Book Review: Japanese Cocktails


When this Japanese Cocktails book by Yuri Kato arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago, I learned a few things.

One, I discovered I know very little about sake and shochu. This book opens the door on the topic, but it also underscores that truly understanding sake and shochu requires more than just a cursory glance through a beautiful cocktail book — and it is beautiful.

So does this book make me want to learn more? Yes, it does.

The author says that there are more than 10,000 brands of sake (called nihon-shu in Japan, as sake refers to alcohol in general.) My limited exposure to sake up to this point hasn’t been exactly authentic (sadly, the hot sake at Benihana comes to mind.)

Two, I had no idea that whisky was a big deal in Japan drinking circles. Yet Japan has been distilling whisky since the 1900’s (taught by the Scots, hence the spelling without an “e”.) And one company, Suntory, controls nearly 60 percent of Japan’s whisky market. According to the title page, this edition of Japanese Cocktails was published by Chronicle Books exclusively for Suntory, which explains why many of the recipes specifically call for Suntory brands.

Three, it’s downright impossible to find some of the ingredients needed to make these stunning cocktails in the desert where I live, even though we have two fairly prolific Asian markets (Lee Lee’s and Ranch 99).

That didn’t stop me from drooling over the mouthwatering pictures of drinks like the Yuzu Julep (see below) or Karuizawa Martini, made with fresh raspberries, lychees, umeshu (plum liqueur), shochu and garnished with a fresh rosemary sprig.

Other cocktails just plain pique my foodie interest, like the bubble shooter made with salmon eggs, soy sauce, daiginjo sake and edible gold flakes for a garnish, or the Hotate-zake, a broiled scallop served in a sea shell with hot daiginjo and rosemary.

If you live in a community with a vibrant Asian population, you might not have any trouble finding ingredients like gum syrup (sweeter than simple syrup) or neriume (salty plum paste).

Not all recipes include obscure Japanese ingredients, though, and you can substitute or even improvise a little, says author Yuri Kato.

Ms. Kato is a beverage consultant and the publisher of the popular site,

She’s a frequent judge on the cocktail competition circuit, both here in the states and abroad. Born in Yokohama, Japan she now splits her time between New York and Denver when she’s not on the competition circuit.

While it’s clear the author knows her stuff, I didn’t walk away from the book with a solid understanding of the differences between the various sakes and shochus.

But I did walk away knowing that these spirits – ergo the cocktails made from them — are less alcohol-intensive, and to me, that means they’re more about the taste than the buzz.

And that just makes me want to taste them. Can you really ask more from a book than that?

Yuzu Julep from Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato

Yuzu Julep

from Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato

2 oz (60 ml) Yamazaki 12 Year Old

6 Fresh Mint Leaves

1 tsp (5 ml) gum syrup

½ oz (15 ml)

Yuzu Juice

Fresh Mint Spring for Garnish

Muddle mint leaves with gum syrup in a mixing glass. Pour into a short glass with crushed ice.  Add whisky and yuzu juice, garnish with a mint sprig, and serve.

Black Ship from Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato

Black Ship

from Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato

1 ½ oz (45 ml) Hibki 12 year Old (whisky)

1 oz (30 ml) Pomegranate Juice

¼ oz (7 ml) Port

1 tsp (5 ml) Lemon Juice

Lemon peel for garnish

Mix all ingredients except lemon peel in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with lemon peel and serve.

Japanese Cocktails

by Yuri Kato

Facts: Custom published by Chronicle Books exclusively for Suntory LTD., hardcover, 96 pages, $14.95 (or Amazon at $10.17)

Photos: Stunning full color images of 49 of the 67 cocktail recipes, plus pictures of the Japanese drinking culture and more.

Recipes: 67

Give to: Friends who collect cocktail recipes like you collect recipes,  or to your friend who is fascinated by Japanese culture (I know you have one, we all do).

1 reply
  1. Ty
    Ty says:

    I just pitched the idea of a new Japanese cocktail bar in Scottsdale. The location is super super secret though… 😉

    You’ll be the first to know if anything comes of it! Late summer 2010.


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