‘Washoku and Japanese bartending is all about subtraction,’ says Shuzo Nagumo. ‘But I like multiplication.’ He’s just prepared us the most outlandish martini we’ve ever tasted, made with foie gras vodka, chocolate reduction, fresh cream and nutmeg, then wrapped in a cellophane bag that’s pumped full of smoke. Nagumo’s business card bears the title ‘Grand Mixologist’, and on this evidence he’s more than earned it.
At Mixology Laboratory, the newest addition to Nagumo’s expanding empire of high-tech cocktail dens, there’s a welter of expensive scientific equipment behind the bar. He uses a rotary evaporator to extract the aromatics from delicate ingredients that would be destroyed by conventional distillation, letting him create unlikely tipples such as basil gin, blue cheese cognac and – yes – foie gras vodka. One of his staple cocktails is made with a white tomato liquid produced in a centrifuge. ‘There aren’t many people making cocktails like this in Japan, so I had to work a lot of things out for myself,’ he says. After kitting out his lab, he headed to London to get advice from pioneering mixologist Tony Conigliaro, and he regularly exchanges ideas with forward-thinking bartender pals in other major Asian cities.
But, says Nagumo, there’s nobody else making drinks like his Tom Yum Cooler, which turns the famous spicy-sour Thai soup into a refreshing long cocktail – the kind of thing you might drink in lieu of a mojito on a summer afternoon. Though the drink uses a lab-concocted tom yum liquor as its base, the secret lay in finding the right balance of tart flavours: lime juice, tamarind syrup and balsamic vinegar. ‘Creating cocktails that combine Japanese bartending techniques with ideas that you won’t find anywhere else – that’s my style,’ he says. Oh, and overseas bartenders pining for a bottle of wasabi gin are in luck: Nagumo plans to start his own distillery next.