we spent a fair bit of time there. Mrs. Sip dared me to try their “Frozen” Kirin Draft, which translated into chilled foam at the top of the beer that kept it cooler, longer, but tasted as bad as you’d expect the head of beer to taste.

Japan Signs

We also enjoyed some quiet time in both of the park’s lounges: the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge and Magellan’s Lounge. At Magellan’s, Mrs. Sip and I enjoyed their wine tasting flight, which included a white, red, and port pour, along with meat and cheese nibblies.

Much like most of our journeys, I can’t say enough good things about the sites we saw, the people we met and the activities we experienced. I wouldn’t trade the trip for anything and urge all you little sippers out there to try it for yourselves.

Sip Trips #63: Asian Antics (Part 1)

Mrs. Sip and I recently returned from a five-week vacation throughout Asia, which featured as much beer, wine and spirits as we could cram in. Here is part one of some of the notable experiences we enjoyed on our journey:

The fun all got started when we joined Mrs. Sip’s parents and sister in Singapore. Drinks in the city are very expensive and we had to work hard to find happy hour deals, where beverages could be had on a buy one-get one basis (or as they promoted it, one-for-one).

Happy Hour Savings

We also managed to track down some craft beer in Singapore, passing by the Red Dot Brewhouse, by chance. I ordered the Monster Green Lager, which was infused with spirulina and advertised as a must-try novelty beer, while Mrs. Sip asked for the Lime Wheat (brewed with local lime). The brewery’s name has an interesting story: the owner was touring South Africa in 1997 when he was first introduced to home brewing. When he visited a shop to bring some supplies back home, his options were for an ale or a lager… one marked with a red dot and the other not. The rest is history, as they say.

Our last night in Singapore was spent staying at the Marina Bay Sands. We splurged and booked one of their club rooms, which for the “low” price of $600, provided us with invitations to an afternoon tea, cocktail hour and breakfast. To justify the costly indulgence, Mrs. Sip and I made sure to drink $250-plus worth of booze during the cocktail hour! It was during this binge that I completed the four horseman challenge, consuming one beverage each featuring Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo, and Johnnie Walker (all doubles, of course)!

Next up was our 18-day cruise, with port stops throughout Asia. These stops included Bangkok, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, Vietnam; Hong Kong and Shanghai, China; Taipei, Taiwan; Nagasaki, Japan; and Busan, South Korea.

Cruise Ship Pirate

I’ve written about our booze strategies on cruises before, but we learned some new things on this trip. One of our first tasks was to purchase a wine package. We went with the silver-level 12-bottle card, which meant our nightly bottle with dinner would cost as cheap as $20 each, as opposed to the $29 price point.

Another savings we regularly took advantage of was the ship’s BOGO hours, where two drinks could be purchased with the second only costing $1. We learned early on that this could also be applied to beers (which we would stock up on and save for days at sea as we relaxed poolside) and even wine bottles. Speaking of beers, Princess Cruises has introduced a third brew to their burgeoning Seawitch craft beer line-up, adding a Blonde Ale to their IPA and Red Ale (my personal fave).

My one not-so-good drinking experience on the ship was ordering a specialty margarita to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I asked for the Chili and Chocolate (Don Julio Reposado, White Creme de Cacao, jalapenos) option and the bartender had to look up the recipe. Shouldn’t that be a prerequisite of working the Margarita Bar? The drink was passable, but not as good as the previous serving I’ve had of it. The bartender used chocolate sauce in the margarita which made it look dirty and threw the flavour off.

Cinco de Mayo

As far as drinking off the ship, one of my favourite stops of the cruise was our two-day layover in Hong Kong. This gave us a rare chance to experience the city’s night life, which cruises don’t often provide. With Mrs. Sip having a couple friends living in Hong Kong, we had an inside edge and ended up at the Happy Valley Racecourse, which had its own beer garden. There, with a pitcher of Kronenboug Blanc in hand, I enjoyed our groups’ only betting win of the evening!

With the cruise over, we flew to Japan where we would spend the next two weeks trekking across the country… but that’s a story for another Sip Trips!