Umeshu spritz; The Madras; Cucmber and mint gimlet
Umeshu spritz; The Madras; Cucmber and mint gimlet

Savor the Umami: Japanese cocktails stir up a savory storm in city bars

The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine over the past few years has thickened interest in experiencing the neatness of Japanese cocktails.

A solo iceball clinks against the delicate glass as the bartender serves up the Japanese highball with frozen whiskey. Sake bombs and shochu sours have competition. Shiso leaves, pickled yuzu, and koji-cultured rice and more are making it to edgy oriental cocktails on the go. It’s a state of umami in motion with Japanese restobars sprouting up in cities across the country. The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine over the past few years has thickened interest in experiencing the neatness of Japanese cocktails.

Says Avantika Malik, Head Mixologist, Mizu Izakaya, in Mumbai, “It is the umami kick in the unique play of savoury flavours, coming up in a perfect balance of precision and elegance that works in Japanese cocktails. These drinks bring in an immersive adventure.” Fruit-forward cocktails, spicy runs and dramatic accents in the tall, cool elixirs are racing across the menus. Ketan Satpute, Assistant F&B Manager, Hyatt Centric Juhu Mumbai, lists the Umeshu Aperol Spritz as a popular pick, with the plum liquor bringing in a decided piquant taste pandering to the millennial palate.

Malik believes ingredients in a drink need to be viable. “I love playing around with fruits, including pickled plum, passionfruit; yuzu for a citrusy spin. Arima sansho is the perfect pepper that brings in a spicy edge, with its mix of slightly sweet, salty, sharp flavours. Sometimes the availability is challenging,” she confesses, having had to remove concoctions from the menu for months for this reason. “I make generous use of the red pickled ginger beni shoga, and the fresh shiso leaves in my preparations. There is no locally available substitute for these,” she rues.

She has also been experimenting with Japanese tea finished over pinewood, pear cider accents, a touch of bamboo to rev up the edgy spin. While pinprick bubbles race to the surface at gleeful tables, super expensive ingredients make their way into the melee of essentials.

Satpute says, “Indians love a bit of drama. In Japanese cocktails we bring in a touch of spice and smoke by toasting cinnamon, or apple wood to raise the flavour profile. A slight tweaking to modify the flavours works wonderfully at times, like a fruity-fiery spin. Also, bringing in tiny flowers, or autumn leaves for garnish, adds a touch of elegance. Sometimes when the ingredients are unavailable—like Roku gin is a tough find due to excise issues—then Tanqueray steps in. When yuzu is unavailable, a dot of yuzu syrup does the trick.” As millennials raise a toast, it is a subtle serenade with precision-driven inclusions making their mark.

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