You only have to speak with Ikuma Hayashi for a minute to realize that this is a man who’s passionate about tequila. In his current duties as chairman of the Japan Tequila Association, the 41-year-old Tokyo native coaches airlines and hotels on the fine art of serving the drink, and offers seminars to other businesses and individuals looking to expand their palates.
Though Hayashi’s childhood was fairly typical, the years that followed were anything but. He left Japan as a teenager to study film in LA, eventually landing a job at 20th Century Fox. The former teetotaler was introduced to the mellow effects of 100% agave tequila by a coworker, and discovered that he could drink as much as he liked without risking the headaches and hangovers that had originally put him off alcohol.
What really sold him, though, was seeing Robert De Niro pairing blanco tequila with sushi. “At first I thought it was really weird,” he recalls, “but I tried the same thing… and it really tastes good!”
Recognizing the drink’s potential as more than just party fuel, Hayashi headed south of the border, to the Cuervo Tequila Museum. Mexico’s pristine blue skies and rustic atmosphere impressed him almost as much as the tequila itself, and instead of returning to Japan each year when his U.S. visa was up, he began visiting tequila distilleries. Over the years, he’s seen more than 50, and cultivated quite an appreciation for the drink.
Thirsty yet? Before you order your next round, be aware that not all shots are created equal. The major distinction between tequilas is whether or not they are entirely composed of agave. Mixto varieties use 51% agave, with the remainder made up by rum, vodka or other alcohol. This combination of booze, apparently, is what’s really to blame for the vicious hangovers that people often get from drinking tequila.
For a purer experience, he recommends 100% agave tequila, which “has a minimum impact on your health.” There are three sub-categories within this group: blanco, a clear variety that spends no time aging in the barrel and packs a powerful punch; the golden-colored reposado, which is “rested” — meaning it has been aged in an oak barrel for at least 60 days — and has a deeper, woodsier flavor than blanco; and añejo, an amber-colored spirit that is aged in a barrel for at least a year.
So which is the best? “It’s not really that one of these is better — it’s just up to you which one you prefer,” says Hayashi. “A lot of people start from añejo because it’s milder, but quite a lot then shift to blanco, like I did.”
There are no hard and fast rules for pairing food and tequila, though Mexican cuisine is the obvious choice, with salsa, tomato, chili, masa (cornflour) and barbecued meats all being good options. Still, it turns out that sushi isn’t the only Japanese food that goes well with the drink. In Mexico, Hayashi noticed that pozole, a pork-based broth, made a great companion for tequila, and wondered if Japan’s closest analogue — tonkotsu ramen — could also work well. It turned out that it could, and he has since convinced the ramen restaurant chain Nagi to carry 100% agave tequila. For most Japanese food, he recommends blanco rather than añejo.
There are plenty of other places for Tokyoites to test out 100% tequila, too. Hayashi likes Agave, the popular tequila bar in Roppongi, and also recommends Junkadelic in Nakameguro and Akasaka for a satisfying fix of authentic Mexican fare.
Ikuma Hayashi will be holding an English-language seminar for aspiring agave aficionados on Feb 6 from 3-5 p.m. at the Japan Tequila Association’s headquarters in Roppongi. For more information and to sign up, see www.tequila.ac or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Japan Tequila Association is at 1F, 6-8-10 Roppongi, Minato Ward. Tel: 03-5411-7987.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today