Joe Rogers

How to drink like the Japanese

How to drink like the Japanese
Tokyo (Image: iStock)
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Well it looks like none of us had the chance to jet off to Tokyo for the Olympics this year. But if you Deliveroo some sushi and get the right kind of drinks in you can still have a pretty good time watching on the telly. Japan has a great culture of craftsmanship and a love of drinking that’s almost British in dimension. Which means it’s a country that produces some truly excellent booze. Here are some of the best ways to get a taste of Japan while you cheer on team GB up to the closing ceremony on Sunday. Kanpai!

Nikka Coffey Grain, 45% (£54.95; The Whisky Exchange)

The coffey still is generally used to create light, clean spirits. But the good people at Miyagikyo distillery prove that it can be used to create a variety of different styles. This is single grain whisky with texture and personality: bags of citrus oil and tropical fruit salad on the nose - creamy banoffee pie on the palate. If you need a dram that’ll satisfy seasoned whisky drinkers and category newcomers alike, then this is the bottle you’re looking for. It drinks well neat or over a big block of ice, but also has plenty of cocktail potential. If you need something to keep your energy up through those late-night events then sub a large measure of Coffey Grain for the vodka in your Espresso Martini. An absolute winner, even for the whisky sceptics.

Coffey Martini

50ml Nika Coffey Grain

20ml Fresh espresso

20ml Coffee Liqueur

10ml 1:1 simple sugar syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice until foamy and emulsified and then strain into a chilled cocktail coup. Simple syrup is widely available but you can make it by combining equal volumes of sugar and water in a saucepan and stirring over a low heat until fully dissolved. It’ll keep in a bottle in the fridge for a week-or-so.

Hitachino Nest White Ale, 5.5% (£2.10, Waitrose)

Kiuchi brewery had been in the sake game for more than a century when it made its first western style beer. Since the mid-90s the small operation in the city of Naka has produced a variety of ales, lagers, and stouts that showcase traditional Japanese techniques and materials. The Nest White Ale is pretty easy to get hold of in the UK and makes a great introduction to the range. Brewed with coriander and orange, it drinks like a witbier but feels lighter and more refined. Easy drinking for warm evenings.

The firm also sells a pretty excellent Nest Red Rice Ale (£3.49, Japan Centre) which serves as a nice crossover between sake and European beer. It’s a little chunkier than the white ale, bringing stone fruits, black bread, and red berries to your glass. There’s also a Hitachino yuzu lager that’s very likeable (£3.25, Japan Centre).

Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin, 45.7% (£42.90, Master of Malt)

At Kyoto distillery, industry veteran Alex Davies makes gins that showcase the produce of Japan’s ancient capital. A backbone of juniper and orris, keep Ki No Bi in classic dry gin territory but intense aromas of yuzu peel, gyokuro tea, and hinoki remind you that you’re drinking something uniquely Japanese. In a frankly excessive show of dedication to the craft, Davies and his team group botanicals into six different flavour profiles and distil each one separately with a proprietary rice spirit. The resulting distillates are then blended together to achieve the perfect balance and left to marry before bottling. Make a stiff G&T with Ki No Bi and you’ll see what the extra effort adds up to. But if you really want to pick up all the nuances a Martini is the way to go.

Kyoto Martini

60ml Ki No Bi Dry Gin

15ml Dry Vermouth

Put some cocktail glasses in the freezer a few minutes ahead of time and cut yourself a twist of lemon peel for garnish. Pour your gin and vermouth into a shaker tin, or pint glass, fill with ice, and stir until frosty. Strain into your frozen cocktail glass, squeeze your twist over the top to give it a spritz of lemon oil. Drop the twist into your drink or discard it if you prefer.

Kamoizumi Shusen 'Three Dots' Junmai Sake, 16% (£36, Bottle Apostle)

A full bodied, creamy sake from Hiroshima prefecture. There’s an autumnal aspect to Three Dots, with lots of mushroom, oxidised nuttiness, and a touch of miso-y umami. It’s grownup stuff, for sure, but still very easy to knock back – fans of dry Sherry will get it immediately. That savoury aspect means lots of potential for food pairings. You could easily match this with barbecued chicken, Spanish ham, or tonkotsu ramen during your Olympic viewing party.

Though you can warm this up slightly to serve – and might find some nice autumn leaves and a bit of citrus emerging if you do – it pours very well just slightly chilled. The bottle is one of those unusual sizes we don’t see here (900ml?) but don’t worry if you don’t finish it in one night. What’s left will keep quite happily in the fridge for the rest of the week.

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve, 43% (£66.95, Master of Malt)

Nearly a century after the founding of its first distillery, Suntory remains the biggest name in Japanese whisky. Though its flagship Yamazaki single malt and Hibiki blends are better known in these parts, Hakushu is an infinitely rewarding dram. A few highly publicised award wins and a plug from a certain Mr. Bill Murray saw interest in Japanese whiskies explode in the last decade. Resulting in a shortage of aged stock, skyrocketing prices, and the discontinuation of many beloved expressions. The good news for Japanese whisky fans is that even though the entry level Hakushu has lost its 12-year-old age statement, the liquid inside is still pretty damn good.

Situated in the Japanese alps, Hakushu distillery produces a variety of different makes and styles that are carefully blended to create each expression. The Distillers Reserve is poised and elegant, with green herbs, apple, melon, grapefruit, and stony minerality. Where some Japanese whiskies can feel like refined emulations of Scottish malts, Hakushu has a profile you would struggle to find at any other distillery. Drink neat or with a drop of water if you think it needs it.

If you feel like a long drink is better suited to marathon Olympics watching then whisky and soda is a good option. There’s a little Hakushu whisky in Suntory’s new blend Toki (£30, Sainsbury’s), which makes itself known in the form of some citrus and mint on the nose. Try 1-part Toki to 2-parts soda water, with lots of ice and a slice of cucumber.

Ume No Yado Yuzu Sake, 8% (£26.95, The Whisky Exchange)

Yuzu - perhaps the world’s trendiest fruit - has reared its small, yellow head numerous times in this article. The native Japanese citrus looks a bit like a small pomelo and tastes somewhere between a lemon, a mandarin, and those green fruit pastilles that are ostensibly lime flavoured. It’s an iconic piece of Japanese produce and frankly it’s not hard to see why it winds up in everything from cocktails to Kit Kats. This infused sake from Nara Prefecture, just east of Osaka, shows perfectly what yuzu is all about.

Served chilled in a small wine glass it’s a nice aperitif, silky in texture and filled with fresh citrus flavour. However, it’s great with a bit of fizz to spritz it up. Mix 50/50 with English sparkling wine in a flute or saucer and use it for victory toasts. Chapel Down Bacchus Brut is £17.99 at Waitrose and would do the job nicely.