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Soukichi Glassware Company – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #11

This is our final stop on Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm). Thanks for reading. Tomorrow I will be posting a summary and some closing thoughts.

As I mentioned earlier, the glassware in Japan is top-notch. In every bar we visited, from the elegant Gen Yamamoto to the internationally renowned Tender to the unassuming Aliviar, a single name kept popping up: The Soukichi Glassware Company. A pilgrimage was in order. Located next to Asakusa station, we had a little bit of difficulty finding this one. It is a very small store, easy to miss, but inside they sell the most beautiful barware I have ever seen.

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Most of it is so delicate and thin that I feared to purchase it, lest I simply return home with a suitcase full of broken glass. Even so, we could not help ourselves, and brought back several souveneirs. Of course they carry the standard trident-style japanese barspoons, as well as a collection of shakers, ice picks, muddlers, jiggers, and japanese-style mixing glasses, similar to the Yarai. Words cannot convey the beauty of the barware that is available in Soukichi, so I will simply say it with pictures:

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Isn’t that the most adorable bottle of Porfidio you’ve ever seen?

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As an added bonus, Soukichi is not far from the Kappabashi-dori restaurant supply district, where you can find more affordable Japanese barware and kitchen ware, as well. It’s worth a look. Soukichi’s high end of glasses can go over over a hundred dollars a glass, so if that pricetag intimidates you, Kappabashi-dori might be more your style, but even if you don’t buy anything, Soukichi is worth the trip for a barware enthusiast.

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Bonus pic of my friend Tom, looking fly outside of their unassuming storefront.


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Bar Aliviar – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #10

Aliviar is not a big-name bar like some of the others in “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)”.

In fact, it is in every way a neighborhood bar, the little convenient watering hole that you visit for a nightcap after a long night of hard drinking… Man, I know that sounds. They made it onto this list because they were on the ground floor of the building where my AirBnB was located in Ebisu. Unfortunately for Aliviar, there are two other bars in Ebisu that you should probably visit first, but that is in no way a slight against them.

Aliviar is small, classy, welcoming, and everything that you would expect from a Japanese cocktail bar. The bartender’s movements are precise and elegant. Like most cocktail bars in Japan, the glassware is of a quality that puts any bar in the USA to shame, even the top bars in New York and San Francisco. I mean that, the Japanese have taken barware and glassware into the stratosphere, and meanwhile here we all are, still stuck on the ground.

We ordered classics off of the unspoken menu of Japanese standards; Old Fashioned, White Lady, Gimlet. We haven’t had a cocktail recipe yet since I came back, so let’s take a quick detour here to note that in fact, a White Lady, which is not a very common drink in the States, is made like so:

1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Cointreau
.75 oz Lemon Juice
Barspoon of Simple Syrup
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass.
Personally, I like to make mine with an egg white.

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With apologies for the poor photo quality. Anyway, the bartender at Aliviar served such a beautiful Old Fashioned that I had to write about it, though I will note that the strange Japanese practice of placing a bitters-soaked sugar cube on top of ice instead of integrating it into the drink meant that he basically served us a whiskey on the rocks. And Aliviar’s bourbon of choice? Wild Turkey 101.


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The Stella – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #9

On the last night of “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)” we found ourselves visiting three bars in a single night. Stella was the last stop on our journey, and I and mine were feeling quite fatigued. As a result, my memory of this bar is a little bit hazy, like a dream. I regret that our visit was not longer.

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When we entered the Stella, I admit, the decor did not give us the best first impression. It was a little cheesy. First impressions can be deceiving, however, our bartender, Takashi-san, was very skilled, and the drinks that he made were both delicious and creative. Like Codename:Mixology, the Stella is a molecular bar, and they serve drinks that are smoked, frozen, barrel-aged, and otherwise scienced.

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What a menu! For our first round, my friend Tom started with a Truffled Salty Dog, which was made with grapefruit, vodka, truffle essence, and truffle salt. It was exactly as advertised, and I certainly enjoyed it.

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Dave and I both ordered the “LN2 Lemond -196C”, a drink made with red wine, orgeat syrup, lemon juice, and panna cotta foam, but the twist is that both the drink and the foam were frozen using liquid nitrogen, such that it game out more like a granita. You can see it here, NO2 vapor rising lightly from the glass.

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After that we went with Bartender’s choice or “omaksase” as they say in Japan, and he served us a smoked bloody mary “dolce” with cocoa powder. Notice how the glass has a narrow mouth with a little lid to hold in the smoke.

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Also as part of the omakase service, I received an earl gray orange blossom, above, dusted with powdered sugar and garnished with whole spices. Takashi-san let us try a house-made amaro and a barrel-aged house blend of Islay scotches. Delightful.


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Tokyo Craft Bar Trench – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #8

As “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)” drew to a close, we found ourself in a cozy neighborhood joint known as Bar Trench…

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Gen Yamamoto told us to go to Benfiddich. Benfiddich told us to go to Codename:Mixology. Codename:Mixology told us to go to Bar Trench, and after a chain of suggestions like that, we simply could not say no. Bar Trench turned out to be in Ebisu, only a few minutes from where we were staying, so it was an easy choice. Trench is owned by the same people as a bar two blocks away called Tram, and both describe themselves as “Elixir and Absinthe”. Of all the bars we visited in Tokyo, Trench was the most similar to an American style craft cocktail bar. In fact, if you found Trench in Seattle, you wouldn’t think twice.

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We did not have a lot of time, and honestly, because it was so familiar, the menu had less to offer than a place like Codename:Mixology, but I want to commend them for creating a great atmosphere and for serving us a rock-solid drink, which they called “Gin and Jam”. Every week, they make a new gourmet jam, and then premix it in jam jars with a spirit as a sour. We were lucky enough to get Gin with homemade Apple-cinnamon jam, and everyone at the table drank it in record time. That’s how you know you did something right.

This was a two-man operation when we were there, and right as we were about to leave, the lead bartender came over to our table and hung out with us for a minute, even though the bar was fairly crowded, and he poured us all a shot of Zacapa 23 and took a shot with us. Little things like that can help take a bar from good to great.

Alas, we were a little short on time at this point, and we only had time for one drink. Still, it was a good time, and if you are in Ebisu, and looking for an American-style craft bar, Trench is the place.


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Codename: Mixology, Akasaka – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #7

We still have a few stops left on “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)”, so let’s make them count!

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Codename:Mixology has a location in Akasaka, and a location next to Tokyo central station. The one by Tokyo station has standards, apparently, and they wouldn’t let us in. Fortunately, the one in Akasaka was willing to entertain riffraff like us. Before we get into the meat of this article, I would like to note that it is located right next to liquor store that carries Lemonhart of both the regular and the 151 variety, and that sells green chartreuse for 30$/bottle.

C:M’s interior was probably my favorite of all the bars on the trip, though it was baroque in its style. As you walk in the door, you are greeted by a rotovape distiller, a freezing centrifuge, and a vaporizer gun, announcing the modernist aspirations of the bar. The inside is lavishly decorated with bottles, bitters, ornate barware and leather-bound books. I did not smell any rich mahogany, but then again, I was getting over a cold.

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C:M had the only bottle of Pappy we saw all trip, and for that matter, their house barrel-aged Manhattan, dubbed “the Manhattan experience” is made with 15-year old Van Winkle rye, Pedro Ximénez sherry, Abbott’s bitters, and a raspberry shrub. I have never had a Manhattan as good as theirs. The particular genius of this drink was to barrel-age a shrub. It sounds obvious once you say it, but I had never realized, prior to this drink, that it is possible to barrel-age a maceration of fruit. Since the vinegar in the shrub acts as a preservative, it is possible to make a drink of this nature.

The menu at C:M explains that their mixology comes in four flavors:
1. Barrel-aging
2. Roto-vape distilling
3. Classic cocktails
4. Other Molecular drinks

And indeed, they have a whole page of barrel-aged drinks, including a mai-tai made with barrel-aged house made mai-tai mix, and a barrel-aged “woodland negroni”, in which a Negroni made with Campari, Amer Picon, and Gin is aged with a house tincture of woodland herbs and spices.

They also had a page of drinks made with rotovape-distilled spirits, including an Asparagus tonic, a Parmesean Vodka martini, and a Blue Cheese Hennessey Martini. They also let us taste a small glass of vodka distilled with foie gras. Let’s just take a moment to talk about rotovapor distillation. Here is an excerpt from Tony Conigliaro’s book The Cocktail Lab, in which he describes the machine:

The Rotovapor is an instrument used to distill a solvent. The purpose of distillation is to separate a given mixture into its components based on their respective volatilities, through the process of evaporation and condensation. What makes the Rotovapor so fantastic is that it has a vacuum. This allows you to evaporate things at lower boiling points because you are evaporating through pressure rather than heat. This is incredibly useful because the less heat you use, the less likely you are to damage or pull apart the more delicate volatiles of an ingredient. Alcohol is a fantastic medium for carrying flavor and volatile aromas. You can extract the purest and freshest flavors from ingredients by removing the water and replacing it with a solvent such as alcohol, gently and at low temperatures. This means your final product has a full spectrum of aroma and flavor notes.

The rotation of the evaporating flask, immersed in a heated water bath, increases the surface area of the product, greatly speeding up distillation and also, through forced convection, keeping the mixture evenly mixed and heated, to promote stable, even evaporation. For example, when distilling rose petals, you have very delicate, small molecules, which too muc hheat would simply burn. With less heat, the delicate molecules are preserved and come through along with the bigger molecules. In this way you have the big picture of what a rose is. What I love about the Rotovapor is that it is one of the most complicated pieces of equipment used in the lab but the products made from it are incredibly poetic.

By the way, if you haven’t read Mr. Conigliaro’s book yet, you really ought to check it out. I will have a book review coming shortly.

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After we each drank a 15 year Van Winkle Manhattan, Dave ordered a “hot bourbon moscow mule” (isn’t that a Kentucky Mule?), Tom ordered a drink made with roughly equal parts of clarified tomato juice and champagne, and I ordered, in fact, the Blue Cheese martini. The rotovape makes it possible to create distillates at room temperature, so it is possible to distill ingredients such as cheese into a spirit, which would otherwise melt and clog up the still.

I am not sure if it sounds appetizing to you, but in fact the flavor of the blue cheese, or at least, the portion of if that was distillable, really did come out in the drink in a unique and delicious way. This was the most interesting martini of my life to date.

mixology5 “Hot Moscow Mule” on the right, and I apologize but I can’t remember the drink on the left.

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Finally, because Dave is a lover of all things tiki, he ordered their mashup of a Piña Colada and a Mai Tai, called “Mai Piña”. To be honest, we both would have preferred if this had been a little more rum-forward, but in true Japanese style, the spirit was soft and light upon the palate. Regardless, that tiki glass is amazing.

Codename:Mixology was astonishingly good. Go there.


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Tokyo Mixology Bar Benfiddich – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #6

BONUS EDIT: It appears that the bartender at Benfiddich has a blog!

As most of you are probably aware, I’m in the middle of a series of articles reviewing some of the best bars in Tokyo, a venture which I have unfortunately named “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)”

So alright, that’s enough hotel bars. Let’s get to the good stuff. I would never have found Bar Benfiddich, in Nishi-Shinjuku, without a recommendation from our esteemed bartender at Gen Yamamoto, and I have to say, this was my favorite bar of the trip. Everything about this bar was great. When we sat down at the bar, we were the first customers of the night, and we had the place to ourselves for a good hour. When the bartender asked us what we want, we replied, bartender’s choice, of course. He then asked if we wanted something standard or interesting, and to long-time readers of Measure and Stir, you will know that I could only say “interesting”.

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Immediately, his eyes lit up and he went to work. I have been to bars where the wall is lined with jars full of spices, but usually it strikes me as empty posturing. In the case of Benfiddich, those whole spices are the cornerstone of their drink philosophy. Our bartender produced an enormous stone mortar and pestle, and made a fresh maceration of at least ten different whole spices, which he stirred with vodka and topped with ginger beer, ice, and mint. In such a preparation, the flavors of the spices are robust and very complete, because an infusion of fresh spices can capture very volatile aromas that do not persist for very long after grinding.

He then asked “Do you like Chartreuse?” Academic. He then produced a slender bottle of house-made green chartreuse, and served it to us neat, and in a highball with house-made tonic water. It was love at first sip. I definitely have a new favorite entry in the “& tonic” category of drinks.

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Other highlights of the trip included yet a second maceration of fresh ground spices, this time in the flavor profile of Campari, which he used to make a “no campari” Spumoni. The Spumoni, along with the White Lady, the Salty Dog, and the Nikolaschka (or whatever that drink is called) are classic era cocktails that seem to have found a particular popularity in Japan. Here is a recipe:

3/4 Campari
1 part Grapefruit juice
1 part Tonic water
Shake Campari and Grapefruit juice over ice, then double strain over fresh ice. Top with tonic and garnish with an orange wedge.

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At one point he made us a Manhattan with Carpano Antica and Luxardo cherry. The cherry liqueur really elevated this beyond the level of an ordinary Manhattan.

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My favorite drink of the night was a drink made with copious amounts of muddled shiso and kumquats, but then, I am a fiend for fresh shiso.

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Benfiddich also served us a bloody Mary that was much in line with the one from Gen Yamamoto, but a bit more savory. It was grand.

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I didn’t catch what was in this drink, but it was similar to the cream and kabocha from Gen Yamamoto. It was served in a bamboo vessel that the bartender himself had made. Small touches like this really give Benfiddich a lot of character.

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This drink contained freshly shredded ginger and gin. The ginger flavor was strong, but it did not have much of the heat tha toften comes with fresh ginger.

I almost feel like Benfiddich was Gen Yamamoto’s sister bar, though I do not believe they are affiliated. Like Gen Yamamoto, the bar counter itself is made from a single piece of wood, cut vertically from a tree, and apparently provided by the same company. The decor is rustic, and I felt like I was sitting inside a feudal Japanese apothecary, complete with old wooden lanterns.

The enthusiasm and ingenuity of the bartender really impressed me, and for this reason, Benfiddich was my favorite bar of the trip.


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Conrad Hotel Lobby Bar – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #5

Blah blah blah Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)….

Rounding up our trio of bar suggestions from Serious Eats, my companions and I visited the lobby bar of the Conrad Hotel, located in Higashi-Shinbashi, right next to the Park Hyatt, where they filmed Lost In Translation. But Joseph, didn’t you want to visit the famous bar from the movie? Answer: No, I don’t give a dash of a bitters about that. If their biggest achievement is a Manhattan with Carpano Antica, (a fine thing!) then it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

The Conrad, on the other hand, is boasting a “mixology” program featuring barrel-aged Negronis and Manhattans, and four “molecular” cocktails, of which we ordered two.

  • Strawberry Cheesecake Topper – Gin, white chocolate liqueur, strawberry puree, and flamed parmagiano reggiano.
  • Edible Campari – Vodka and grapefruit juice, shaken and served over ice, and topped with campari jelly.

They also had a drink with a roasted apple and calvados, and a drink with strawberry and basil. Unfortunately, the Conrad hotel really fell down for us. The service was the most negligent that I have had at any establishment in Japan, and the drinks, though cool in concept, were poorly executed.

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The Strawberry cheesecake topper was overwhelmed by the white chocolate liqueur, to the point that I could scarcely notice the other ingredients in the drink. The flamed parmagiano reggiano on top was tasty, but it was arranged in a little ball in the center of the drink, such that it clumped together and made it difficult to imbibe. It was also fatiguingly rich by the end of the drink.

The edible Campari was similarly problematic. The Campari jelly seems to have been made using xanthan gum, but whatever the hydrocolloid, it stayed completely solid and did not flavor or mix into the drink in any way. We were left simply drinking grapefruit juice and vodka, while the Campari sat in gigantic gelatinous pieces on top of the drink, with no easy way to consume it.

Combine that with the frankly poor service, and I cannot suggest this bar to anyone. The one redeeming feature, and I must grant, it is significant, is that the Conrad bar commands a breathtaking view of the Tokyo harbor. It might be worth a visit just for the view, however you’ll probably want to order wine. =[

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