Classic cocktails get a twist from a bartender who does not drink

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MARI KAMATA, head of beverage of the Peninsula Tokyo, pours out her Matcha Martini during a preview of The Pen Manila’s holiday cocktails on Nov. 22 at Salon de Ning. -- ZSARLENE B. CHUA

FOR THE holidays, the Peninsula Manila is presenting a collection of cocktails created by award-winning mixologist and head of beverage of the Peninsula Tokyo, Mari Kamata, featuring her knack for giving classic mixes a twist.

Now, the surprising thing about this multi-awarded bartender — she won the top prizes in 2016’s Seven Star Train Cocktail Recipe Competition in Japan, 2013’s Gin Connoisseur Program 2013 in France, and the 2009 Diageo World Class Cocktail Competition in London — is the fact that she never drinks alcohol.

“I never got into the habit of it. None in my family drinks [alcohol],” Ms. Kamata said during a media preview held on Nov. 22 at The Pen’s Salon de Ning.

But while she is a complete teetotaler, Ms. Kamata said her palate is sensitive enough that a little drop of the mix is enough for her to see if she did it well. This was something she demonstrated throughout the preview where she put a drop of the mix on the back of her hand and tasted it before serving the drink.

“My tongue and nose have really good memory, so I remember if I did it correctly,” she said.

So why did a woman who never drank alcohol want to become a bartender? Well, Ms. Kamata said she has always been fascinated with alcoholic beverages and since, at the time, there weren’t a lot of female bartenders in Japan, she wanted to be one. This meant taking a hotel and management degree with a focus on bartending.

Ms. Kamata’s 20 years of bartending experience, starting at the Intercontinental Tokyo and now The Peninsula Tokyo, gave her enough knowledge about the classics, so she is now into creating original cocktails incorporating the tried-and-tested favorites.

During the preview, Ms. Kamata showed how to make three of her cocktails: Matcha Martini, Blood and Sand, and Hennessy Negroni.

The first was a homage to Ms. Kamata’s Japanese heritage combined with one of the best-known cocktails, the martini.

The Matcha Martini features Belvedere vodka and Monin Poir Syrup (and regular simple syrup) with matcha powder (powdered green tea) which is prepared by mixing the powder with cold water, much like how they do it in the traditional tea ceremonies in Japan though replacing the hot water with cold.

The resulting beverage is “fruity with a comfortable bitterness,” as Ms. Kamata described. It’s quite easy to drink because it goes in smooth, almost like drinking an iced matcha drink — but laced with vodka. And watching her preparing is like performance art because of the almost meditative mixing of the matcha and water.

The next beverage was Blood and Sand, a cocktail named for a 1922 movie about Spanish bullfighters starring silent screen star Rudolph Valentino. The classic recipe calls for vermouth but Ms. Kamata switched things up and introduced an Earl-Grey-tea-and-clove-infused Vermouth Rosso alongside a 10-year-old Ardbeg whisky.

She infused the Earl Grey and clove into the vermouth by using an aeropress — those who don’t have the hardware can just steep the ground tea and clove for an hour.

The beverage is “peaty and smoky” with a bit of spice lingering at the back of one’s mouth due to the tea and clove.

Finally, she presented a Negroni, but instead of using the usual gin, she replaced it with Hennessy VSOP to make it an effective before- and/or after-dinner drink and used a smoker (they used maple wood chips) to lend a smoky flavor to the Negroni.

The three drinks presented in the mixology class — and three other cocktails Ms. Kamata created for the The Pen — are available throughout the month for P650 each.

Aside from Ms. Kamata’s drinks, the hotel is also serving its Cocktail of Hope — which uses Bailey’s, milk, mint liqueur and elderflower syrup — for P900 (including a Tree of Hope ornament) and a Mocktail of Hope — which uses Welch Grape Juice, Coke, and sliced pineapple — for those who prefer a nonalcoholic beverage for P790 (including the ornament). Part of the proceeds from the sales of the two drinks will be given to the Make a Wish Foundation. — Zsarlene B. Chua