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November 19, 2019

Inspired by Alberta Bitters

Japanese Bar Owner wins Canadian cocktail competition in Tokyo and a chance to tour Edmonton

What makes an award winning cocktail in Japan? The secret ingredients could be green tea powder and Alberta-made Token Bitters.

Three months ago, Edmonton-based distilleries and producers presented their homegrown Alberta products in Japan, on a trip led by Edmonton Economic Development (EEDC).

In Japan, Canadian products are often considered exotic, says Daylin Breen, the director of Business Development at EEDC. And for a country that has a strong tie with Canada, trading is not as difficult as you might imagine.

“It’s about willingness to explore other markets, meet another culture, and realize there are ways to get around a language barrier,” says Breen.

While in Japan, Edmonton Economic Development and Token Bitters organized a mixing competition, hosted by the Embassy of Canada.

The Kotan Cocktail Recipe scored the first place, created by Tokyo bar owner, Takeshi Oba. The competition took place in Tokyo this May, and encouraged Japanese bartenders to mix and match famous Token Bitters to create unique cocktails.

The drink didn’t just make a splashing success in Tokyo — it brought Oba all the way to Edmonton. Here, he would create his own original flavour of Token Bitters, and take a tour of Edmonton distilleries. It’s also his first time in Canada.

“Canada is full of nature and diversity,” says Oba. “I was so happy to feel like people [here] are so accepting of Japanese cocktails.”

Oba is a proud owner of Bar Cacoi, located in Ginza district of Tokyo. As a part of recreating the full experience at Hansen Distillery in Edmonton this week, Oba is wearing a traditional, dark blue kimono – and is careful to add just the right amount of Token Bitters to the Kotan Cocktail. The cocktail is almost indistinguishable from the green matcha tea it’s made with – it’s just as green and intense.

Oba uses a lot of bitters in his home country. But using Alberta-made flavours was different – and it’s what made him join the contest.

“I wanted to combine lavender from Alberta and shiso from Japan in my cocktail,” says Oba.

Currently, Japan is Alberta’s third largest export market for agri-food goods, and is its key trade partner.

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