If it weren’t for my having a real job, I’d have a few more posts here. As it is, I have posts in work that continue my thoughts on the Gargano Classification and another about my tour of Lost Spirits Distillery. But for now, a month and a half late, I feel a pressing desire to finish writing about what might be the most enjoyable bar experience I’ve ever had. Rum and Whisky in Kyoto, Japan
Knowing I was going on a business trip to Kyoto… and knowing nothing about the city… I did a bit of research on things to do and places to see while there. Aside from the typical historical and cultural sites, I love to enjoy local foods, restaurants and bars, and wanted to do the same in Kyoto. So I put out a call to the members of the Ministry of Rum forum on facebook and asked if there were any Rum related stores and/or bars that I shouldn’t miss. With members of the forum spread around the world, and the fact that they are a travelling group I was excited that a bunch of people recommended Rum and Whisky. It is probably the most unique, memorable and enjoyable bars that I’ve visited.
As my hotel was just a short walk away, it was the first stop on my list. Although people told me not to miss it and told me that Manabu Sadamoto was a knowledgeable and friendly owner, I had no idea just how wonderful the visit(s) would be.
If heading to Kyoto and finding Rum & Whisky is something on your itinerary, don’t be discouraged if you walk right by it a time or two. The fact that the bar is not easy to find, simply adds to its mystique. Yelp gets you into the vicinity, but neither Google Maps, nor Yelp, nor Rum and Whisky’s facebook page tell you to look on the fourth floor (at least not in English nor the ‘translated’ text). Suffice it to say you aren’t going to simply stumble in from the street. The building looks more like an apartment building… four stories, two “apartments” per floor… and from the street you can only see a lobby and a small set of mailboxes along with a number of small, discreet signs with business names that are easy to overlook. There is no other hint that a great bar is hidden in the back of the fourth floor.
Whether you climb the stairs or take the elevator, you’ll feel more like you’re heading into a private and secret Speakeasy than one of the more unique bars in the world. Each floor on your climb reveals quiet, discreet entrances, some with small signs, some without, but all with steel outer doors with no hints of what hides behind them. In fact the first time I “found” Rum and Whisky, I was at the wrong door. Forgive me for thinking that a crate of empty liquor bottles and a small hand-painted “Bar” sign outside the locked door the front side of the building would lead me to the right place. In fact, the door to Rum and Whisky, was locked tight and unmarked. It wasn’t until the second night, when the outer steel door was opened that I discovered an inner door with the Rum and Whisky sign… understated yet elegant, I was excited to open the door and walk in. The bar was empty.
The lighting is soft and room is small… deep and narrow, with about ten seats at the bar, and a few small tables for two at the far end. A picture window, as wide as the room, looks out over the river towards the mountains that form the Eastern border of Kyoto Prefecture. (and the region where the Nine Leaves distillery sits) I walked the length of the bar, greeting Sadamoto-san…Sadamoto-sensei… admiring all the bottles of Rum and Whisky on display. The shelves behind the bar are crowded with bottles from everywhere, and the overflow is arrayed on the length of the bar. I chose a seat in the middle, in front of some interesting bottles including the Nine Leaves Encrypted that I wanted to try.
For the next three hours, I sat at the bar talking about Rum with Sadumoto-san. He shared his story as one of the blenders for the Encrypted, expression of Nine Leaves, and the story of how Japanese distillers turn Japanese sugar cane from Okinawa into Rum. I tasted the black sugar they use as well at two other Nine Leaves expressions. Aside from a glass of Triptych and of the 2004, I don’t remember everything I tasted that night, but I do remember the magic that enveloped me. Every bottle had a story, and I heard many more stories than the rums I sampled. And each glass was poured with a sense of purpose…ceremony even.
Before the first glass, a small oil lamp was placed at my seat, along with a glass of water, a small dish of savory snacks and a damp terry cloth towel. Before Rum was poured, I would begin to get the story of the bottle… the personal connection he had to its bottling, its delivery or other people involved. As the story unfolded, my host would pick up the bottle and carefully wipe it before gently removing the cork , measuring the pour and almost reverently placing the glass in front of me.
Over the course of three visits I sampled some fabulous rum. Among the more memorable were a 30 year old La Favorite Privelege that was bottled in the early 2000… making the rum almost as old as me; a 30 year old Port Morant from Uitvlugt bottled by Cadenhead’s in 1995; a Cadenhead’s Green Label Demerrara 20 yr old from long ago (any one date it from the label); a Caroni from 1989; a 17 year old from Barbados bottled at WIRD in 1986 from the ‘Rockley Still’; and a host of others.
At some point on the first visit, I had the presence of mind to check if he accepted credit card payments. I knew I was tasting some rare and special rum from a very personal and impressive collection. I felt like I was probably approaching the limit of my cash on hand, yet wanted to stay longer. Hearing an accommodating answer that plastic was OK, I happily tried a couple of more Rums. After three hours or so, a young couple came in and sat down, and although I could have sat there all night, I decided to finish my last glass and return on another day. Although I would have been short on cash to settle my tab, it was a still very reasonably priced evening considering the quality and rarity of the bottles I sampled.
Of the 7 nights I stayed in Kyoto, three of them were spent enjoying Rum and Whisky and Sadamaoto-san’s hospitality. This special place is much more like a home than a bar. You cannot help but feel special as your most gracious host proudly shares the spirit of his carefully and lovingly curated collection. I could not have enjoyed it more. I’m anxious to return.