The precise art of Japanese drinks
By Joe Gray
Sushi and sake go together like beer and pretzels. And the pairing has a certain appeal: When sitting at the sushi bar, drink like the Japanese, right?
Well, no, says Yuri Kato, beverage consultant and editor of www.Cocktailtimes.com.
"Everyone in the U.S. thinks sake is the best drink to be paired with sushi, but in Japan it is whiskey," Kato says.
And not just whiskey, but Japanese whiskey (like scotch but less peaty) and water on ice — called mizuwari ("mizu" meaning "water," and "wari" meaning "to cut"). A simple enough drink, but its straightforward ingredients belie the care with which it's made. Japanese bartenders lavish the precise care upon it that one would dedicate to the perfect martini, Kato says. It is emblematic of the country's cocktail culture, a burgeoning movement here that Kato captures in her new book, "Japanese Cocktails" (Chronicle Books, $14.95).
The book was born of her love of whiskey and her 11 years with www.Cocktailtimes.com.
"Growing up, my pop always drank whiskey," said the Japan native, who left for the U.S. at age 18. "The Japanese salaryman always drank whiskey. I followed that rule."
The Japanese base cocktails on that whiskey, but also shochu and sake. Kato's book delivers plenty of these, plus Japanese-style drinks utilizing other spirits. Fresh ingredients, especially those from Japanese cuisine, yuzu, Fuji apples, umeboshi (pickled plumlike fruit), are key. And Kato speaks of the Japanese art of making cocktails, as with the mizuwari.
"That country is very much OCD. They bring out the perfect square of ice, then will take 15 minutes to carve the perfect ball of ice," Kato says. The large piece of ice melts slowly, chilling the drink, but not watering it down. For some bartenders, the final stir must be just as exact: 13 1/2 times.
Try it: Kato's favorite drinks from the book are the echo julep and yuzu julep (both takes on a mint julep) and a Toyko sidecar. "I like the classic twist," she says.
Look for yuzu juice at liquor and Asian specialty stores. The gum syrup is a sugar syrup to which gum arabic has been added to allow the mixture to hold more sugar, writes Kato, producing a sweeter result than usual simple syrup. You can find it at some specialty shops (or online), or substitute simple syrup.
• 6 fresh mint leaves, plus 1 sprig for garnish
• 1 teaspoon gum syrup
• 2 ounces Yamazaki 12 Year Old whiskey
• 1/2 ounce yuzu juice
Muddle mint leaves with gum syrup in a mixing glass. Pour into a rocks glass with crushed ice. Add whiskey and yuzu juice; garnish with mint sprig.