Chef Daisuke Kobayashi is serving up an omakase masterclass that ranks among the best sushi meals I’ve had in my life. I have a front row view as he makes one adept slice and precise presentation after another from the intimate, eight-seat counter of The Sushi, a 52nd floor restaurant tucked away in a back room of The Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills’ rooftop bar. Alongside the incredible sashimi is a complementary sake pairing that no other sushi counter can offer — literally. Dubbed Andaz 52, it’s a junmai ginjo sake from Niizawa Brewery in Miyagi, and it’s a house-exclusive bottling made for this fine-tuned pairing that can’t be replicated in any other restaurant the world over.
Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills is one of a growing number of Japanese hotels offering private labels of prestigious booze brands for their clientele. From Tokyo to Okinawa — and from whisky to gin to sake — these luxury properties are capitalizing on the growing contingent of tourists who flock to Japan, not only to experience its culinary culture, but to sample its expertly-made booze as well. Private spirits labels have become the hottest amenity at high-end hotels in the country.
The namesake Andaz 52 has a fruity, aromatic profile with an underlying minerality and — perhaps it’s the season speaking, as it’s late March and I spent the day touring the city’s cherry blossoms in peak bloom — a distinct sakura note as well. The sake was designed from the ground up to be a versatile pairing partner for sushi, and it proves capable of going side-by-side with chef Kobayashi’s Niji No Tsuki menu, a rollicking journey with three starting bites, three rounds of sashimi, 10 sushi courses, rolled sushi and red miso soup, culminating in a luscious dessert of fresh fruit that’s worth the price of admission in its own.
Japanese Gin in the Spotlight
At the Park Hyatt Kyoto, a luxury guesthouse immersed in the city’s historic Higashiyama district, the property looked to a neighbor for a spirituous helping hand. They partnered with Kyoto Distillery for a hotel-exclusive edition of Ki No Bi gin dubbed Seiryu, or Blue Dragon. “Seiryu is the guardian deity of eastern Kyoto, a spiritual city that has been guarded by four deities for the cardinal directions: east has the Blue Dragon, west the White Tiger, south the Vermilion Bird and north the Black Tortoise,” says Matt Carroll, general manager of the Park Hyatt Kyoto.
Presented in an opaque blue bottle, the gin made by the popular craft distillery is rooted to the hotel’s specific place in the city, proofed down to bottling strength with pristine well water from Higashiyama. “Our mission is introducing the traditional, but also the new side of Kyoto to our guests, and one way to do this is with exceptional culinary delights,” Carroll says. “Ki No Bi Seiryu is one of the ways we’re able to do that.”
Such connections run all the way through the hotel’s cocktail offerings, including the Kohaku bar’s signature Kohaku Gin and Tonic. The drink is served in a chilled, lidded tin tumbler produced by the Kanaya Gorosaburo family of craftsmen, who have a 400 year history. They’re a short walk away from the hotel in Kiyomizu-yaki Danchi, the home of prized Kiyomizu-yaki, or Kiyomizu ware. “These tumblers are the work of Kanaya Gorosaburo XVI,” Carroll says. “With passion to pursue his craft based on his family’s rich history, he’s leading the community to preserve Kyoto’s craftsmanship.”
Why You Should Try Shochu, Japan’s Native SpiritTo start, it makes for a perfect highball
In Okinawa, the Halekulani Okinawa has found its own connection to a local gin producer. Masahiro Okinawa Gin is produced by the Masahiro Distillery, founded on the island in 1883. It’s one of Okinawa’s famed producers of awamori, a distilled rice spirit that has a 600 year history of production in the Ryukyu Islands. Awamori, along with Okinawa’s unique terroir, is at the heart of the gin.
Halekulani’s house label of Okinawa Gin incorporates distinctive Okinawan flavors and ingredients such as shekwasha (a citrus in the mandarin family with the sour profile of a calamansi lime), goya (bitter melon), long peppers and guava leaves. Sample it in an aperitivo hour Martini served at the hotel’s Sunset Bar Spectra, where a panoramic window offers a stunning oceanfront view of its eponymous spectacle.
Show-Stopping Japanese Whisky
At the Fuji Speedway Hotel, a new property near the base of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, whisky comes to the forefront, as it does for so many of the thirsty travelers heading to Japan. The hotel partnered with the nearby Shizuoka Distillery, founded in 2016 by Taiko Nakamura, to create an exclusive edition of its signature Gaia Flow whisky.
The collaboration got underway thanks to a helping nudge from the hotel’s executive chef, Jun Ishii, who strives to form partnerships with local producers and purveyors covering every ingredient in the kitchen and behind the bar. Fuji Speedway’s Gaia Flow Blended M is bottled at 48% ABV and was released in conjunction with the hotel’s debut, with more batches on the way in the future. Served in the hotel’s bars and offered in small bottles in guest rooms, “M” stands for meet, the harmonious meeting and blending of Japanese whisky distilled in Shizuoka with world whisky. A dram or two just seems like a good idea as you watch and listen to the race cars zoom their way around the adjacent Fuji Speedway, doesn’t it?
Not to be outdone is the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, which has managed to forge a relationship with one of the most in-demand Japanese whisky brands, Ichiro’s Malt. The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo Original Whisky is a private cask of Ichiro’s Malt, blended from five world whiskies representing the major whisky producing nations of Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada and Japan. It’s matured in a rare grand cru wine cask from the Saint-Émilion region of Bordeaux.
The whisky was released in early 2022 with a limited 287 bottle output. You can buy one in full from the property’s swanky bars for a cool 88,000 Yen, or about $640. Sales are done on a bottle keep basis, so there’s no rush to slam it down during a single debauched evening. Instead, keep it tucked away for your personal use at the 37th floor Mandarin Bar, and you’ll have a ready-made party trick to impress all of your fellow imbibers every time you show up. That’s a pretty good excuse to make sure you’re a regular visitor to the bar, and to Tokyo on the whole. As if you needed another one.
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