Shingo Gokan & 1923 – One of Heering´s 200 year

Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

Japanese schoolchildren remember 1923 for the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that shattered Tokyo, killing at least 140,000 people and causing a 12-metre tsunami. But Shingo Gokan, the Japanese bartender who made his name at Angel’s Share, New York, and now owns China’s best bar, Speak Low, chose to commemorate a very different anniversary.

“The original Cherry Blossom cocktail is a very classic drink in Japan – it’s actually the oldest and most famous classic drink that was born in Japan,” Gokan says. “Not many Japanese cocktails are famous globally, but this cocktail has been in the Savoy Cocktail Book since 1930.”

While nobody knows the year that Tasaburo Tao created the original Cherry Blossom, he opened his bar, the Café de Paris, in Yokohama in 1923. Like Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, it remains in the family even now.

Yokohama was Japan’s first international port, and bars and bartenders – among them Louis Eppinger, considered one of the fathers of Japanese bartending – arrived in the city long before they came to Tokyo. “In the 1910s and the 1920s, a lot of cruise ships came from the US and the UK,” Gokan says. “That’s how we got our cocktail culture.”

By the time Tao created his drink, the cherry blossom, or sakura, had been a cultural icon in Japan for centuries. “It’s iconic, not only for the flower, but it’s an iconic plant, an iconic activity, an iconic colour,” Gokan explains. “In the spring we celebrate when the sakura blooms by having parties under the sakura trees – it’s a very important activity.”

To reimagine Tao’s creation, Gokan combined a range of different recipes, then added a couple of contemporary twists: a tonka bean infusion and a milk wash. “Sakura petals and tonka beans have a very similar flavour, and when Japanese people try tonka bean for the first time, it usually reminds us of sakura,” he says. “We have a very traditional sakura dessert called sakura mochi, which is a sticky rice cake, and when you add the milk to the cocktail you get a milky note like sakura mochi.”

Gokan started work when he was 18, in his home town not far from Yokohama. Rather than follow the traditional apprenticeship system, he got a job in a high-volume restaurant bar and began to teach himself cocktails on the side. “The first cocktail that I made from a recipe was a Singapore Sling: that was the first time I made a cocktail by myself,” he recalls.

By the time he turned 20, Gokan was head bartender in a local bar. Aged 23, he headed to New York to make his fortune – despite only speaking Japanese. He joined Angel’s Share, one of the city’s oldest and best regarded secret bars, in 2006 – and would remain involved with the bar for a decade.

While Angel’s Share hired him for his Japanese bartending technique, Gokan considers his style hybrid. “I’m trying to combine American style and Japanese style,” he says. “My international bartender friends say I’m very Japanese, but my friends in Japan say I’m very Western style.”

Winning the Bacardí Legacy cocktail competition in 2012 transformed Gokan’s career. “After I won the Legacy I started travelling all over the world. I had a guest bartendership at the Savoy, lots of countries and cities asked me for partnerships and guest partnerships,” he says. “Now competitions are everywhere, and everyone is travelling a lot, but at that time not many people were doing that much travel: it was very good timing.”

With the help of two separate sets of backers, one Asia-based and one in the US, Gokan has a stake in an impressive number of venues. He launched Speak Low, the turbo-charged French Concession speakeasy that stands at number 10 on the World’s 50 Best list, in Shanghai in 2014; Sober Company followed in 2017, and is now home to four distinct venues. Gokan’s first Tokyo venture, SG Club, should launch in May, while there are plans for a New York bar in a couple of years.

Gokan is impressed by how the Chinese bar scene has developed since he opened Speak Low. “The Chinese economy is pretty good, so every month there are new bars opening – not just in Shanghai, but everywhere in China,” he says, noting that bartending is now seen as a fashionable career in the Middle Kingdom. “Proof & Company came to China last year, and they’re raising the level of education. DRiNK magazine China did the Bar Awards last year, and it’s actually bigger than Tales of the Cocktail! It was huge!”

Yet, while Gokan admires Singapore’s bartending scene immensely, he feels it will be a while before China catches up with Japan. “The bar culture is still very new,” he says. “In Japan, cocktail culture is more than 100 years old: we’ve polished our skills and created our own ways.”

Sakura 1923

Cherry Heering 30ml

Rye-cognac sous-vide tonka bean blend 30ml

Sweet vermouth 15ml

Curacao 15ml
Lemon juice 10ml
Milk (for clarification) 15ml

Method: Cook equal parts Rye & Cognac sous-vide with tonka beans, add the cherry heering, vermouth, curacao, lemon juice and the milk, then it curdles, then you strain it, then get a completely clear liquid, so that’s the final product. After you’ve clarified everything, you pour into the mixing glass, stir it, strain into chilled glass.
Glass: Coupe

Garnish = salted sakura petal, very common ingredient in Japan. Sakura petal are normally soaked in salt to preserve them and keep their freshness, it’s a common product in Japan, not home made.

Cherry Heering 2015 Sling Award Lands in Sweden on

Via several worldwide semifinals, and with a last stop at the global finals held in Singapore in November, Cherry Heering’s 2015 Sling Award has finally landed in Sweden, firmly in the hands of winning bartender and native son Christoffer Johansson.

Johansson’s Chris Cross Bitter Sling took top honors at the 2015 Sling Awards, besting four runner-ups from around the world. Bartenders from China, Ireland, Australia and France competed against Johansson at the legendary Raffles Hotel in Singapore, where the world-famous Sling was first created.

“Cherry Heering is the backbone of any sling,” said Johansson following his victory.

“No Singapore Sling is complete without Cherry Heering,” agreed Brendan Shorrock. “There might be variations but it’s never complete without Cherry Heering.”

While not a finalist in the competition, Shorrock was one of four bartenders in attendance whose establishments —in Shorrock’s case, Peppercrab at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai — raised the most money towards Panthera as part of the Sling Award’s “Here’s to the Tiger” campaign. Panthera is worldwide leader in wildcat conservation.

In addition to overall winner Johansson, the four finalists — all profiled below — included Hungie Fong of China, Richard Grimsey of Ireland, Mathias Aso of Australia, and Jeremy LaFrance of France.

“We’ve sipped quite a few Slings in our days, but this year’s contestants have really raised the bar for what the legendary Singapore Sling can be,” said Adéle Robberstad, CEO, Peter F. Heering. “The new Sling menus and the skill, craftsmanship and creativity that was poured into each Sling blew us away. Watch out – these 12 will be dictating tomorrow’s cocktail culture.”

Finalists and Panthera bartenders gathered at the amazing Raffles Hotel in Singapore for the competition. It was 1887 when the doors to the Raffles Hotel Singapore first opened. Since then, this luxury five star hotel has become an icon that epitomizes the romance of the Far East – an intoxicating blend of luxury, history and colonial design. Its classic architecture has been perfectly preserved and provides a stark but lively contrast against its modern-skyscraper neighbors. Among the most well-loved aspects is the Long Bar, where the famous Singapore Sling was created.

“Peter F Heering has dedicated an entire generation to make such an amazing product,” said Amanda Wan, a Panthera bar guest and bartender is residence at The Envoy in Hong Kong. “It can be found on the shelves of all the reputable bars.”

Here’s a look at the finalists from Cherry Heering’s 2015 Sling Award:


Also particpating in the 2015 Sling Award competition were representatives of four bars who raised the most money for Panthera:


Gan Shan Station on

… I’ve visited Gan Shan a few times and sampled a few different dishes on each occasion. The menu rotates semi-frequently while still keeping a few core dishes. Much like Xiao Bao in Charleston, it’s not uncommon to see dishes from Vietnam, Thailand, China and other lands all gracing Gan Shan’s menu. All dishes make use of traditional and authentic elements, though the chef’s modern spin is evident in most.

The drink menu is nicely crafted, offering theme-appropriate cocktails including the Gan Shan Sling, made with lemongrass gin, Benedictine, cherry heering, Curacao, lemon, pineapple and Szechuan peppercorns….

Legal Notice   |   Log in to graphic guideline