Monday, May 7, 2012

The Fridge Door Bar, Hokkaido

Photograph by Glen Claydon Photography

I have never been to the Fridge Door Bar in Hirafu, Niseko, Hokkaido, but I desperately want to.

Its official name is the "Gyu+ Bar" but people know it as the Fridge Door because of its unique entrance. It is actually the door from a Coke machine, and there is a lot more than Coke on offer if you do get to Hirafu.

Ioanna Watanabe, who runs the bar with her husband Hisashi, says: "We have been into Ichiro's for years now and have collected almost all the card series. The bar has slowly progressed over the years to carry more and more whisky; the bottles are taking over the back counter!"

"Our customer base is almost 95 percent foreign, and we have seen the interest in Japanese whisky rocket in the past 3 years. We now have people from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia that come to the bar every year, sit down and say 'What new Ichiro's have you got this year?'. Its great."

The bar is open only in the winter (Dec 1-end of March). In the off season it becomes a living room and private collection.

Ioanna says: "The Ichiro's at the bar started off as a personal thing. Hisashi stumbled across it and we had it at the bar on the shelf, but like many things behind the bar, it wasn`t on the menu. I noticed some people starting to really ask for Japanese Whiskey a few years ago, and we sold a couple of nips to people here and there. The reaction was so good that we bought 3 cards that came out that year to try them at the bar the following season, and added the Mizunara WR that we were drinking, the first Ichiro' release New Hogshead and Bourbon Barrel. Oh, and the Uniting Nations. We 'released' the Ichiro's at the start of the season to see how they would be received. By about mid-February they were almost all sold out.

"It is incredible the reaction people have by trying it. Not only is it totally different from, say, Suntory or Nikka, but they love that they are trying something so limited and special," she says.

The clientelle at Niseko has been changing recently, according to Ioanna, with older visitors starting to replace backpackers.

"An older crowd (sometimes very knowledgeable in the ways of whisky) has started to arrive. For us, this meant we could make less Jim Beam and cokes, and start talking to people about Japanese whisky, which we were really interested in! The only problem we have is that we end up emptying the bottles every season now," she says.

 Photograph by Glen Claydon Photography

This is a list of the Ichiro`s available at the bar. I don`t think they are all available there now, but it does give an idea of  how serious they are about their whisky:
Uniting Nations; First release Newborn New Hogshead (Chichibu); First release Burbon Barrel (Chichibu); 5 of Spades; 8 of Hearts; 10 of Clubs; 4 of Spades; J of Hearts; K of Hearts; Q of Spades; 8 of Diamonds; 6 of Clubs; K of Clubs; 9 of Spades; 7 of Diamonds; 3 of Hearts; 2 of Hearts; Mizunara Wood Reserve; Double Distilleries; and Wine Wood Reserve.
Perhaps more importantly, they have the following Ichiro's for future release: 10 of Hearts; 4 of Diamonds; 8 of Clubs; 2 of Spades; 4 of Hearts; 10 of Diamonds; 9 of Clubs; and 6 of Spades.

As I say, I have never visited the Fridge Door. But it looks great. If anyone gets to Niseko, I would love to get a report. They have a webpage here.

Photographs by Glen Claydon Photography

Address: 167-21 Aza Yamada, Kutchan, Hokkaido 〒004-0081
Telephone: 0136-23-1432
Website; Facebook
Opening times:  Dec 1-end of March only. Mon - Sun: 6:00 pm - 12:30 am; Cash Only

View Fridge Door in a larger map

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