East Meets West Harlem: Yamazaki

Regulars to Ginny’s Supper Club are no doubt familiar with the spot's one-of-a-kind cocktail creation, the Harlem Mule ($15). Although listed first on the “Classic” half of the mixed drink menu, the Harlem Mule is a step above the traditional 1950s ginger-lime-vodka concoction its name instantly evokes. It is rather a spicy drink combining basil, ginger, a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters, and a healthy dose of Yamazaki 12-year-old Japanese whiskey.

For those of you unaware of the existence of Japanese-made whiskey, you're not alone. While the Japanese began distilling this traditionally Scottish spirit nearly a century ago, imports into the United States have only been trickling in for the past two decades, starting with the quiet introduction of Yamazaki 12 in 1990. While still a rare inclusion on New York cocktail menus (although there are some notable exceptions), the choice to feature Japanese whiskey at Ginny’s fits well with its growing reputation throughout the spirit industry.

In 2010, Yamazaki's manufacturer Suntory became the first Japanese firm to earn the title of “Whiskey Distiller of the Year,”  and its American sales have increased by nearly 44 percent in the past year alone.  The average consumer as well appears to be opening up to this Asian liquor. “Up until two years ago, if one in 20 customers had tasted Japanese whiskey, we were lucky,” said Flavien Desoblin, owner of the TriBeCa Spirits emporium Brandy Library, in an interview with The New York Times. “Now, out of 20, a good 5 know that it exists and they’ve had it. That’s quite a lot for the land of bourbon.”

This increased popularity and acclaim, according to experts such as Desoblin, is easily earned. “Japanese whiskeys are very much the fine-wine-drinker’s take on whiskey…" he claims, "delicate, suave, mouth-coating feel, but never really aggressive. They seem to be powerful, but it’s all silky.” Ginny's customers seem to wholeheartedly agree, making the Harlem Mule one of the most popular fixtures on the eatery's drink menu.

If you're in the mood for an inventive take on a cocktail classic, this creative concoction can be enjoyed Tuesday through Saturday at Ginny's Supper Club. If the Harlem Mule simply whets your appetite for more on these high-quality Asian spirits, Robert Simonson's recent article in the Times provides an excellent overview of the growing business of Japanese Whiskey in America.