Scotland’s is stunning and Tennessee’s is a ten, you see, but there’s another, relatively newer whisky on the scene—and it’s ready for a spot as a regular on your shelf.
Whisky had been kicking around Japan in an unofficial capacity for decades before Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru linked up in the early 1920s to turn it into big business. The latter had just returned from Scotland, where he’d studied in Glasgow and apprenticed in the hallowed Speyside region and, equipped with this new set of know-how and with Scotch as their lodestar, together they set out to utilize the pure, natural elements of Japan to make a whisky for the palates of its people. This duo, now regarded as the “fathers of Japanese whisky,” ultimately split to form their own distilling operations, but the characteristics of the country’s whisky to this day came into focus from that early partnership—light and refined but not skimping on complexity with soft floral, vanilla, or malty tasting notes.
It took some time for the spirit to attract global attention (with partial credit going to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, which featured Bill Murray as a pitchman of the spirit), but sure enough, it caught on. And with this growing profile, the range of product coming out of the country has likewise expanded. With notably few regulations as to what counts as Japanese whisky, you can find single malts, versions blended with grains from around the globe, a variety of ages and cask materials, and some even peated.
But don’t mistake lax laws for nonchalance. How seriously do they take their native spirit in Japan? Consider its most high-profile vehicle, the whisky highball, a drink so simple and celebratory of what’s in the bottle that its most important added elements, aside from soda water, are exacting attention to detail, temperature, and technique.
Our three recipes for next month’s box traverse a bit more territory than the noble, unadorned highball, but our aim to honor the clean taste of Japanese whisky is all the same. With help from our expert bartenders, we’re putting you in the driver’s seat to master this exquisite spirit, but first things first—don’t take that first sip without a rousing declaration of Kanpai! Subscribe now through October 2nd to get this box—the final wave will ship the week of October 5th (owing to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic).
Much like the energy-packed, neon-lit streets of Tokyo at night, Kevin Diedrich’s Nippon Cooler is a buzzing feast for your senses. But it’s not just the city that’s inspired this vividly refreshing medley. Japanese whisky welcomes in spiced Thai bitters and a Vietnamese sparkling watermelon juice for a dynamic flavor that pops, along with a smooth aloe drink, and a fruity osmanthus flower syrup. It’s not quite a whisky highball in the traditional sense, but this one-of-a-kind mix is just the ticket for those high on life and ready to have a ball!
Kevin is an award-winning San Francisco–based bartender and owner of Pacific Cocktail Haven and Kona’s Street Market, an ode to the evening food and shopping bazaars popular throughout Asia, South America, and Europe.
We’ve lost sight of Greg Mayer as he happily sails over the horizon, but thankfully he’s left us with a tasty parting gift. Miles from the Mainland is a sunny take on the regional contrasts of Japan, paying particular homage to the coastline and island chains of the south. Bright lemon and a syrup featuring tropical fruit and coconut lead the way to surf and sand, with just enough sesame nuttiness to bring to mind a classic night of izakaya-hopping. Top it with spiced, aromatic Peychaud’s bitters and seal the deal on Japanese whisky’s excursion to the subtropics.
Greg began his career in the hospitality industry working in kitchens as a line cook and transitioned to roles behind the bars of many hot spots nationwide. Now based in NYC, he’s the National Brand Ambassador for LHK Spirits and in-house cocktail counsel for Shaker & Spoon.
Wagtails sing is a cocktail fit for the whole year, but one especially ripe for the upcoming transition to autumn. After taking in the range of soft fruit and floral notes of Japanese whisky, Caer Maiko turned to enhancing ingredients like pear, baking spices, and mole bitters to deepen the sense of warmth and louden the voice of the spirit. But then, what seems like an old fashioned gets flipped with a complex, dry finishing flavor from the German digestif Underberg. Settle in and salute a season of great sips ahead!
Caer is the bar manager for Last Straw in Austin, TX, and co-creator of Daijoubu Pop Up: Super Asian Cocktails, a traveling cocktail experience that pushes culinary boundaries in cocktails by incorporating surprising, unusual, and more authentic Asian flavors while creating a space for Asian people in front of and behind the bar.
The official toast for September is Kanpai! And—since the word translates to “empty your glass”—our imaginative bartenders devised their recipes to make that an enjoyably effortless task for you. Join us for this journey to Japan, and let’s discover our next favorite whisky together!
The Shaker & Spoon Team
*not vegan: spiced pear-honey cordial