As they have with all other culinary pursuits, the Japanese have refined the art of distillation and bartending to perfection. The methodical processes employed in each have allowed the Japanese to excel beyond Western standards largely unnoticed.
Hidetsugo Ueno is one bartender that has dedicated himself to spreading the knowledge of Japanese bartenders to the world. Famed for his ‘brilliant cut’ ice carving, where he makes ice cubes shaped like diamonds for neat spirits in front of customers. The precision of measures and dedication to consistency is unrivalled.
The hospitality of course is another factor that is worlds apart from our common expectations of a bar. Venues are generally small, everyone is seated at the bar and personally attended to. Having a hot towel presented to you upon arrival to freshen up is something that we could all get used to.
Classic cocktails reign supreme and adherence to tradition is paramount. The intricacy involved in each stage of the process of creating a drink puts Western bartenders to shame. Different temperatures of ice, altering shaking methods and utensil selection are all dictated by the type of spirit being used. It is truly a form where culinary science meets art.
The modern Japanese distillation history is dominated by the Suntory and Nikka families. Their applied craft has led to some outstanding whiskey production that rivals Scotland’s finest single malts.
Sake and Shochu have been distilled in Japan for centuries and reflect the dedication to tradition and quality. The variety and complexity of flavour that is extracted from the humble is grain of rice is astounding.
So it is astounding that from these roots we were graced with the cavalcading rainbow of sickly sweet liqueurs that stretched from glowing green Midori to ‘The Blue’. But thankfully there is a resurgence in the more subtle and refined examples of Japan’s spirits being used in cocktails.
So, we scoured the city to find a cocktail that paid respect to subtle Japanese flavours and was in line with modern bartending trends. Enter Jamie Chesher, who now holds residence at Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda.
Choya plum wine is not an instantly recognised ingredient, but it’s becoming an addition to an increasing number of kitchens and back bars.
“I wanted to create an aperitif-style drink that had some sweetness to it," Jamie notes. "It was important that it could be enjoyed at any time of the day. From there I looked to add both sweetness and bitterness and a real sense of depth.”
Being a simple stirred drink, this is an easy one to try at home. Just make sure you use some big, solid ice cubes. And beware the over-zealous stirrer: too much dilution will be the death of any stirred drink. Garnish with a solid chunk of high cocoa Swiss chocolate for the perfect compliment.
The Final Destination Cocktail
40mls Havana Club 7-Year-Old rum
20mls Choya plum wine
20mls Romate Pedro Ximinez sherry