This will be the last of my Tokyo bar reviews for now. It may seem like I didn’t drink much, but I mainly go to Tokyo to drink cocktails. Drinking spirits neat is something I do in other parts of Japan; I’ve already had most of the whisky available in most bars. I’ll do this again in the future and in different cities, if anyone liked this some sort of “bar feature and spirits review” concept.
It was close to the end of a long day. I had just returned to downtown Tokyo after spending most of the day in the mountains of Tokyo. I went to the Ozawa Sake Brewery in Sawai, Ome for an English-guided sake tour. It’s a 90-minute train ride going to Sawai from Shinjuku Station, then it’s another 90-minute train ride going back. I had been drinking their delicious sake for most of the afternoon; their Edo-style is delicious.
Walking with purpose and Mark Lanegan’s “Wedding Dress” playing on my Spotify, I was heading for Bar Benfiddich near Shinjuku station. Unfortunately, I found out that the owner, Kayama-san, had flown to Singapore earlier that day; when he is away doing guest shifts or seminars, the bar is closed. Luckily, there are two other bars in the same building: Bar B&F, also owned by Kayama-san, which focuses more on fruit-based spirit cocktails, and Spirits Bar Sunface.
Spirits Bar Sunface is owned by Koji Esashi. It was initially suggested to me as a tequila bar by industry friends in Singapore, but Koji-san corrected that notion when I asked. He explained that he likes to think of Sunface as a white spirits bar. True to his words, I saw a lot of Mezcal, white rum and gin as I took another look around. To drinkers who only like brown spirits, don’t worry: there are also bottles of whisky and other aged spirits. Funnily, when I asked him why he named his bar Sunface, he said he couldn’t explain it.
To my luck, both he and his barback, Chloe, spoke good English. I forgot to ask where Koji-san learned to speak English but did learn that Chloe spent two years bartending in Vancouver. I was also curious as to why the bar mats were from Jose Cuervo, but lost the chance to ask, as he grew quite busy with other guests by the time I noticed. After a bit of Googling, it appears that Koji-San is a “Don of Tequila,” as he won the first global cocktail competition of Cuervo in 2015. As a result, he went to Mexico, where he was able to make his own blend of tequila, one only available at his bar.
Before he corrected my false notion of his establishment, I ordered two of my favorite agave-based cocktails. One is Tommy’s Margarita, a riff on a classic margarita, and the other, a Paloma. I just had to drink these cocktails made with Japanese-quality fruits and techniques before I left Tokyo. Don’t worry; despite being a Cuervo champion, he didn’t use any to make the drinks. As for food, the bar has smoked meat like smoked beef tongue available. It was pretty good, in addition to the excellent cocktails.
After my mind had stopped racing and looking around this new place, I noticed he had some Fortaleza Tequilas. It’s a brand that impressed me awhile back in Singapore, as it tasted different from tequilas we grew up drinking. To my delight, he had a bottle of Fortaleza Blanco Still Strength, the first time I’ve seen such a bottle in person. The regular Fortaleza Blanco, bottled at 40%, is good, so I expected the still-strength one to be better. This is available via Master of Malt for £71.62.
If you are wondering why this snarkologist would “waste” time on a tequila, I’ll simply answer that Fortaleza makes good spirits. Yes, there are good types of tequila. This brand in particular is made in traditional ways similar to artisanal and traditional Mezcal. Stone oven? Check. Open-air wood fermentation? Check. Pot still? Check. This is unlike the cheap and sweetened swill most of us drank during college. Those mixtos, made for easy drinking and puking, are crafted in modern ways such as multi-column still distillates a lot of people refer to as “smooth.” Efficient ways, maybe—efficient, at least, in making brands the most quantity and money, but while sacrificing quality. I shall not name these evils. They admittedly gave me tequila trauma for years. Thankfully, Mezcal has cured me of that suffering.
Fortaleza Blanco Still Strength – review
On the nose: Typical greenish agave notes, nutty peanut butter, hazelnuts, creamy, Choc-Nut, toffee, mint, basil, peeled cucumbers, aloe vera, pandan, peppers
In the mouth: Choc-Nut, toffee, peanut butter, agave, cucumber, mint, pineapple skin, creamy, peppers, hints of pineapple pulp and some olives.
Lingering, succulent and sweet. It’s not as complex as Mezcal, but it is full-bodied. There’s a refreshing feeling after drinking this. I wish there were more tequilas like this.
If any of you are curious and want to try a sipping tequila, I recommend this brand. It will meet those demands and expectations.
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