Food & Drink | TOKYO BAR ADVENTURE

Younger drinkers lured by bourbon cocktails

by Angela Erika Kubo

Up until recently, whisky was seen as a drink for ojisan (old men), enjoyed on the rocks or mizuwari style (heavily diluted with water). With the opening of the limited-edition Jim Beam Bar in Roppongi Hills, however, alcoholic-beverage giant Suntory Holdings proffers that whisky shouldn’t be limited to old men and that it can be consumed in a variety of different ways.

The first thing you notice is a long bar counter in the middle of the store with over 700 sleek bottles of Jim Beam, touted as the world’s No. 1 bourbon and acquired by Suntory this year, in perfect, neat rows. According to Atsushi Takeuchi, general manager of the Spirits Division of Suntory’s Imported Liquor Marketing Department, the company hopes the cool setup will catch the eye of young revelers on their way to the clubbing district of Roppongi.

“In the past, young people didn’t drink whisky, but these days the number of whisky drinkers is increasing,” says Takeuchi.

He explains that whisky sales in Japan were lagging up until 2008, and argues that Suntory started the recent upward trend when it brought the highball (a whisky and soda cocktail) back into fashion. Its series of commercials and promotions for its Kaku Highball drink proved to be an immense success with young drinkers and women who usually find the taste of whisky too strong to stomach.

Suntory’s next tactic to turn Japan into a country full of whisky lovers is to introduce them to the taste of bourbon through Jim Beam-based fruit cocktails.

“The taste of bourbon is usually a bit too strong for young people,” explains Takeuchi, “but Jim Beam has a mild and clean taste, so it goes well with fresh fruits.”

The menu features dozens of light, refreshing drinks made with lemon, orange and grapefruit (¥500 each) that are freshly crushed at the bar using squeezers emblazoned with the Jim Beam logo. Other notable menu items include Jim Beam jelly shots (¥500) that come in cranberry, choco-mint and orange and coconut; bacon bourbon highballs (¥600), which contain bacon-infused bourbon; and Jim Beam coffee (¥400), for those who don’t like their drinks sweet.

“When customers first drink a Kaku Highball and enjoy it, they’ll want to know about what sort of other whisky drinks are out there. Kaku Highball isn’t the only one,” explains Takeuchi. “There are other ways to enjoy whisky. One way is these cool and fun cocktails.”

The Jim Beam Bar is only open until Sept. 23, but the menu includes recipes for all the drinks and can be taken home for a bit of kitchen experimentation.

Hills Cafe/Space, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 0120-139-310; www.suntory.co.jp/news/2014/12139.html. Angela Erika Kubo is a freelance writer and bar lover based in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter @aekubo.