Spirited Away - Token Bitters in Japan

Spirited Away - Token Bitters in Japan

On May 6, Token Bitters’ CEO Keenan Pascal jetted off to Japan for a fun-packed tour complete with a Token-sponsored cocktail competition, a presence at the Tokyo International Bar Show, and a guided tasting in Osaka with some of the country’s most prominent restaurateurs.

Japan’s cocktail scene has drawn attention from some of the world’s best bartenders who turn to it for inspiration. Much like Japanese cuisine, mixology is done with precision and perfection, elevating the craft of cocktail making to an art form. 

We were fortunate to be able to learn from some of the world’s best and to find creative new ideas to inspire our work back home.

Read on for a full recap of Token Bitters’ visit to Japan!

A Dash of Inspiration - Token Bitters Cocktail Competition 

Our tour kicked off with a nation-wide cocktail competition featuring some of the country’s best bartenders.

The competition was held on May 8th at the Embassy of Canada in Tokyo. Token Bitters and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) co-sponsored the event with support from the Government of Alberta Japan Office, bar speciality store Bar Times and importer Heavenly Vines.

Token’s own Keenan Pascal and Jimmy Shewchuk of the EEDC were invited to judge the competition alongside Mr. Hiroyasu Kayama, owner of Ben Fiddich and Yuko Miyazaki, owner of Tenderly. Mr. Kayama and Ms. Miyazaki are among the best bartenders in the country and owner-operators of internationally acclaimed bars.

The grand prize was a trip to Alberta along with an exclusive custom-made bitter flavour of the winner’s choice.

The first round of competition was open to all of Japan. The competition was close, but eventually, the submissions were narrowed down to six semi-finalists who were selected to compete based on the recipes and photos they submitted.

The six finalists demonstrated their signature Token Bitters cocktail recipe through a series of engaging, polished presentations.

The art of storytelling was heavily utilized, as each contestant spoke enthusiastically about the Alberta scenery, history, and local businesses that had inspired their recipes. The atmosphere was full of creative energy and excitement as the judges observed each presentation and sampled each signature cocktail.

For a full description of the competition-day cocktails and their recipes, check out Bar Times’ article.

Token Bitters Cocktail Competition

After a fierce round of competition, Mr. Takeshi Oba, owner of Bar Acoi, emerged as the winner with his cocktail “Koton”, which utilizes several of Token Bitters’ signature flavours, including Whyte Lavender, Calder Chai, and Strathcona Orange.

Click here for the full recipe!
Kotan, Winning Cocktail

We are looking forward to hosting Mr. Oba when he comes to Alberta in August. He will be working with Token’s Food Scientist, Mario Castillo, to create his signature bitters flavour.

Keenan and Mr. Takeshi Oba of Bar Acoi, Winner of the Token Bitters Cocktail Competition

Tokyo International Bar Show

Next on the trip, Token joined the EEDC sponsored booth at the Tokyo International Bar Show. Over 13,000 guests came through the expo to check out the best of what the Japan bar scene has to offer.

Alongside Token Bitters were our local partners, Hansen Distillery and Strathcona Spirits. The group had a great time mingling with the attendees and representing Canadian-made products abroad.

Fun Fact: Token sold more product on site than any other booth participant!

Keenan from Token Bitters, Hansen Distillery and Strathcona Spirits at the Tokyo Bar Show

Guided Tasting in Osaka

Our tour wrapped up with a guided tasting in Osaka with a number of restaurateurs at the Osaka Food Laboratory, and an invite-only cocktail celebration for Osaka and Kyoto area bartenders.

With its cool, artisan vibe, the Osaka Food Lab was the perfect setting for the team to gather with some of Japan’s most prominent bartenders.
The group sampled Token’s bitters, tasted exotic Japanese whiskeys and gins, and developed ideas on how to utilize our bitters in unique ways that blend Canadian and Japanese culture through drinks, custom-made dishes and desserts.

We can’t wait to incorporate the precision and artistry of the Japanese cocktail scene into our own work here in Edmonton. 

Keenan sampling cocktail

Even though the team has returned to our home base in Edmonton, our bitters have remained in Japan! Thanks to Heavenly Vines, our bitters are now exported to Japan and are available in a number of retail locations across the country – including our event co-sponsor, Bar Times!

A special thank you to the EEDC, the Alberta Japan Office, and all of our Japanese partners for making this tour possible. We are looking forward to returning to Japan for future collaborations.