So Shake, Stir, Muddle is soon to become required reading for Australia’s Diplomatic Corps.*
Not for nothing either. Where else are you going to get tips that only diplomats with the skills of Boris Johnson can confidently claim?
Like this: When sharing a drink in a foreign country, instead of repeating the toast your hosts are offering, for a genuine ice-breaker, try shouting an obscene name for male genitalia.
More on that later.
First, the weather.
For several weeks the blossoms have been heralding the arrival of Spring.
Naturally, thoughts are turning to the life-affirming rituals of modern Australia; scheduling hair removal and purchasing anti-histamines.
And shifting our drinking patterns away from the heavier cocktails of winter.
But in Australia, we really lack a drinking tradition that appropriately marks the season.
Unlike the Japanese who celebrate Spring by gathering under the cherry blossoms for Hanami – literally “flower viewing”.
I don’t know what the Japanese word for “getting riotously pissed at a picnic under a thick layer of pink foliage” is but I imagine it wouldn’t be as pretty as Hanami so they stuck with that instead of aiming for more truth in advertising.
Everyone should experience Hanami at least once and sake is the preferred beverage for complete cultural immersion.
In spite of this connection, sake is tricky for SSM because there isn’t an IBA Official Cocktail that calls for it. But a policy exception has been made (without any reference to a democratic process) and we have One-for-the-Road Tested a sake cocktail.
One reason for this departure from policy is a couple of traditions associated with sake in Japan that are consistent with our ethos here at SSM.
Like, don’t pour your own sake. Your job is to keep an eye on your companions’ drinks and to top them up. Their job is to keep an eye on your drink. It’s very sociable and convivial.
I like that.
And drink less, but drink good.
Truth be told, I don’t adore sake so I was a little apprehensive about trying sake-based cocktails. Sake is also difficult from a 1980s movie perspective because it just doesn’t offer the fodder of some of the cocktail tie-ins we have delighted in with past cocktails.
But soldier on we will (and HERE is a David Bowie Sake ad from the very early 1980s so we aren’t completely neglecting the SSM promise).
So this weekend we tried the Sake-Tini.
In spite of SSM’s oft-stated aversion to anything anointing itself with the “Tini” suffix, the Saketini is gin based and to be fair (something we are inconsistently interested in), the Martini is the SSM Tasting Panel’s favourite cocktail and therefore the one we feel best able to judge.
Using the first recipe we could find on Google, we mixed up a 50:50 gin (we used excellent young Sydney brand Poor Tom’s Fool Proof) and sake cocktail. Now, 50:50 is not our preferred ration of gin to vermouth, but it was important we give the sake a chance to shine.
And the verdict?
Surprisingly tolerable. There’s a slight nuttiness you don’t get with vermouth but it is not unpleasant.
For the second round, we went with a ratio closer to our preferred gin to vermouth ratio and were equally pleased. If there is ever a vermouth emergency and we have only gin and sake (and olives), we’ll be just fine.
Now some may be thinking that this is because sake and vermouth are similar because they are both wines.
But you wouldn’t, would you?
See while we know vermouth is a fortified wine, in spite of what people say, sake is NOT a rice wine. Sake’s manufacturing process is more like brewing beer than making wine – just try stomping a vat of dry rice sometime if you doubt me (but store it like wine – it only keeps for a couple of days after opening so keep it in the fridge or better yet, try to get through the bottle on the night you open it).
No, sake is produced in much the same way it has been for about 1000 years, just adding a few more women into the process now that we’ve all worked out that the oestrogen doesn’t actually change the flavour at all (der).
But something sake does now that is very cool is rebuild lives.
Earlier this year, Fukushima Prefecture became Japan’s leading region for sake production. If Fukushima seems familiar, it’s because you heard it was hit hard by an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident in 2011. That’s some really shit luck.
But local sake manufacturers – usually businesses too small to have earthquake insurance – were also local employers and were urged to get back to production as soon as possible after the March 11 earthquake. So some were back up and running within two days.
There was a lag in sales since everyone was scared of possible contamination of the product, but unlike wine, where the grapes have to be grown locally, the rice from sake can come from anywhere. Most Japanese sake is made with rice from the west coast of Japan.
So the Japanese people turned their drinking preferences back to sake to help small businesses and families rebuild after the earthquake.
Drinking for social good.
I like that.
And in blind tastings at this year’s 104th Annual Japan Sake Awards, the Fukushima Sake producers took out more gold medals than any other region.
A small sample of bottle-shops in Sydney didn’t yield a lot of success in getting Fukushima Sake but we did find an Australian-made Sake. Go-Shu from Penrith made by Sun Masamune from Australian rice, but exporting to Japan and allowed to call itself Japanese Sake.
Whichever you drink though, let’s all make a pact to NEVER have a Sake Bomb. Please?
This troglodytic custom involves balancing a shot of warm sake on two chopsticks over a glass of beer. Then you count down from 3 (presumably since Sake Bomb drinkers would struggle to count backwards from 10) and then bang the table so the shot drops into the beer and you down both quickly.
Maybe a good solution for crappy beer and crappy sake, but why would you bother with either?
And when you consider that the Sake Bomb was likely invented by American soldiers in post WWII Japan, the name seems as culturally inappropriate as another drink atrocity – Guinness with a Bailey’s shot dropped in it which is called an Irish Car Bomb. Nice.
New SSM rule: We don’t drink cocktails that celebrate death and suffering.
Instead we’ll open our minds to sake cocktails. At least once.
But before you head off to buy your bottle of sake, that toasting tip.
From someone who knows.
In cocktail diplomacy, when you raise a glass to wish your companions good health,
perhaps stick with the traditional “Cheers” or the Japanese “Kanpai”, rather than opting for the Italian “Cin Cin”.
Because apparently shouting “Cock” in Japanese when someone toasts you is a little
Live and learn hey?
*Rumour status only