Photo by bryangeek/Flickr CC
The first time I tried to carve an ice ball to cool premium Scotch or Bourbon, the result was, shall we say, less than satisfactory. After 15 minutes of freezing my hand off, chipping away with an ice pick, this misshapen stone was anything but circular and, what's worse, because I kept lop-siding the ball I wheedled it down to half the size of the rocks glass. Therefore, my masterpiece sat like any other "rock' in the glass only with a vaguely oblong shape. As I sat before Kishi Hisashi at the Star Bar, another of Tokyo's ace bars, and he carved diamond shaped ice with a fish knife, I felt more than a little crest-fallen.
Kishi-san joked that Hidetsugo Ueno of High Five Bar does it better. Better? What is better then a perfectly shaped ice diamond? Yet perfectionism describes the attention Kishi-san uses in his drinks. When I asked for an Adonis, one of my favorite cocktails of all time, he started by spraying water on to the ice and then pouring it out. When I asked what he's doing, he replied that he's cleaning the ice.
I think of that hand-carved, washed ice in relation to the toilet-basin, watery, and chipped ice that most bartenders use, and am amazed but no longer surprised at how serious the bartenders I meet in Japan take their craft. But they have their gripes too. A conversation I had over and over again with Japanese bartenders, is the debate between bartenders and those who call themselves mixologists.