My First Experience with Sake Cocktails at Mirai Nihonshu-ten!
The Delicious World Beyond Your Imagination

Written by Keita Okubo
Translated by Saki Kimura

To be honest, I was skeptical about the existence of “sake cocktails”.

– Why bother changing something that is already delicious?
– You have Western-style sake, but are you forced to use sake?

I was bypassing it for the above reasons.

I was wrong; sake cocktails are amazing. Not only are they delicious, but they make the drinks so much “fun”.

Visit Mirai Nihonshu-ten with A Sake Bartender

Mirai Nihonshu-ten is located in the restaurant area on the basement floor of Shibuya PARCO.
This is a liquor store where you can drink, and you can enjoy a casual sake in an atmosphere like a kakuuchi (a simple area set up in a liquor store where people can enjoy alcoholic drinks). It’s surprising that there’s a liquor store specializing in sake in the trendy fashion department store like PARCO.

Although it is underground, the atmosphere is open. As I visited at 4PM, there weren’t many customers.

Here’s the main menu. Since this is a liquor store, you can buy what you like by the bottle.

Here’s what I’m here for, a sake cocktail. They’re recommending “Kubota” from Asahi Shuzo Sake Brewing Company @Niigata Pref.

Momo, a bartender and a sake and cooking expert, makes the cocktails for me.

Up until this point, I’ve thought of a cocktail as a mix of things that are colorful and pretty and look good. There should be cocktails like that of course.

However, Momo apologizes, “I’m sorry, my cocktails aren’t fancy at all…”

“Rather than creating a new taste, it’s more like applying a little make-up to the sake to cover up their ‘freckles’. My cocktail is a technique for bringing out the deliciousness of sake. So it’s very simple.” (Momo)

First Drink: Kubota Senju with Sansho and Peppermint

(…Sure, it’s so simple.)

Original Sake: Kubota Senju
It has a sweet taste with a dry aftertaste. It’s totally fine as it is. It’s what you might call “dry”, or a traditional sake for old men in Japan.

For a cocktail, this is paired with sansho pepper and peppermint. You can see a little bit of sansho powder on the surface.

……OMG, This is so good.

The moist texture is still there, but the bitterness has been replaced by a refreshing taste. An old man has been rejuvenated by about 20 years.

“I added mint and pepper to this cocktail and transferred the flavors to the sake by shaking it. It’s an expression of Kubota’s good qualities while masking the bitterness. By the way, mint and sansho go better with alcohol-added drinks rather than junmai.”

A sake cocktail is humble but amazing.

Second Drink: Adding A Few Drops of Vinegar to Kubota

The next main ingredient is cacao vinegar.

“This cocktail is made by simply adding a few drops of cocoa vinegar to one drink. Why don’t you try it and compare?”

(We compared the two types of drinks before and after the vinegar was added, which made a mess on the counter.)

She makes these cocktails with Kubota, too. On the left is Suiju, an unpasteurized sake. Right is Hekiju made in the yamahai style. By the way, I didn’t know that I understand that Kubota makes so many different kinds of sake.

….Super delicious. What happened? It’s very mellow and increasingly sweet.

(I also tasted the vinegar by itself. It’s delicious, but it’s just vinegar.)

“Most of the modern sake have acid, so it is delicious to add some vinegar to it. This doesn’t happen if you add vinegar to just water. The complexity of the flavors in sake makes it more than just 1 + 1 = 2!

Exactly. It’s definitely more delicious, like 1 + 1 becomes 5 or 10 instead of 2. It’s good again at the end with a flicker of cocoa flavor.

By the way, they can do this with other kinds of vinegar like fruit vinegar. I’ll buy some vinegar!

Third Drink: Adding Yakult to Off-Flavored Sake!?

Next up is Mirai Nihonshu-ten’s original product, Izumi Jonomae 1818-4 (Tenryohai Brewery @Niigata). This sake has a little bit of a problem. It was a bit off-flavored due to too much time after bottling.

It’s delicious as is, of course, but it has a faint smell of takuan (pickled Japanese daikon radish)  and an acrid taste.

“Let’s put a drop each of Yakult and a lime in this sake.”

Let’s drink it…… wow, the bad flavor is gone. The initial off-flavor is eclipsed by the coolness of the lime, and the sweetness of the Yakult perfectly covers up acridity.

It’s like magic!

“Sake has a really delicate taste. So you don’t have to do anything extra, a single drop is all it takes to cover the flaws. Since I used to work at a sake bar for many years, I’m very good at rehabilitating a bad drink!”

Fourth Drink: Warming Up the Sake While Mashing Sansho in It

Sake cocktails are also available hot.

“I warmed it up while mashing the raw sansho pepper.” Momo served a cocktail made with Shirakiku by Hakuto Shuzoten in Ishikawa Pref. When I put the ochoko up to my mouth, I found an aroma of fresh sansho (smells like fruit!) which slipped out of my nose when I drank it. Next, the sweetness and richness of the sake came out.

I see, the initial alcoholic smell of the hot sake is replaced by the aroma of sansho. Great, it absolutely works! I want to do it at home.

HINEMOS ICHIJI, a massive type of sake, is also served as a hot cocktail with a fresh sansho. When served with Mushroom Kimchi, the sweetness and umami are enhanced by the synergistic effect with the kimchi. The aftertaste is replaced by the pungent taste of sansho.

The sake, of course, but the bartender Momo, is amazing. She’s not on the level of “changing the flavors”: she’s free to move elements in and out of the taste.

Dessert: Amazake and Olive Oil

I had an amazake for dessert. It is drizzled with olive oil, mint and pepper on top. It looks most cocktail-like today.

……..Oh, interesting. It’s an amazake, but it has no peculiar sweetness, so it goes down easily. The aftertaste is also light.

“The top layer of olive oil goes into the mouth first, coating your palate, and then the sludgy amazake comes in. It gradually changes the way you taste in your mouth.”

Momo Changed My Perception of Sake Cocktails

(I had many more.)

My perception of sake cocktails, which I wrote about in the introduction, has changed.

 False: Sake cocktails are just delicious cocktail-like drinks made with sake.
 True: Sake cocktails bring out the best in sake and make it taste even better.

It’s so interesting.

Also, I thought sake cocktails were for people who don’t drink, but I’d like people who love to drink and sake to experience them. It will change the way you feel about sake.