Holiday Gift Guide

As a performer, occasional creator, and avid listener, music is often the backdrop (if not the focal point) for any activity in which I lose myself. Be it trying the longest possible execution of a new recipe, drinking with friends or hitoride (by myself), the music selection is as essential as getting the right ingredients together; I usually won't even get started until I've picked out just the right records for background (and for afterwards), nor is it usually played at a volume that allows for anything but direct listening.  

I think this is what drew me to レコードバー, or "record bars" in Japan; the music is always thoughtfully picked out and played on gorgeous-sounding speakers. Not only that, many of the bars I enjoyed going to had such a small capacity and were usually attended by close friends of the bartender and other patrons. They gave me the feeling of being invited into someone else's living room and sitting in front of their sound-system; the music was the stage on which the entire communion was built. Similar to record bars, ジャズキッサ, or jazz kissaten, have hi-fi at the center, but the records can be enjoyed with headphones instead of collectively, and usually over coffee instead of booze. I found this setting to be better for when I was feeling more somber or meditative, wanting to be around others, but not so enmeshed that I was pressured to participate in conversation.

Owner Shigeru Itoh showing off the fine selection at Bar 33 1/3 RPM in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Some serious Altec speakers at Braque in Kobe. 

Since the pandemic, I've often been in the mood for both of these situations and unable to do either. And forget about being able to visit Japan. Sigh. I can say with certainty, however, that the amount of time I find myself in front of my speakers has increased substantially, thus allowing for more opportunity to recreate the feel of my own jazz kissa in my living room. Whether it's cooking 4pm brunch and drinking hot coffee to bouncy and bubbly Count Basie, comparing the textures of a Mendelssohn String Trio to the layers of a Japanese single-malt whisky, or playing salaryman, melting the stress of the world away over 70's Japanese folk-rock, enka, and ample shochu, the number of "experience pairings" is limited only by my imagination. I hope to share one of these with you through this cocktail.

I love this drink because it pairs the juicy acidity and slighty fermented nose of the coffee with the complex, raw papaya-like funk of Jougo Kokuto Shochu. The kokuto simple syrup binds both of these with a sturdy caramel backbone. The result is a supple, yet assertive balance of velvety, sexy bass textures – lush, decadent mid-range, and crystal-clear high-end. It hits the palate all at once, and fades out gently, just in time to make you ready for another sip.

Kokuto Kohi-Wari コーヒー割黒糖
3 oz cold-brewed coffee
3 oz Jougo Kokuto Shochu
0.5 oz of Kokuto simple syrup

Cold Brew Coffee

To make the cold brew, grind some freshly roasted coffee. I'm using a delicious Pacamara coffee from Cute Coffee out of Oakland. We're looking for about a 1:9 ratio of coffee to water, so if you're using our Hario Cold Brewer, grind 111 grams, ground to a medium-coarse grind (a bit like coarse sea salt). I like this cold brewer because it brews a substantial amount of strong coffee, and it's very easy to clean afterwards.  

Once you've ground your coffee and added it into the filter basket and placed it into the brewer, using a kettle, slowly pour 1000g (1 L) cold water over the ground coffee, focusing on saturating all of the grounds.

The slower you can pour, the better! If your coffee is nice and fresh, it should bubble up nicely with volatile aromas. 

This will also work in a regular mason jar; just add your coffee to the jar and pour water slowly over the grounds. You will need a strainer of some kind to filter out the coffee when it's done brewing, lest your coffee be plagued with loathsome detritus. 

Let your coffee brew in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours, stirring the grounds up halfway through. This will yield full-bodied, flavorful coffee with a serious caffeine kick. Once it's done brewing, clean out all of the grounds from the brewer and store the brewed coffee in a sealed container. It should be good for 2-3 days. 

Kokuto Simple Syrup
25g kokuto sugar 
25g (25mL) hot water

To make the Kokuto syrup, combine equal parts kokuto (black sugar) and hot water, and stir vigorously until the sugar has completely dissolved.

If you want to make a larger batch, do this in a small saucepan, gradually adding the kokuto to gently simmering water while stirring constantly with a whisk. Just increase the amount of each ingredient proportionally (i.e. 100g sugar: 100mL water, etc). Store it sealed in the fridge where it will keep for about a week.  

The drink assembly is simple!

METHOD

1. Fill a mixing glass with ice. Combine all of the ingredients, and stir briefly to chill the shochu and syrup. 

2. Once all combined, strain into your favorite chilled rocks glass over ice.  

Alternatively, if you're using a highball glass, fill the glass with ice, add syrup and shochu, and then top with cold brew and stir.

Queue yourself up some nice music to listen to while you enjoy this zippy cocktail (just don't forget to put a coaster down). 

For the Tokyo 1970's record bar feel, my go-to shochu lineup is荒井由実 (Yumi Arai), 大貫妙子 (Taeko Ohnuki), and さだまさし (Sada Masashi). 

For jazz-kissaten, you can never go wrong with Miles and Cannonball.  

This drink is so easy to put together. If you're anything like me and need some minute details to futz around with and perfect, I recommend directing that energy toward the coffee. Every variable in your coffee brewing ritual you can make consistent will make your coffee all the more delicious, thus enhancing the overall effect of this cocktail. Try a Japanese-styled iced pourover, cold-brewing different coffees to see which taste you like best, or making this with hot coffee! Shochu is such a versatile beverage companion that I'm sure you'll be pleased with whatever combination you try out. 

In the absence of get-togethers, live music, bar-hopping, and all the other ways we took in ambience before life decided to hit the hard-reset button, I hope everyone is able to divert themselves in other ways. A long, patient sit-down in front of my favorite music is among my most treasured ways to remind myself of all the things I love about this world. When my brain has given up making sense of the world around me (it happens a lot these days), music always manages to gather my thoughts into a neat little pile and hook them up to something more beautiful and productive than what my own head can usually conjure in times of stress. I hope everyone is taking a little extra time to do the things you love right now; it pays dividends back, and I'm a firm believer that a little more love and kindness can go a long way in making this world more tolerable. 

I digress. Must be the shochu, coffee, and tunes. 

In any event, take good care, and I'll look forward to seeing how you all have fashioned your kissaten at home for maximum chillage and "experience pairing."

Column: Happy Hour

3 comments

  • That was a fun read. Made me natsukashii about the record bar in Ashiya.

    John Poole on

  • Wow, great article! You really capture the ambiance of Japanese kissa and jazz bars. And thanks for the retro music recommendations!

    Anne Poole on

  • Lovely! As a veteran of many a Japanese jazz kissa, this captures that vibe perfectly. Wish we could go back.

    JR on

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