Thursday, April 22, 2010

Japanese Cocktails

In the U.S., cocktails are often drank on their own, and not paired with food. You might have a cocktail before dinner, but once dinner begins it is often wine or beer. In addition, current cocktails are often quite large, with plenty of alcohol. Just consider the over-sized martini glasses you see at most bars. Bigger is thought to be better.

But Japan handles cocktails much differently. First, their cocktails are intended to be consumed and paired with food. When is the last time you did cocktail pairings for your dinner? Second, their glassware is generally smaller, and their drinks often have a much lower alcohol content. Third, they use alcohol, like Saké and Shochu, which is much rarer in the U.S.

You can learn more about this in Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato (Chronicle Books LLC, February 2010, $14.95). Yuri is a beverage alcohol consultant and the publisher of Cocktail Times. This hardcover book, of 96 pages, is a collection of over 60 cocktail recipes, with chapters on Saké, Shochu, Whisky, and More.

Some of the recipes are quite unique. For example, the ingredients in the Bubble Shooter include Saké, salmon eggs, soy sauce and gold flakes for a garnish. You won't find many, if any, American cocktail recipes calling for such ingredients. The Bloody Mari-Chan is made with shochu, tomato sauce, tonkatsu sauce, and lemon juice. You'll also learn how to make Homemade Umeshu, a plum liqueur.
Overall, the recipes are creative and interesting, including ones such as Hot Yuzu Bath, Love Hotel, Chaniwa, Lady Godzilla and Shikoku Island Iced Tea. It may take a little more effort to find some of the ingredients for these cocktails. Some ask for Japanese fruits, such as yuzu, which may not be readily available at your local supermarket.

Besides the recipes, there are also brief sidebars and sections describing Japanese alcohol, ingredients, history and culture. For example, you'll learn that avocado is known as morino batah, the "butter of the forest." You'll find information on such diverse topics as Japanese baseball, love hotels, and zen gardens. Many of the items are tied to the names of specific cocktails. All of this made the book a more fun read. Plus, the book has plenty of colorful and compelling photography.

My only criticism is Yuri's advice on using Daiginjo Saké. In simple cocktails, with few ingredients, she recommends using Daiginjo, and she also uses it in hot cocktails. She fails to mention that Daiginjos can be very elegant, with subtle flavors, which can easily get lost in a cocktail, or when heated. I would not recommend either using it in a cocktail or heating it. Instead, maybe go with a Junmai instead.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, and it is a worthy read to anyone seeking a more exotic flair for their cocktails.

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