Ryukyu Mixology Style Bar Alchemist, using the latest equipment and materials produced in Okinawa.
Have you heard of the term “mixology”? Mixology is a word coined from the combination of the words “mix” and “ology” (Science). Bars that offer cocktails filled with ideas that incorporate the latest cooking methods without being bound by existing frameworks are beginning to attract attention around the world. I would like to introduce to you the first mixology bar in Okinawa, Ryukyu Mixology Style Bar Alchemist. We spoke with bartender Tomoaki Nakamura.
−What kind of bar is Ryukyu Mixology Style Bar Alchemist?
It is a bar that serves original cocktails using the latest equipment and Okinawan ingredients.
−What is the latest equipment, for example?
Espuma, smoke machines, liquid nitrogen, food dryers, distillers, aroma smoke, vacuum cookers, carbonate shakers, etc. Espuma turns the ingredients into a mousse-like foam, creating a light and fluffy texture and rich flavor. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze drinks to make frozen cocktails, while we use distillers for wormwood and moonflowers, for example, to make aromatic distilled water and syrups. The food dryer is used to dry tomatoes, bitter melon, citrus fruits, and other fruits to add a finishing touch to cocktails.
−You have been bartending for a long time, how long have you been bartending?
I started bartending when I was 19, so this is my 20th year.
I am from Kumamoto Prefecture, and when I first moved to Okinawa, I was working part-time at a bar at night while attending a vocational school for childcare workers. After graduating from the school, I became a nursery schoolteacher, but it was not enough to make a living, so I continued to work part-time at the bar. I think it was in the middle of my second year as a nursery schoolteacher that I became interested in being a “flare bartender”, making cocktails while performing, and I was allowed to work at a flare bar two to three times a week to train. I was working three jobs at the same time, so it was getting harder and harder for me. My interest in flare bartending was at its highest. That’s when I was approached by a flare bar. It was a bar called “Eclipse” in Chatan. I worked there for three years. After that, I worked as an outsourcer at a flair bar in Okinawa City for three years, then at the food and beverage department of the Okinawa T-shirt brand HABUBOX in Chatan for two years, at the Roisir Hotel in Naha for three years, and at the Sheraton Hotel for two years before launching Alchemist in August 2018.
−Why did you decide to open a mixology bar? How did you get started?
When I started working at the Loisir Hotel, I started to participate in cocktail competitions and shows all over Japan. I knew I wanted to work as a traveling flair bartender, so I wanted to increase my awards and achievements. I think it was around 2015 or 2016, when I stopped by the bar “Benfiddich” in Shinjuku after the Kanto Tournament was over. There was a guest bartender from N Y that day, and many of Japan’s top bartenders were there to watch. I was able to join the social gathering afterwards, and I found it interesting that everyone had a different take on cocktails. At that time, I thought to myself. I thought, “I want to do mixology with a solid foundation. At that time, there were no mixology bars in Okinawa, so I decided to become the “first penguin”.
−Why is the name of the restaurant “Ryukyu”?
This is because we are particular about Okinawa. Shikwasa, shell ginger, huchibar (mugwort), red sweet potatoes, bitter gourd, sanping tea, island chili peppers, etc… We use Okinawan ingredients as much as possible, and in addition to ingredients, we also use utensils made by artists working in Okinawa such as Yoshiaki Imamura, Gaku Yamagami, and Nobuko Konno. For the food menu, we purchase from “Timeless Chocolate”, Okinawa’s first bean to bar style chocolate specialty store, and “TESIO”, a specialty store of homemade ham and sausage in Okinawa City. We named the store “Ryukyu” because we want to support the people who are working hard in the prefecture, and we also want to make it a store that can revitalize the economy of Okinawa.
−How many different cocktails do you have? I’ve never seen these cocktails anywhere else.
I think we have about 60 to 70 original cocktails. Some of them are made for bar hoppers and bar lovers, while others are easy to understand for people who are not used to going to bars. I refer to a lot of things. I refer to books written by chefs and pâtissiers, and to the combination of essential oils in aromatherapy. I love books, so I read and study books of various genres.
When I think of an original menu, I first decide on a theme. For example, if the theme is “passion fruit,” I think of the herbs and spices that go well with passion fruit, and then I think, “Let’s add a little acidity.” Then I think of a recipe in my head. Once you have a good idea of what you want to do, try making it and drinking it to make sure you can feel the flavors of all the ingredients used. Then I add or subtract ingredients. My goal is to create a cocktail that can be tasted with all five senses.
−Why do you stock Masahiro Okinawa Gin?
I decided to use all the craft gins from Okinawa for my store that focuses on Okinawa. Masahiro Okinawa Gin was the first craft gin to be produced in Okinawa, so it’s very well known. There are three companies selling craft gin in Okinawa, and I think it’s interesting that each one has its own personality.
−What is your impression of Mahiro Okinawa Gin compared to the other two companies?
The Awamori flavor was still there, which was controversial to the bartender (laughs), but to the general public, it might be better to have this Awamori flavor to make it more “Okinawan. In addition to the Awamori, the Shikwasa aroma also comes out in a buzz, so even if someone who is not used to making cocktails were to make one at home using Masahiro Okinawa Gin, I don’t think the characteristics would be lost.
−What are the cocktails using Masahiro Okinawa Gin that are available here?
The “Masahiro Okinawa Gin and Tonic” gives you a simple taste of six botanicals, and the “Masahiro Espresso Gin and Tonic” is made with “Masahiro Okinawa Gin Recipe 02,” which uses tangerine, a popular ingredient in Okinawa.
The Masahiro Espresso Gin and Tonic is a cocktail made with tangerine flavored Masahiro Okinawa Gin, a small amount of vodka flavored with homemade cassia cinnamon, tonic water, and finished with espresso brewed with shallow roasted Yirgacheffe coffee beans.
I tried the coffee beans in a deeper roast, but the shallow roast was more in line with the citrus flavor and the espresso flavor.
−How would you have Masahiro Okinawa Gin at home?
Chill the gin in the freezer beforehand. I think a good gin and tonic is to fill a glass with ice, pour in the gin that has been chilled in the freezer, and then pour the chilled soda into the glass. The important thing is to keep the temperature of the gin down. That way, when you pour the soda, the aroma will come through. Since a bottle of gin takes up a lot of space, you can also put some Masahiro Okinawa Gin in a glass and chill it in the freezer. I thought that the flavor of Masahiro Okinawa Gin would come out better if it was simply drunk.
−What foods go well with gin and tonic?
The gin and tonic are refreshing and it’s a wash. So, I think it goes well with anything that makes your mouth feel thick. For example, Goya champuru. You fry it in oil, right? The gin and tonic cleanses the mouth, doesn’t it?
−What is your favorite spot in Okinawa?
There are many, but I like to visit the ocean and cafes in Nanjo City. It’s just the right distance from Naha, isn’t it? I feel happy when I drive to Nanjo City and relax while enjoying the scenery from the cafes.
Ryukyu Mixology Style Bar Alchemist
Photo text：Sachiko Tachi
The charisma of Awamori. Interviewing Mr. Higa from the “Awamori Soko” on the charm of “Masahiro Okinawa Gin”.
The “Awamori Soko” (a members-only bar specializing in Awamori) that can be enjoyed by everyone from beginners to connoisseurs. This is a famous Okinawan restaurant known only to those in a particular circle. As soon as you press the intercom to enter the store, you will see a wall full of bottles of Awamori. With over 800 kinds of Awamori from all 47 breweries in Okinawa Prefecture, it’s a breathtaking view. For this interview, we spoke with Koji Higa, the owner of “Awamori Soko”.
−When did you first become interested in Awamori?
Awamori has always been close to my heart. I had a strong image from my father that Awamori was “a drink that got you drunk”, so I didn’t have a good impression of it from an early age. But as I got older, I started acquiring an appreciative taste for it. After working at an Awamori specialty store on Kokusai Street, I became the manager of the original “Awamori Soko” in 2009, taking over from my predecessor.
−Why did you decide to make it members-only?
It is good to serve alcohol in a style that is enjoyed by all, but Awamori is a local drink that has a story behind it. I would like to tell you not only how to drink good Awamori, but also how to pair it with food, and if possible, the history of the land behind it and the thoughts of the producers. We want to make sure that we tell the story of each bottle, so we have made it a members-only event.
However, when I hear the word “membership,” I can’t help but think it’s a negative word… but, we also welcome first time visitors, although only by prior reservation. There is a permanent registration fee of 20,000 yen, but there is no renewal fee, and we will connect you with Awamori for life. The charge is 2,000 yen, and drinks are at cost. We offer drinks starting at 50 yen per glass, so please feel free to come acquainted to a variety of drinks and get a taste of their flavor and background. We not only have Awamori, but also rum and gin, which have routes in Okinawa.
−Who are the most common customers?
I believe that this is not just a restaurant for Awamori connoisseurs, and everyone who comes here is excited to enjoy the local sake and history. I would say that about 60% of our customers are from outside the prefecture or come here on business or as tourists. There are people who stop by every time they visit Okinawa, and there are also people who come to visit me when I travel outside the prefecture for events to promote Awamori. I have the impression that most of our customers are in their 40s or so and have strong inquisitive minds.
−It seems that young people are turning away from alcohol these days, what do you think about that?
I don’t feel it at all because it’s not happening around me…But I can understand it. Why? Because we live in an age of increasing distractions. With just one smartphone, you can connect with the whole world, and trends are coming in from all over the world…. We live in a good time where we can get excited about all kinds of things, and this means that we have more tools for fun and communication other than just drinking.
−Many people seem to have the image that Awamori = hard liquor.
Some people think that old sake (Awamori) is “hard to drink” because of its high alcohol content, but this is not a problem of the alcohol content, it is often because of the inappropriate way of drinking. For example, wine is drunk in a wine glass, right? Wine is not gulped down in a beer mug, and no one can taste it if it is drunk in a beer mug. It is only by pouring wine into a special glass and tasting it with cheese that you can get the most out of the wine’s characteristics and charm. The same goes for Awamori. Old sake that has been aged for a long time should not be drunk, but rather poured into a teacup and savored little by little as if licking. By taking time to savor it, you will be able to enjoy its depth and aroma.
It’s not that the alcohol is harsh, it’s just the way you drink and how much you drink… You take your time to savor it because of its high percentage. I think that when you encounter that way of drinking, your image and concept of alcohol will change.
−What is the best bottle of Awamori for beginners?
I would like to introduce you to Masahiro Okinawa Gin. Blended with shikwasa, bitter gourd, guava and other ingredients grown in Okinawa, Masahiro Okinawa Gin is a drink with an imaginative regional story.
Basically, gin and tonics are the best way to drink it, however Awamori gin tends to be a little heavy. So, a “gin sonic” made with a 1:1 ratio of soda and tonic water may be easier to drink. If too much sugar is added, it may be difficult to get the aroma, but a little sweetness is better for those who are not used to drinking.
I think that Masahiro Okinawa Gin is a good entry point for beginners to Awamori.
−What do you think is the best food to pair with “Gin Sonic”?
The gin sonic made with Masahiro Okinawa Gin is flavorful, refreshing, and sweet…this drink is already complete. The first thing I would like you to do is to drink it by itself and gulp it down refreshingly. A dish that can take advantage of this aroma without fighting with it would be a spicy curry. The refreshing taste of gin is also good for controlling the spicy taste.
Then again, gin sonic is better to gulp down than to chug. Therefore, it goes better with hearty dishes different to when drinking sake. For example, when eating “Goya Chanpuru”, it is better to drink Orion beer or Awamori with water instead of straight. It is easier to pair the volume of the drink with the volume of the food.
−Please tell us the recommended spots in Okinawa that you would like to recommend to those tired souls.
The ocean! You can’t go wrong with that answer. I also went there yesterday. I think it’s good to visit bars in Okinawa. A bar with an interior design is a great place to spend a relaxing time. When you think of Okinawan nights, you probably have a strong image of a “rowdy party”. But there is more to it than that. Please do some research and if one of those places is “Awamori Soko”, I’d be even happier!
Address：2-8-14-4F Kume, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture
MASAHIRO Okinawa Gin Aroma × HOT DOG with herbs is a perfect combination
Just a short walk from Makishi Station on Okinawa’s only railroad, Yui Rail, 13 TRECE is located along the Asato River. Open from 12:00 noon to 4:00 a.m. the next morning, it is a convenient place to stop by not only for lunch or a cafe, but also for a drink after work, a meeting before dinner, or a for a night cap after a long night of drinking. For this interview, I spoke with Norikazu Ishikawa, the most experienced of the three staff members working at 13 TRECE.
−What does the name of the store mean?
T R E C E is the Spanish word for the number “13”. The store’s address is 1-1-3 Asato, Naha City, so it was named after the number 13.
−What made you decide to open the store?
The owner, who is originally from Okinawa and had been in Tokyo for a while, thought that it would be nice if there was a bar where locals could casually stop by when they came back to Okinawa. He found this place by accident when he first started looking for a place to live. At the time, half of the store was a clothing store, and the store owner asked me if I wanted to do something with him. So, I decided to open a bar here. When it first opened, it was a bar where you could enjoy both shopping and drinking. That store closed about four years ago, so now the entire area is 13 T R E C E.
−What kind of bar is this? What are the guests like?
It is a bar where people from all walks of life can interact with each other. The customers who come here range in age from young to old, and their occupations vary widely. But when people meet here, they all somehow become friends and leave happily.
−You are open from 12:00 to 4:00 in the morning, how do most of your customers spend their time?
In the afternoon and evening, there are people who want to relax, and on holidays, there are people who want to drink. In the evening, many people come to enjoy a drink with a light snack, or for a stop along their bar hopping night.
−Because of its location, there must be a lot of tourists?
As more and more restaurants are closed due to the Corona Virus, tourists sometimes drop by at night when the lights are still on. But in fact, most of the visitors are locals, especially the regulars.
-What made you start working at 13 TRECE?
It opened in 2015, and at first the owner was running the store alone. Then I joined. The owner and I had always known each other. At the time, I was working in a completely different field, but he asked me if I wanted to work with him. We currently have three staff members, who work in shifts. I oversee lunch. At first, I had to work the night shift, which was very difficult. I had been working during the day until then, so I guess I suddenly became a night owl and lost my rhythm. There were more opportunities to drink with customers, and I had to drink more than before… I was not in perfect physical condition at times. But it was fun to drink with customers, so it wasn’t all disadvantages.
−What is the most popular menu item at your restaurant?
The most popular food item is the hot dog. The sausages are thick with herbs kneaded into them, making them very satisfying to eat. The secret is to fry the sausages slowly over low heat using an iron frying pan, and the bread is carefully cooked so that the edges are crispy, and the inside is fluffy. We have a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, from Awamori to Shochu, liqueur, tequila, beer, wine, and more.
−Reason behind Masahiro Okinawan Gin
Masahiro Okinawan Gin had been talked about since it was first released, so I knew of its existence. I had never drunk it before, but a friend of mine recommended it to me, so I thought, “I’ll try it in the store.”
−How did you like the taste of it?
First, the bottle is cool, isn’t it? It’s made by Awamori brewery , so even though it’s gin, it has an Awamori feel to it. I don’t usually drink much Awamori, but I thought that Masahiro Okinawan Gin was delicious. It is easy to drink, so even people who don’t like Awamori will find it delicious. I would like to recommend it to people outside the prefecture as well.
−What is the recommended way to drink Masahiro Okinawan Gin?
I personally think it is delicious to put 45ml of Masahiro Okinawa Gin in a glass, squeeze a lime, and pour tonic water and soda over it. For those who like it sweet, I serve it with more tonic water, and conversely, for those who like it less sweet, I serve it with a higher ratio of soda.
−13 T R E C E’s recommended dishes to go with Masahiro Okinawan Gin
The hot dog! Masahiro Okinawa Gin contains refreshing ingredients such as Shikwasa, juniper berries, and piperch, so it goes well with meat-based hotdogs.
−What is the recommended way to drink if you want to enjoy it at home?
The easiest way to drink it is with soda. If you squeeze some citrus or shikwasa into it, it will taste even better. If you don’t have any citrus fruits, you can use Pokka lemon.
−At home, what kind of food do you think would be good to pair with Masahiro Okinawa Gin drinks?
I think it goes well with meat-based dishes that are not too heavy. Chicken steak, for example.
−What are the future goals of 13 T R E C E?
To keep going for now… Even if there are other developments, the owner and I have discussed that this is our base. I would also like to hold more events in the future. Up until now, we have held music events, invited our restaurant friends to make tacos, Okinawa soba noodles, and so on, and all of them have been very successful. We would like to continue to come up with new plans and hold events that our customers can enjoy.
−Mr. Ishikawa, what spots in Okinawa do you recommend?
I was born and raised in Okinawa, but now that I am an adult, I have a new appreciation for Okinawa. It is easy to live in, and I now understand the feelings of tourists who say they “love Okinawa.” Naha has its “own charm”, the central part has its own charm, the northern part has its “own charm”, and all of Okinawa has its “”. If you come to Okinawa as a tourist, I would like you to see everything from North to South.
13 T R E C E Address：Asato Uehara Building 101, 1-1-3 Asato, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture Telephone：098-800-1245 Operation Hours：12:00〜 4:00am Days closed vart.
Photo &text：Sachiko Tachi English translated : Tom Harwood