japan’s best speaks to u.s. bartenders
Kazuo Uyeda is perhaps Japan’s best-known bartender, and to mark the publication of his landmark Cocktail Techniques in English, the publisher, Mud Puddle Books brought Uyeda to New York earlier this month before a standing-room-only crowd of bartenders for a two-day presentation on the Japanese Way of cocktails. Uyeda is master of the “Hard Shake,” a method he devised to combine ingredients with maximal aeration. Here’s how he describes it in the book:
“Imagine the constituent element of alcohol as a square. Most people tend to think of shaking as a way of rounding the sharp corners of that square, but as I see it, I’m forcing air into that square causing it to puff out and become rounder. In other words, the aeration acts like a cushion that prevents the bite of the ingredients and the sharpness of the alcohol from directly attacking the tongue. The bubbles expand the alcohol and the flavor becomes softer. Those constituent elements of the alcohol which are bunched together gradually become one. This is the way I visualize what’s happening when I shake the shaker.”
Heady stuff, but there isn’t anything purely theoretical about Uyeda, who also challenges bartenders to remember that every step of drink-making is important, from the position of hands on a shaker, the proper way to measure and present drinks and the best ways to prepare ice. It’s worth remembering, as the bartender’s position has become more elevated in the past few years and drink creativity celebrated, that service and customer satisfaction are the ultimate goal of the job — the things that continue to bring customers coming back, long past the time when a bar is known as the hottest, the latest, the coolest. To achieve some longevity, a great bartender doesn’t rely on obscure ingredients, social media or drink geekery. After all, anyone can Twitter, but not everyone can make a delicious Daiquiri in the same manner again and again.
Uyeda referred to sumo wrestling when talking about a bartender’s craft, but also the classic arts of tea ceremony and flower arranging, or ikebana, a rigorous discipline where nature and art combine to make something very specific, and where form is exceedingly important. If the bartenders who traveled to see Uyeda this month departed with a greater understanding of the skill discipline he spoke about, then we all can expect a more confident and serene style of drink making to emerge here.