Destination Tokyo

Cheese cognac? Foie gras vodka? Bar delivers

Kate Springer and Michala Sabnani, CNNUpdated 27th March 2017
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(CNN) — As Shuzo Nagumo slides a martini glass across the bar, the smell of sandalwood fills the air. The aroma is spilling out of a plastic bag full of smoke, wrapped around the glass stem. This is Nagumo's signature creation: a foie gras-infused vodka chocolate martini.
At his Mixology Experience bar in the stylish Roppongi district of Tokyo, the 36-year-old master mixologist specializes in outlandish flavors and dramatic presentations.
"I use any ingredient I can imagine," Nagumo tells CNN Travel. "It's not just spices, but scents and (foods) you wouldn't think to liquidize."
Wasabi vodka, basil gin and blue cheese cognac are just some of the spirits he's created for adventurous cocktails, such as the bacon-infused "Breakfast" or sour and spicy "Tom Yum," inspired by the namesake Thai soup.

Meet the master

With a head of shaggy black hair, thick-rimmed glasses and a black tuxedo, Nagumo looks more like a mad scientist than a bartender.
He entered the food and beverage industry at the age of 18, working part-time at a bar in his hometown of Okayama.
Three years later, Nagumo picked up a book called "Cool Cocktails." Written by renowned bartender Ben Reed, it discussed fruit- and herb-infused drinks such as strawberry and chocolate martinis, and changed Nagumo's perspective on mixology.
In 2006, eager to learn, he moved to London, getting his first taste of molecular gastronomy in the kitchen of Nobu, an internationally acclaimed Japanese restaurant.
There, Nagumo learned about high-tech culinary techniques, such as diffusion and dehydration, but his real passion was not for cooking -- but cocktails.
He moved back to Tokyo the following year and, in 2009, opened his first bar, Code Name Mixology.

The secret ingredient

Fast-forward eight years and Nagumo helms four cocktail bars, all devoted to the art of "mixing things."
Each premise has a rotary evaporator, depressurizing distiller, cyclone separator, dehydrator, vacuum wrapper, and an automatic beer-brewing machine. This high-tech toolbox, he says, enables him to capture the essence of almost any ingredient, except perhaps raw fish.
Nagumo says he dreams up his cocktails the same way an experimental chef might deconstruct and re-imagine a traditional dish.
"Hypothesis, imagination, or maybe fantasy -- I think about how I can realize the flavor and then use things like the depressurizing distiller or the vacuum," he says.
By "cooking cocktails" Nagumo says he can convert dinner into drinks, capturing the experience of a meal.
Take his "Breakfast" cocktail, for example. To bottle a big American breakfast in a glass Nagumo began by infusing vodka with smoked bacon, then rounded out the cocktail with egg, salt and the "faint flavor of corn."
"The end product is somehow similar to a meal," he says.

World's richest vodka

Foie gras, blue cheese, wasabi -- Nagumo uses unconventional flavors that taste surprisingly edible in liquid form.
Foods with a strong scent that can be captured in the distilling process make for the best cocktails, he explains.
"Things without a scent would become defeated by the taste and flavor that alcohol possesses, and become unbalanced ... It leaves no taste (of its own) in the liquid after the distillation process," he says.
The mixologist  captures savory flavors in liquid form -- think blue cheese cognac and basil gin.
The mixologist captures savory flavors in liquid form -- think blue cheese cognac and basil gin.
Tom Booth
"Foie gras generates a very good smell when it's grilled. This scent led me to think that it would work well if I distilled it."
The scent elements in fat are easily vaporized by heat, Nagumo explains, and despite foie gras not having a strong scent in itself, the fattiness of the ingredient means that the smell it does have transfers well to alcohol in the distilling process.
Nagumo blended foie gras with vodka, put the mixture into a depressurizing distiller, and waited for 35 minutes until it transformed into a flavored spirit.
"We tried it and it was a tremendous success."