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08.20.10 by  

Happy Hour Dilemma: Stick with Tradition or Make it Modern?

We endorse maintaining the right to choose, especially when it comes to Japanese-style cocktailing. And this inside scoop by Yuri Kato seconds that.

There’s more to Japanese Cocktailing than meets the eye. Spirits expert Yuri Kato shares how to take the standard “Japanese whisky neat” order to new heights by exploring mixing with regionally inspired techniques, ingredients and garnishes. Add a dash of extraordinary attention to detail and you’ve got yourself a stand-alone drink experience worth sharing.

Take this to your next derby party — the Yuzu Julep, made with Yamazaki and yuzu juice.

served raw: Japanese cocktails … what’s your go-to ingredient when crafting new recipes?

Yuri Kato: The most important thing is to have Japanese ingredients. Being born and raised in Japan, it’s very special to me to be able to make cocktails in the U.S. with Japanese ingredients.

so Japanese spirits must play a large role.

One of my favorites is Japanese Whisky. Suntory has three brands of Japanese whisky available in the US, and those are definitely my spirits of choice. The Yamazaki 12 and 18 are the single malts, then there’s the Hibiki. A very interesting blend because the some of the malts in the blend have been aged for over 30-years, and some has been aged in Umeshu or plum wine casks, which is where Hibiki gets it’s sweetness. These have always been the most expensive whiskys in Japan and to have them available in the US now is incredible.

what off-the-radar ingredients are you using to distinguish your cocktails?

The Bloody Mari-Chan cocktail is a twist on the Bloody Mary using Japanese ingredients like shimito radishes and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese 7-spice blend. My ultimate favorite ingredient is yuzu juice. You can buy bottled yuzu juice from any Asian market. I make a Yuzu Julep, that’s basically a mint julep, but with yuzu.

does technique play a part in Japanese cocktail culture?

Historically speaking, the most important cocktail in Japan is Mizuwari. It’s like a martini, simple — whisky with ice and water — but the way we make it can be very different. Some bartenders in Japan order ice blocks with no air bubbles from specialized ice companies. They are made from mineral water. The bartender will take about 10 to 15 minutes to create the cocktail by shaving ice block into a perfect cube with a knife or ice pick. They do this because they are looking for a perfect temperature to serve the cocktail at, and to keep it that temperature for about the next 30 minutes. To accomplish that, it’s either by shaving the ice block into a perfect ice cube, or stirring exactly 13 1/2 times with a bigger ice cube.

what’s a sure-fire way to tell a Japanese cocktail apart from any other?

To Japanese bartenders, garnish means everything. The way the food looks is as important as what it takes like. They use everything and don’t shy away from vegetables … obviously, cucumbers, daikon, radishes, carrots … anything goes, that’s what makes them really unique. I’ve been fortunate enought to judge two international cocktail competitions, one in 2002 in Barcelona, Spain and the other in 2008 Bordeaux, France. Every nation would send their best bartender to the final stage, and with champions from all the countries across the world, you can see how each culture is quite different. I could look across a panel of cocktails to be judged and tell immediately which were created by Japanese bartenders. The US tends to make their drinks a bit stronger than Latin countries who tend to go for sweeter flavors. Japanese bartenders go for the balance of flavor with the ingredients, not too crazy on citrus or bitterness, but they also spend time crafting their garnishes.

how would you create an at-home Japanese cocktailing experience?

I love tasting Japanese whisky with people who have never experienced it. Even though it’s one of the biggest 5 types of whiskey in the US, most people don’t know about it and may only be familiar with scotch, bourbon, Canadian or Irish whiskies. I love giving them their first taste of it and will usually give them both of the Suntory single malts — there’s a huge difference in taste between the 12 and 18 year olds due to the aging process. I’ll also give them a taste of the Hibiki and talk about the art of blending.They always go home with a new found appreciation.

Yuzu Julep

Yuri Kato’s go-to cocktail includes yuzu juice and Japanese whiskey, giving the classic Kentucky Derby cocktail a run for it’s money.

  • 2 ounces Yamazaki 12 Year Old
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon gum syrup
  • 1/2 ounce yuzu juice
  • Fresh mint sprig for garnish
  1. Muddle mint leaves with gum syrup in a mixing glass. Pour into a short glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add whisky and yuzu juice, garnish with a mint sprig, and serve.