Japanese Cocktails by Kuri Kato is a curious new cocktail book that we sort of love, and like many "sponsored" books, sort of tire of quickly. There are certainly some intriguing recipes like the Aloe Margarita (recipe after the jump) that we can't wait to shake up on one of Santa Monica's dry beaches. Then there are are the disturbing concoctions, such as a Midori Pine Soda (Midori melon liqueur, pineapple juice, club soda), that sound like they were swiped from a circa 1982 sorority house photo album. As far as we're concerned, Midori, in all of its neon green glory, should never make an appearance outside of a frat house.
And then, suddenly it all makes sense. The book is from Chronicle's custom publishing division, or as we have nicknamed it, the Have Cash, Will Sell division. Custom books are essentially those that have some sort of sponsorship behind them, in this case, Suntory International, the Japanese mega-corporation that makes -- you guessed it -- Midori (an unfortunate fact that muddies their reputation as an excellent producer of single malt Japanese whiskey, including the Yamazaki line of single malts, of which we're particularly fond).
Sorry to burst your Hemingway-esque bubble, but the "custom publishing" divisions at publishing houses are nothing new. Occasionally, you'll even find direct-to-author palm greasing in the "standard" publishing division when a manufacturer (say, a spirits producer) tosses an author a few shiny coins in exchange for sprinkling their spirits into book proposal recipes (often, but not always, evident when a certain brand name is repeated yet arguably isn't warranted for flavor purposes, say from a specific vodka producer).
You can spot a custom publishing job right away on the book credits page, which will likely read something like it does in Japanese Cocktails: "published exclusively for Suntory International Corp. by Chronicle Books." Ya, basically you're paying $14.95 for the privilege of reading a thinly veiled press release.
Now, that doesn't necessarily mean a custom-published book is going to be sub-par. The Art of the Bar, a 2006 Chronicle book about Absinthe Brasserie's stellar cocktail program, is still front and center in our drinks library. And we admittedly got sort of addicted to that See's Candy history book as well, although we're not convinced they didn't coat the book jacket cover with chocolate residue to keep us coming back.
So, where does Japanese Cocktails fall in the custom publishing quality spectrum? It's more of a fun, casual cocktail pocket guide peppered with Japanese spirits, cocktail and cultural tidbits rather than a cocktail thesis like The Art of the Bar. Many of the cocktail recipes, including the Cherry Blossom, (sake, umeshu plum liqueur, lemon juice and sparkling wine), are refreshingly light in alcohol because they're made with sake (lower-alcohol brewed rice often mistakenly called "wine") or shochu, which at 25% ABV teeters between wine and vodka on alcohol content (Suntory makes shochu as well). And we give author Kato (and Suntory International) huge bonus points for including a handful of inspired cocktails that don't include the company's spirits, like the Kabosu Gimlet (generic gin and kabosu, a citrus juice) and that Aloe Margarita.
Unfortunately, when we asked for the aloe vera margarita book photo, we were told by the Cocktail Book Authorities that it wasn't available. What photos from the book were available? Those using Suntory spirits, of course. Oh, screw it. You know what a margarita looks like.
Adapted from Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato.
Note: Aloe vera juice is available at Whole Foods and health food stores.
Makes: 1 cocktail
1 ½ ounces blanco tequila
3 ounces aloe vera juice
Juice of ½ lime
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1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to rim glass
Lime wedge for garnish
1. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine the tequila with the aloe vera, lime and lemon juices. Shake vigorously 10 to 15 times, until well chilled. Run the lime wedge around the rim of a cocktail glass and dip the glass in the salt. Strain the margarita into the glass and serve with the lime wedge.