Naka, a Gin & Tonic Deconstruction and Charcoal Cocktails

We’re kicking off Season 4 of “Across the Bar” at Seattle’s Naka Kaiseki. an eatery that highlights Japanese cuisine and handcrafted cocktails that compliment and balance these unique flavors.

We’re joined by Nik Virrey, bartender at Naka, who originally got into the business through coffee.

“Coffee’s my starting point to kind of facilitate me going through college,” says Virrey. “And I’m like an undercover geek, so intensity on a given subject…always sparks my brain.”

As Virrey started observing that bartenders were treating their bottles like he had treated coffee, a connection was made. “Once I kind of peeked into that door, there was no looking back.”

In this episode, Virrey prepares three drinks for us. 

Paul Barron and Nik Virrey

Paul Barron and Nik Virrey

The Gospel at Naka

The Gospel at Naka

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Cocktail #1: Rivers Cross

The first is called Rivers Cross, which features three spirits as its base. To better understand the components of the cocktail, Virrey breaks them down through three separate spirit samplers that are meant to be sipped — the first, Forgotten Fortune Junmai Sake, the second, Suerte Tequila, and the third, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal.“I think it’s fun to see the parts before you drink the whole,” says Virrey of this approach. To complete the drink, orange bitters are also needed.

In the cocktail’s development stage, Virrey decided on these three spirits from a philosophical standpoint. It showcases where Virrey and chef/owner Shota Nakajima are coming from “and the unity of what Naka became over the times and the influence of our conversations,” he says. The drink was inspired by flavors that play off of one another when combined but are completely different — in flavor profile — when separate.

Cocktail #2: GiNakaTonic #2

A play on words and on a classic, the GiNakaTonic #2 is made up of Copperworks Gin, Bradley’s Kina Tonic, allspice liqueur, apple cider vinegar, and garnished with a lime wheel. But the cocktail’s construct isn’t your typical gin and tonic format. “It’s very tart, so it’s got a great mouthfeel to it,” says host Paul Barron.

“I think it’s fun to look beyond [the familiar],” says Virrey. “My inspiration was Andrew Bohrer, who’s a good friend of Seattle and the bartending community.” Throughout the past six months, Bohrer has been exploring what a gin and tonic is. Creating different textures, like the one found in Naka’s version, is “just fun,” Virrey says.

Cocktail #3: The Gospel

Not unlike the other two innovations, The Gospel — Naka’s top selling cocktail on the menu — features components not seen before on the show. The first thing one notices about this cocktail is its unique color, a dark, inky purple created by the mixture of charcoal and water.

The Gospel is made up of Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Ancho Reyes, ginger syrup, lemon juice, Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture, egg white, and activated charcoal. By pre-batching the entire beverage, and then adding in the mezcal, the “aggressive” ingredient list becomes more temperate. “It’s still very clean, calm, it tastes like that liquid metal — in a good way,” says the bartender. Virrey says hints of berry come out like crazy in this drink. “The fun part of charcoal is that it’s not an additional ingredient; it’s a restrictive quality,” he says.

Watch the full episode above to learn more about Virrey’s creative process and how he brings these three unique cocktails to life.