Shaking up Sake
June 24, 2014
In Japan's capital, sake is making its way out of the tokkuri and into a tumbler. By Scott Haas
Published on Jun 24, 2014
Gen Yamamoto, the talk of Tokyo's bartending scene, opened his self-named eight-seater last year after leaving superstar chef David Bouley's Brushstroke in New York City. There's nothing classical or predictable about what this young, creative guy is doing with sake in his cocktails. You won't find sake bombs, nor saketinis.
"I use sake two ways," Yamamoto says. "Either I start with a local ingredient, like mango from Okinawa, and choose sake that has enough acidity to balance the sweetness. Or I start with a sparkling sake and pair it with a product like edamame to add texture."
Yamamoto's current favorite sakes include Dassai, from Yamaguchi prefecture; Shinomine, from Nara; and Fukucho, from Hiroshima. "I want sake that has body as well as delicacy," he says, "and enough space between the sake and the ingredient being paired with it to expand the flavor profile."
Yamamoto's experiments include adding, for example, purees of kiwifruit, corn, golden ginger, quince, strawberry and wasabi to sake, constantly trying to find the right alchemy and combinations to create new possibilities.
As to whether it's a waste to take a pricey, top-shelf sake such as a daiginjoshu—an ultra-refined varietal brewed from rice grains polished down by at least 50 percent—and combine it with a fruit or vegetable, Yamamoto says: "If you're enjoying sake with food rather than drinking it on its own, that's like a cocktail, too." 1F Anniversary Bldg., 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo; genyamamoto.jp.
+Singapore Try Made in Japan at Catalunya (The Fullerton Pavillion, 82 Collyer Quay; +65 6534 0886; catalunya.sg): it's a mix of sencha tea, matcha powder, sake and Johnnie Walker Black Label.
+Cambodia In Phnom Penh, sake is paired with Spanish tapas at Tepui (Chinese House, 45 Sisowath Quay; +855 2399 1514; chinesehouse.asia). Their Sake Rojito and Hokkaido martini wake up the palate.
+Hong Kong Opened this year, Ozu Bar (OZU Bar, 1 Hollywood Rd., Hong Kong; +852 6064 7428) concocts Shogun Assassin, a blend of midori, sake and green chartreuse. Kampai!