It sometimes feels like a week can’t go by without another headline informing me about how us Scots are furious that Japanese distillers are ‘beating Scotland at its own game’, yet I’ve yet to meet any of the enraged compatriots so promised by the clickbait. Perhaps it’s because the Japanese whisky industry was very much founded with the blessing of Scotland.
After all, Masataka Taketsuru (1894 -1979), one of the category’s founding fathers, trained at Scottish distilleries including Longmorn, in Speyside, and Hazelburn, in Campbeltown. Born in Takehara, near Hiroshima, his family ran a sake business and it was this that spurred his interest in brewing and distilling. Masataka studied chemistry at the University of Glasgow (1919 - 1920) and married a Scottish woman named Rita. He joined Shinjiro Torii’s Kotobukiya Company (which would become Suntory) and oversaw the construction of Yamazaki Distillery (1924). A decade later he left to establish his own business, which would later be known as Nikka, and the Yoichi Distillery (1934) on the island of Hokkaido. In those short decades, the Japanese whisky industry was born.
Japan is famous not only for the considerable degree of care and attention given to the production of its whisky, but also its unique cocktail culture. The career path of a dedicated bartender in Japan is one of long apprenticeship.
Whereas Western cocktail culture could be characterised as giving precedence to flavour, flair, and speed (which suits the bar dynamic of customers vastly outnumbering bartenders), in Japan the experience is often slower, considered and almost ceremonial. This intimate experience reflects the atmosphere of Japanese cocktail bars, where the ratio between customers and bartenders is generally smaller, and the experience is tailored toward individuals, couples or small groups.
This customer experience is very much informed by the concept of ‘omotenashi’, a term that is often translated simply as ‘hospitality’. In truth, omotenashi is about more than merely serving. It is a cultural philosophy that calls on hosts to entertain guests in a way that exceeds expectations, anticipates needs, shows respect, recognises the value of the guest’s patronage, and leaves customers feeling happier than when they arrived. What’s more, the execution must appear elegant and effortless.
These cocktails, which have been named for the important locations in Taketsuru’s life, have been created with this heritage and dedication in mind.
The Hiroshima CocktailBy Mike Lynch at BrambleINGREDIENTS
- 35ml Nikka From The Barrel
- 10ml Suze
- 10ml St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- 10ml Noilly Prat Original Dry
- 5ml vanilla syrup
Build over cubed ice in a highball glass and top with soda.GARNISH
A lemon twist.
The Campbeltown ClipperBy Jonny ArthurINGREDIENTS
- 45ml Coffey Grain
- 12.5ml Absentroux
- 25ml apple juice
- 12.5ml lemon juice
- 2 dashes The Bitter Truth celery bitters
Shake with ice, fine strain and serve straight up in a chilled coupe.GARNISH
An absinthe spritz.
The Hokkaido CocktailBy Matty HutchisonINGREDIENTS 30ml Taketsuru Pure Malt
25ml Crossbrew coffee liqueur
15ml raisin syrup
2 dashes Australian Bitters Co. Barrel Spiced bitters
Stir well with ice, strain and serve straight
up in a chilled coupe.
Express and garnish with an orange twist.
From The Barrel 51.4% ABV
A combination of Nikka’s Coffey Grain whisky and single malt from the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries, this NAS blend is reportedly the best selling Japanese whisky in the European Union. This wouldn’t be surprising as the high ABV, rich character and reasonable price point has won it many devotees.
Coffey Grain 45% ABV
This singe grain expression is distilled on Coffey stills using a mash that is composed predominantly of corn sourced from the USA. The stills, which are located at Miyagikyo, were made by Blairs Limited of Glasgow and were imported from Scotland 1963. The spirit is matured in American oak barrels for an average of 12 years.
Taketsuru Pure Malt 43% ABV
Named for Nikka’s founder, this is the NAS expression from a range of superlative blended malts containing spirit solely from the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Taketsuru Pure Malts have regularly led their category at the World Whiskies Awards, especially the 17 and 21 Years Old expressions.
Suze 15% ABV
French aperitif made with gentian root and delivers a spicy, fruity, and bitter profile.
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur 20% ABV
Elderflower petals are macerated in grape neutral spirit. The resultant infusion is blended with sugar to create this liqueur, that’s available in many supermarkets.
Absentroux 18% ABV
Earthy, spicy, and herbal with a nutty finish, it’s dry vermouth infused with Absinthe botanicals. For when you want flavours of Bohemia but also to taste other ingredients.
Noilly Prat Original Dry 18% ABV
A famous vermouth created by blending aged, dry white wines with botanicals including chamomile, gentian and nutmeg.
Can be bought ready to use from brands like Monin or you can make it at home. First make a simple 1:1 ratio sugar syrup. Add either a couple of drops of vanilla essence (to taste) or one split vanilla bean per cup of sugar as the syrup cools. Strain out the solids and you're ready to go.
Crossbrew Coffee Liqueur 20% ABV
Bramble are rather good at making liqueurs. This one has been launched as a standalone brand and is made with four ingredients: dark roasted coffee, new make spirit, sugar, and water. The result is rich, complex, and free from the cloying artificial sweetness found in similar liqueurs.
Add a handful of raisins to 200ml of sugar syrup. Leave for a few hours to infuse. Check the flavour and leave longer (overnight is fine) or add more raisins for a richer syrup. Strain before use.