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Key trends and serves in Japanese spirits

James Bowker, House of Suntory's brand ambassador, gives his thoughts on upcoming trends and key serves in Japanese spirits

James Bowker House of Suntory

Over the years, Japanese spirits have become increasingly popular, with Japanese food and drink becoming the UK's fastest growing sector in hospitality*.

One of the most fascinating things about the Japanese spirits industry is the focus on delicately and intricately balanced flavours. I imagine that as the category continues to evolve, we'll see the emergence of expressions that explore different nuances of flavour within Japanese culture - whether that is the subtle incorporation of new oaks, or unusual new blends of botanicals for white spirits. 

Japanese spirits have certainly influenced the wider spirits industry, challenging the notion that intensity and complexity are somehow linked. However, Japan wasn't the first country to do this. Historic brands such as Courvoisier from France are known to have complex, floral aromas and are very soft, but in whisky, customers often associated boldness with quality. The House of Suntory and Japanese whisky challenges this, and we now see an industry much more comfortable with the ethereal nature of a delicate spirit. 

With Japanese spirits becoming increasingly popular, this year we announced the return of our House of Suntory DOJO programme. Returning as an in-person programme, we look forward to immersing some of the most prestigious bartenders in our industry into the art of Japanese bartending. We are really proud of this advocacy programme and whilst we already have a number of events available for bartenders and retail advocates alike, DOJO will bring some of the most talented to a special Japanese location in London - Japan House. Here they will spend the day working with genuine Japanese masters from different traditional crafts in order to gain an understanding of the culture, and applying it to their work in the UK. 

One of the key pillars of House of Suntory is Omotenashi – the enjoyed experiences of Japanese hospitality and culture. Putting this into practice, a tea master teaches us to become more aware of the noises we make as bartenders. Every sound transmits an unconscious message to the guest, and we can either control this or be at the whim of the things we aren’t aware of. This means we shouldn’t just launch straight into shaking as hard as we can in a quiet bar, as this will make the guest jump and pull them out of their relaxed reverie. Rather, bartenders should gradually build speed, fading it out at the end, so it naturally flows in, through and out of the customer’s awareness. This element of Japanese culture also applies to multiple movements within bartending activities, such as stirring, the sound of pouring and the way we move our trays from hand to hand.

Japanese culture is really quite unique, yet not everyone will have the opportunity to visit Japan. For me, the most exciting thing I've learnt from our DOJO masters was whilst discussing rice with a sushi master. The best sushi chefs have a secret recipe for the seasoning of their rice, which is what creates the uniquely perfect balance that separates a true master from their peers. Yet we rarely think about seasoning in the context of cocktails - we usually have our core ingredients or flavours and we balance those. We sometimes forget that we can elevate drinks by using small dashes of seasonings as we would traditional bitters; providing salinity, sweetness, umami and acidity to round off subtly jarring elements within our drinks and enhancing the overall balance.

To keep updated on all things DOJO, please visit The House of Suntory DOJO.

*(CGA Report 2021)

12 August 2022