Recently I received a copy of the just released book, Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato. In a sea of drink books out there, this one is different enough to write about, for several reasons.
The book mixes more than 60 beautifully photographed drinks with short sections on Japan, Japanese culture, and how cocktails inhabit a very different place in the culture of Japan than they do here in the United States. Some of these vignettes are personal experiences of the author, who was born in Japan, but now lives in New York. Others are related to the theme of a particular cocktail, or to the different ingredients in common use in Japanese cocktails. This book is the kind of cocktail book that I refer to as an a la carte drinks book. Each bit is interesting in itself, and while the book is well-organized, there is nothing in it that requires you to read it from start to finish. Instead, you can pick and choose whatever catches your momentary fancy and consume the book in whatever order you like.
The recipes are divided into four sections: Saké drinks, Shochu cocktails, Whiskey cocktails, and other drinks. There is some interesting stuff about the base ingredients here. For instance, I learned that saké is closer to rice beer than rice wine, and I got a chance to begin to understand what this shochu stuff is that I’ve had in my bar for months now. As I said, there are some gorgeous drink photos that do more than please the eye. Not only are Japanese cocktails often made with different ingredients, but they look different in many cases from western traditions. Something I really have enjoyed with this book is expanding my horizons in ways to garnish or serve drinks.
The drink picture I used to illustrate this review is actually one of the more western-style to be found in the book. The drink is called the Black Ship, named in honor of the American naval vessel of Commodore Matthew Perry, whose arrival in Japan forced an end to time of isolation. For two centuries plus, many had tried to bribe their way into the world of Japan, but Perry had the good sense to include a bunch of whiskey in his gifts. Whether this was the deciding factor or not, it can’t have hurt.
The Black Ship is a nice little drink, and it gives a good entry point to examine the subtle differences from ours in the Japanese way of mixology. Buy the book and continue the journey.
- 1.5 oz Japanese blended whiskey
- 1 oz. pomegranate juice
- .25 oz. ruby port
- .25 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a long strip of lemon peel.
(Note: I modified this recipe from that in the book to account for how I personally made it.)