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Cocktails

Mastering the Campari Soda

January 22, 2024

Story: Nicholas Coldicott

photo: Jaime Miki

Cocktails

Mastering the Campari Soda

January 22, 2024

Story: Nicholas Coldicott

photo: Jaime Miki

For many in Tokyo’s drinking circles, the perfect take on the deceptively simple drink can be found only at Ginza’s Bar Shake.

“Strange, isn’t it?” says Masayuki Kodato. “I trained with the inventor of the hard shake, named my place Bar Shake, but most people associate me with a drink they think doesn’t even require technique.”

That drink? The Campari Soda. Two liquids, only one of which has flavor. Pour one onto the other over ice. The end. 

Yet, in Tokyo’s drinking circles, the prevailing view is that the perfect Campari Soda is found only in Ginza’s Bar Shake. 

“It wasn’t my plan,” says Kodato. “I just like the drink, so I would suggest it to guests, and then somehow I started getting first-timers ordering one.”

There is, it turns out, a significant amount of technique involved. First, you must chill both the Campari and the soda water. As Kodato’s mentor, Kazuo Uyeda, wrote in his landmark book, Cocktail Techniques, “Unlike ice in a shaken or stirred cocktail, the role in a built cocktail is only to keep the drink chilled. Accordingly, the ingredients should be chilled ahead of time in the refrigerator. Otherwise the ice will melt and water down the drink.”

“Well, that’s one reason,” says Kodato. “But the main thing is I just want more drink in the glass, not gone in one gulp.”

He uses one small piece of cracked ice. “I actually keep the ingredients so cold I don’t need any ice at all,” he says. “But the drink looks a bit lonely without it.” 

Kodato pours 2 ounces of Campari by eye. After 38 years in the business, he says, he can pour more precisely without a measuring cup. “I only use them to look fancy when I serve spirits straight,” he notes, then performs a flourish with a jigger to illustrate the point.

Back when he was working with Uyeda in a high-society drinking salon called Bar L’Osier, they would stay close to the formula of the classic Campari Seltz in its Milan birthplace—one part bitter, three parts fizzy water—but when Kodato succeeded Uyeda as head bartender at L’Osier, this was the one recipe he changed.

Best Campari Soda Bar Shake Tokyo
Recipes

Campari Soda

Thoughtful technique and a little bit of lemon juice set this version apart.

“I’d had one once in [Tokyo bar] Gaslight, and [head bartender Takao] Mori-san made it with lemon juice,” he says. “It was so good.” 

The juice—half a teaspoon—brightens the flavors and somehow binds them. The same recipe, ratios and technique, minus the lemon, is lackluster in comparison. One is two-dimensional, the other pops out into 3D.

Kodato says he would stop making Campari Sodas if Asahi stopped making Wilkinson Tansan soda water. The brand, created by a British expat in 1904, is the antithesis of the modern, velvety craft soda. Kodato likes its aggressive effervescence because, he says, a Campari Soda must have nodogoshi, a term that describes the refreshing feeling you get when a sparkling drink hits the back of your throat, and Wilkinson has carbonation to spare. 

He empties a full 190-milliliter bottle of it into the glass and, as evidence of his free-pouring accuracy, it takes the drink right to the rim.

Kodato says there’s a misapprehension that elite Japanese bartenders care only about technique, while those elsewhere understand showmanship. “Mine is primarily a job of showmanship,” he says. “Don’t you think it looks cool when I free-pour a drink to the rim?”

That extra fizz comes in handy when he mixes the drink, jiggling a bar spoon vigorously until the red of the Campari has moved all the way up. 

Finally, there is no citrus slice in a Bar Shake Campari Soda. It would be overkill after adding the lemon juice.

If you wish to try the drink that earned Kodato his reputation, you must enter Bar Shake alone. He serves it in a heavy-bottomed Schott Zwiesel Collins glass, of which he has only one. “I used to have 12 of them, but people broke them and you can’t buy them anymore,” he says. If two people order the drink at the same time, he serves them in wider, shorter and lighter highball glasses that, he correctly says, don’t deliver quite the same drink. 

“I’ve searched everywhere for more of those glasses, but they’ve stopped making them,” he says. “Whenever someone smashed one, I would smile and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s perfectly fine.’ But of course I didn’t mean it.”

Kodato’s Campari Soda holds its effervescence and stays chilled for at least as long as any reasonable person could nurse one, though that rarely matters at Bar Shake. “You’re not supposed to take ages with it,” he says, and then downs a glassful in three long swigs. 

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