Craft Bartending, Japanese-Style

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Photo by dominiekth/Flickr CC


The impact that Japanese bartending has had on the current craft bartending craze can't be over-estimated. The very first inklings of nuevo-speakeasies here in the U.S. were better reproductions of tiny, Japanese bars then any speakeasy of the past, which truthfully ran the gamut from ballrooms to backrooms and served nothing resembling the array of classic concoctions that are now commonplace from coast to coast.

From the rigorous "hard shake" of Master Kazuo Uyeda to the meticulous detail of ice carving, the whole craft bartending scene bears the mark of the Japanese way and is now starting to make those connections overt.

I'm going to Tokyo to see what some have identified as the best cocktail city in the world. That's right, not New York or San Francisco, but Tokyo.

While North America laughed off the image of Tom Cruise in Cocktail, while aping his worst attributes behind the bar, Japanese bartenders were truly inspired and sought tutelage under their masters of bartending. Sometimes spending months just learning to carve ice balls, according to Toby Cecchini of the New York Times.

Now the result is that I'm going to Tokyo to see what some have identified as the best cocktail city in the world. That's right, not New York or San Francisco, but Tokyo. I'm anxious to see the "hard shake" first hand, ice balls carved in minutes flat, and the amazing sense of service some have likened to a tea ceremony. In Late September and early October look out for my reports from the field. In the meantime, Jay Hepburn has posted an amazing video on his blog, 'Oh Gosh! TV', featuring Japanese master, Hidetsugu Ueno.

Consequently, the Japanese cocktail, which was first introduced in the 1860's upon the arrival of the first Japanese delegation to the United States, deserves revisiting. I'm going to make one just before I leave.

Japanese Cocktail


    • 2 oz. Brandy
    • 1/2 oz. Orgeat Syrup
    • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
    • Lemon Peel

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.

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