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A STORY IN COCKTAIL – SINGO GOKAN

一杯雞尾酒 一個故事 – 後閑信吾

It  could be just a drink, but a cocktail  is also a work of creation, and a way in which the mixologist communicate with its guest.  For  Shingo Gokan, cocktail represents the word he wants to say.

That  is hardly an exaggeration.  Born in Tokyo, he learned  cocktail blending  there for several years before  receiving an invitation to New York. When he arrived Big Apple, he did not know even a word of English, but managed to get a job with hard work. With  careful observation and mixing skills, his career improved, and won a major championship in 2012. Isn't it that Gokan spoke with cocktails?

"I was so lucky that I didn’t have to promote the drink. If I have that rule I’ll have 0% chance to win," Gokan laughed. To create an award-winning mix, he said three elements were key: good taste, good story, good name. "Speak Low," his signature drink that earned him the award, fits these criteria. It was about his own migration story. "I moved to New York from Tokyo in 2006. I fell in love in jazz. Speak Low is a famous jazz title. Since I moved to New York, Speak Low was one of my favorite music."

Knowing that there were hardly any Japanese bartenders at the time he moved, he was prepared to break into the new market by acquiring some new technique beforehand: tea ceremony and sherry. “My grandmother taught tea ceremony in Japan, so I had the chance to learn that seriously in my early 20s. 

Then I met sherry for the first time in a sherry bar and I was very impressed. I saw Venenciador, that special tool to pour sherry. That long long stick. Then I was into it.”

The things he learned wasn’t helpful in the first five to six years, until he seized the opportunity to compete in Bacardi Legacy. “Talking about cocktail, Martini and Manhattan would come first in mind for most people, and these two could be the world’s bestselling cocktails. The structures are similar: three parts spirit, one part fortified wine, plus bitter. I adopted this structure and realized them with rum, sherry and matcha, and here comes Speak Low. Matcha takes up the role of bitter.  It is a super simple drink, but it has my story behind.”

This drink took his career to another level. Now he not only has cocktail consulting business in New York and Bangkok, but also two Speak Low bars in Shanghai, plus various judging appointments. With years of international experience, he has a thorough understanding of customers in various places: “Those in the US tend to drink more and likes the alcoholic punch. They always look for new flavour and surprise. At quite the opposite, Japanese customers never need surprise, they need exactly what they want. Fruitiness, not high alcohol, is the norm for them – they always ask the alcohol percentage. Whereas in Shanghai, people love taking pictures with drink first, so better make sure your drinks look fancy.”

雞尾酒,既是一杯飲品,也是一份創作,以及調酒師與客人的溝通方式。對後閑信吾來說,雞尾酒就是他要說的話。

說雞尾酒能代表後閑的說話並不誇張。生於東京的他,在當地學習調酒和工作幾年以後,因為一個邀約,就到了紐約工作,當時他連一句英文也不會說,但憑著努力和手藝,就找到工作。靠著細心的觀察和調酒技巧,不單在當地越做越好,更在2012年贏得後閑大賽冠軍殊榮。這還不是靠雞尾酒去說話?

「當時我真的很幸運,因為我只需要創作,而不用宣傳自己的雞尾酒。在之後一年賽制改成要做宣傳,我是0%機會可以勝出的,因為我真的不擅長這方面。」後閑笑說。要創作出一杯得獎作品,後閑指出,靠的是三個元素,「好飲、好故事、好名字」,當年他的獲獎作品Speak low,正正符合了這些條件。這杯作品,是關於他由東京到紐約發展的故事,「我在2006年由東京去到紐約,很喜歡到Jazz bar聽音樂,Speak low是一首很有名的歌曲,也是我當時最喜歡的音樂。」

在前往紐約以前,他已知道當地幾乎沒有日本調酒師,為了準備好自己去應付這個新市場,他特地去學了兩個項目去裝備自己,那就是茶道和雪莉酒。「我祖母是茶道導師,我在二十出頭時就認真學了這門技藝。然後我到了一個雪莉酒酒吧,發現我對雪莉酒一無所知,而那個用來倒酒的器具Venenciador也很特別,因此我就認真學習雪莉酒。」

這些東西一開始他在調酒工作上並用不上,直至他參加了Bacardi Legacy調酒比賽。「說到雞尾酒,大家最容易聯想到Martini和Manhattan,這也是世界上兩款最好賣的雞尾酒。而它們的結構就是三份烈酒、一份加烈酒和一點苦精。我用了這個基本結構,分別以冧酒、雪莉酒和抹茶,調成了Speak low。抹茶就是那點苦。這是一款超級簡單的雞尾酒,但結合了我的故事和我的背景。」

這杯Speak low將他的事業更推上一層樓,目前他不單在紐約和曼谷有雞尾酒顧問業務,同時在上海有兩家Speak low酒吧,還未計擔任比賽評判等工作。而在多地工作多年以後,他對各地顧客已有很深的了解,「美國客人飲得多,也喜歡酒精更重,常常希望有新口味和驚喜。反觀日本人從來不愛驚喜,只想得到跟他心目中一樣的飲品,而且希望酒精濃度較低,而果味較重的。上海人就要相機飲先,看起來越吸引越好。」看來甚麼風格的雞尾酒都不能難倒他了!