What does it mean to be iconic? We talk to Shingo Gokan, Asia’s 50 Best Bars Industry Icon, to find out
With no less than six bars under his belt and more in the pipeline, Shingo has cemented himself as an integral part of the bartending community in Japan, China, and the U.S.A. A prodigal son of Asia’s bar scene, Shingo honed his craft at NYC’s Angel’s Share before returning home to set up shop in Tokyo and later, Shanghai, creating some of the most successful bars the continent has ever seen.
A lover of classic cocktails, Shingo combines American influences with traditional Japanese techniques to create a style that is uniquely and unequivocally his. A stalwart of both the World’s and Asia’s 50 Best Bars lists, Shingo’s latest accolade makes him one of the most awarded bartenders in history.
Characteristically humble, Shingo stresses that despite being officially named an icon, his journey is just beginning. We asked him what it means to be truly iconic, how he defines Japanese bartending, and why ROKU GIN stands out in his bars.
1. How do you feel about being awarded as an icon, and what do you think it means to be truly iconic?
It is truly a great honour to be selected as this year’s ROKU Industry Icon. However, I also believe that I am still in the midst of my journey as a bartender. I aspire to keep growing both as a bartender and as a person so that I can proudly represent the bartending community as a true icon.
2. How do you feel about winning this award, and representing the Japanese bartending community?
There are many legendary bartenders in Japan. I believe that I was more recognised by the international community because my activities are focused on the international platform. I would like to cherish and treasure the Japanese bartending style that my seniors have built and passed onto me.
3. How do you define Japanese bartending? What makes it stand out?
I wouldn’t give ‘Japanese bartending’ an exact definition. ‘Japanese bartending’ is constructed from ideas taken from Japan’s traditional cultural practices, such as Sado (traditional Japanese tea ceremony), and “Budo” (Japanese martial arts.) The culture and ideology that places value in detail, precision, and elegance are reflected in techniques such as ice carving and shaking, which has then gained international recognition as the ‘Japanese bartending’ style. Other countries do not focus on incorporating their culture and tradition into their bartending style and technique, which makes Japanese bartending like no other.
5. In what ways does ROKU GIN stand out to you?
ROKU GIN expresses various aspects of Japanese culture through its taste, ingredients, and bottle design. The subtle and delicate flavours found in ROKU GIN makes it suitable for any cocktail recipe, which makes it appealing for bartenders. I have noticed that when I serve cocktails where the flavour of ROKU GIN is more prominent (such as in a Martini), there is a clear difference in their initial reaction and drinking speed.
7. What is your favourite way to drink or serve ROKU GIN?
In a classic Martini, or a Gin & Sonic with Yuzu.
8. How do you recommend drinking ROKU using Shun (ingredients at the peak of its flavour)? Can you tell us more about your ROKU GIN cocktail, made using summer tomatoes?
We have been serving cocktails with gin and tomato water for a while, but when we opened The SG Club in Tokyo, we decided to upgrade the drink using ROKU GIN, creating a more intricate and colourful flavour palette.
9. Do you have any messages for future icons?
Let’s continue to boost the bar industry together!
Alongside his 2021 Industry Icon Award, Shingo also landed three of his venues in this year's Asia’s Best Bars list, including The SG Club, named Best Bar in Japan. Having launched his own brand, SG Shochu, earlier this year, he’s also set to open his newest venture, SWIRL, in September. Never one to rest on his laurels, this year could be Shingo’s busiest yet.