Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From Kyushu (2): Kumamoto Bar Society

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Read part 1 here.

About a year and a half ago, I heard something about a special bottling for the Kumamoto Bar Association. I tried to find out more but couldn't find a single piece of information to substantiate the rumour. At the time, I thought it a bit strange, though, that a group of lawyers in Kyushu would go through the considerable effort it takes to source a private bottling from one of the smaller distilleries here in Japan. Fast forward to December 2012, when I happened to be in Kumamoto, winding down the year with my family, and I decided to find out once and for all whether that elusive bottling actually existed. I quickly discovered, while I was there, that my source had made a small but significant mistake: it wasn't a bottling for the Kumamoto Bar Association but for the Kumamoto Bar Society, a group of bartenders not lawyers!
I asked around a bit and people pointed me in the direction of Bar:Colon and its owner-bartender Takeshi Tsuruta, one of the key people in the KuBS (as we'll call them for the sake of brevity). I spent the evening of December 30th there and instantly fell in love with the Kumamoto bar scene. There's nothing like it anywhere else in Japan, and if you feel that's a bold statement to make, well, bear with me and then show me a group of people who - even though they are rivals and do business along the same street for the most part - are not only as knowledgeable and passionate as these guys, but who also work together and help each other out - in ways that would put even the closest family to shame - like they do. They go on distillery trips together (Islay in 2005, Kavalan in 2012, ...) and then publish books about these trips! They put out at least one private bottling a year; we'll discuss these in depth in the next few instalments of our Kyushu series. They've even produced a feature-length documentary about "the making of" their second private bottling (more about this later, too). They also publish a bar map of Kumamoto every year, and it's wonderful to see that the KuBS love is spreading: the first map was subtitled "20 Doors"... the current map includes "38 Doors". The KuBS is an open society without any membership fees, and everything is done in that wonderful spirit of cooperation which I got a glimpse of when I was there.

Over the next few weeks, we'll show you what makes the Kumamoto whisky scene special and what makes this a must-go place for the Japanese whisky aficionado, in spite of there not being a distillery anywhere near. Stay tuned...


Ash said...

I was absolutely thrilled to see this post up here! I lived in Kumamoto throughout most of 2009 and Bar:Colon quickly became my favourite bar - not just in Kumamoto, but my favourite bar, period. So much so I wrote a tribute post to it in my (very) short-lived booze blog:

I was back in Kumamoto last month and Takeshi mentioned you'd dropped by to write about whisky in Kyushu - which I was surprised and delighted to hear, as when we first met I told him about Nonjatta being an excellent resource on Japanese whisky.

Looking forward to more Kyushu posts!

Stefan said...

Thanks very much for that, Ash - and for the link to your post. It really captures the atmosphere of the place and the commitment of Tsuruta-san to his craft and his clientele. He mentioned you while I was there, so it's great to hear from you. There's loads more posts coming in this Kyushy mini-series. The problem is finding the time to write everything up. But I'll get there. If you're ever in or around Tokyo, drop us a line!
Thanks again.