Monday, December 03, 2012

THE GREEN MUSE WITH LOVE FROM JAPAN

The cocktail world today is in the midst of a renaissance. The change from guzzling at big volume led bars to drinking at a chique and sophisticated bar that offers a more individualised menu has evidently set in. While this might not be the case in our own country, none the less there are bars that are leading this reawakening of sorts by offering classier drinking experiences to guests who look forward to more than just an average joe behind the bar dispensing two margaritas at the price of one And for people like me (and many others I know), this presents the perfect bread & butter opportunity! All pun intended!

And amidst this rapidly progressing cocktail renaissance, there are very few things as revered as the style of bartending practised in Japan. The country surely has more to offer than mega electronics brands, best selling cars, famed cuisine and impacting world economy? There is no doubt that we love our cups of Sakes, pints of Asahi’s and generous measures of the award winning Yamazaki Malt whisky. Heck, we even have a nation full of diabetics who swear by their cups of Japanese sencha with the ever faithful samosa! But how many of us realise that the country only took to distilling in the 1920’s? Shinjiro Torii set up Suntory, Japan’s best known and the world’s largest distillery, in 1924. In less than a 100 years, Japan today is recognised as one of the finest whisky producing nations in the world and is the spiritual home to one of the world’s most unique liqueurs coloured in a enviously lovely green hue – Midori.

Most of us might remember Midori as a sickly sweet melon flavoured liqueur, encased in a beautiful crusted bottle that sat plump on the back bar display being occasionally used to mix a melon sour or a Japanese slipper. But let me assure you that all that has changed since 2007. What’s new, you may ask? Well the bottle doesn’t look any different. The colour is still emerald green, probably a shade lighter. But what has changed is the sweetness in the recipe. And boy, does that change things!

The story of this cantaloupe and Yubari flavoured melon liqueur started of quite by chance. The year was 1971. The place – Japan. A visiting delegation of bartenders from the US (yes, the American’s again!) to the International Bartenders Association’s (IBA) Annual Cocktail Championship made a visit to Suntory’s distillery and were quite excited by a melon liqueur prototype that they tried at there. And that was all it took. Literally. The team at Suntory set about developing a melon liqueur on the lines of what the American’s had tasted and it took them seven years of research and development to come up with the perfect recipe. It was around this time that on another island, nearly half a world away, a whisky and cream liqueur (that shall not be named here!) was being experimented with…but only took half the time to hit the market. You might be tempted to think that there was a brand war at play here. But no. The Japanese are known perfectionists at whatever they do. Midori, Japanese for ‘Green’, was yet another example when it launched in 1978. It launched in the Big Apple at Studio 54, arguably the greatest nightclub of the day, where the new toast of Hollywood, John Travolta, was in attendance. Midori took NYC by storm.

Over the years Midori got mixed, thrown, shaken and stirred throughout bars across the US and then slowly over the world. And the fact that Yubari melons can cost you a small fortune, Midori was seen as a unique addition to the bar. But there was an inherent problem. Not one of biblical proportions. But one that probably saw the brand loosing out on popularity over the end of the last century. Midori’s colour and sweetness were two factors that were often very difficult to tackle in drinks that it went into. This prompted Suntory to go back to the drawing board and the brand eventually went through a mini rebirth in 2007. The sweetness has been tackled. It is far less sweet than what it used to be. I was quite surprised to taste the new Midori sans its cloying sweetness at a tasting held in Delhi recently that was hosted by Manuel Terron, the global brand ambassador for Midori. It was light (less viscous) with an initial sweetness that was washed away by an inherent acidity that left the palate feeling clean and fresh with a lingering floral note. Very amusing. And likeable.
Manuel Terron, Global Ambassador Midori

It is sad to note that majority of bartenders in our country would not think of mixing Midori in anything apart form a melon sour or melon ball and the occasional melon margarita. I wish these chaps would get a bit more creative with the brand. And for that matter with many other such spirits that lie gathering dust on the back bars of many such establishments. Midori and sencha maybe? Or an old fashioned styled drink with Yamazaki and sweetened with Midori. Hello? Anyone?

To get you thinking, here are a couple of brilliant cocktails that Manuel shook up behind the bar at the tasting while I appreciatively sipped on shots of the green muse!


Midori Mumbai Chai
30ml Midori
30ml Old Monk Rum
60ml Chilled Chai (unsweetened, no milk)
15ml Honeywater
15ml Coconut Milk
Shake with ice and strain into a chai glass then sprinkle with nutmeg








Maharaja Martini
7 fresh Curry Leaves
3 fresh Coriander stems
½ small Chili
10cm piece Cucumber
40ml Midori
30ml Gin
20ml Apple juice
10ml Lemon juice
Smash the curry leaves and coriander together then the cucumber.  Add remaining ingredients and shake well with ice.  Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass then garnish with a sprinkle of turmeric and a rubbed curry leaf.
Midori Shrarati Lassi
6 Mint leaves
1 tsp roasted Cumin seeds
45ml Midori
30ml Cognac/Brandy
50ml Pineapple Juice
15ml Coconut Milk
3 heaped tsp Natural Yogurt
10ml Honeywater
Muddle the mint and cumin well; add remaining ingredients then shake well with ice and strain into a chai glass or similar over 2-3 ice cubes.  Garnish with a mint sprig

Tulleeho!

~ Rohan Jelkie

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