Dressed in a dapper white dinner coat, Shinya Yamao’s face is a picture of concentration as he chips away at a block of ice. Yamao is now head bartender at Manhattan’s Piora, where he has applied Japanese bartending techniques and ingredients to the acclaimed cocktail program.
The Tokyo native spent six years bartending at several fine dining restaurants in the famed Jean-Georges collection, working diligently to master his craft.
Yamao tells me that Japanese-style bartending is characterized by precise execution. Technique is extremely important and the apprenticeship Japanese bartenders go through mirrors that of sushi chefs: their first tasks are cleaning and observing, after some time, they are allowed to working on garnishes, then finally to make cocktails, applying a certain “showmanship” as they create each drink.
While growing up in Japan, Yamao remembers that a very popular drink was a whiskey-soda served in a highball glass named the “Salary Man” after the stereotype of a Japanese business man in a suit. “All the young people were saying, ‘I just don’t want to be a salary man,’” he says, smiling, “including me.”
Many of the drinks Yamao makes at Piora are actually shaken. But if you ask for a Sake Martini, he will definitely stir the cocktail. “In the long history of the Martini, both stirred and shaken exist,” explains Yamao. Stirring has become more standard, he says, because it produces a better martini, by keeping the base spirit’s proof strength, sharp and edge. “Basically,” says Yamao, “shaking the drink causes too much dilution.”
Yamao suggests a Sake Martini as a simple stirred drink to make at home. He finds that using sake in the drink helps to add flavor without making it more alcoholic, and keeps it nice and dry without the addition of vermouth. Here is his recipe for a great stirred Sake Martini. Yamao opted for orange bitters and Cointreau – the citrus ties the drink together to balances sake and vodka, allowing these two spirits to mix well. He also prefers to use one large ice cube in the mixing glass, to prevent dilution. Stir up a batch with The Whiskey Ice Co.’s Cocktail Serving Set and serve them at your next holiday party. Kanpai!
1 ½ oz Junmai Sake
1 ½ oz Stoli Vodka
1/3 oz Cointereau
2 dashes orange bitters
One large ice cube
Combine and stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with a steady rhythm, not too rigorous or too gentle, until the mixing glass is frosty. Then, pour into a chilled martini glass, rocks glass, or a coupe (Yamao prefers the latter) and garnish with a cucumber ball, made by scooping out a tiny bit from inside the cucumber.