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Soran Nomura
Soran Nomura

2021.07.28

Soran Nomura

Producer, -Ao-

Layers of flavor like coatings of color
Cocktails born out of space

#Ao , #Ao , #K5 , #Color
After working as a bartender in London for seven years, Soran returned to Japan, accumulating many accolades during his time at FUGLEN TOKYO. In 2020, alongside Kai Tanaka, he established Library Bar ‘Ao’ in K5, Kabutocho. Having jumped out from behind the bar, he begins a new career as a producer, so how does he see the industry, and what role does he play?

●What kind of childhood did you have?
I was born in Shiinamachi, Tokyo, the youngest of three brothers, and the age difference between us is quite large. My parents had a rule of allowing me to learn as many things as I wanted, so I did karate, boy scouts, and even joined a choir.

●A choir? That’s unexpected!
My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a radio presenter and so I learned a lot of music and took piano lessons, but in the end, it wasn’t really for me. As for the choir, my brothers were all in a choir, so I just joined.

●Did you ever think of getting into the music industry?
My father was an art student, so I always wanted to do painting, and go to art school. I did some drawing, but I soon discovered that I liked spatial design, so I wanted to go into that.

●Why did you become interested in spatial design?
I was involved in a play at my high school’s festival and I really enjoyed sculpting the stage and deciding where to put things. I also learned to make pottery when I was little, so I’ve always liked the process of making things with my hands. But in the end, I couldn’t get into an art college. So instead, I decided to go abroad. I saved up some money and moved to London when I was 21.

●Why London?
It was at a time when a lot of people I knew were moving to London. Whether I liked London or not, I had contacts there, so I thought I’d try going abroad first. But when I went there, I felt like there’s no better city than London! So I stayed there for seven years.

●London was perfect for you!
Yes, it was too much fun. It was my first time abroad and I think it was love at first sight. The atmosphere was completely different from Japan. London is a place with few earthquakes, so there are still many cobblestone roads and historic buildings, and lots of greenery. It was full of things that Tokyo didn’t have. I went to London around 2005, just before the London Olympics and before it became a tourist destination. It was also a time when the whole city was revitalized and had an air of excitement.

●What did you do in London?
I was there on a student visa, so I would go to school, and then afterward I would go to the pub to have a drink. I used to go out for drinks quite a bit, but the pound was so strong and my bank account was slowly dwindling, so I began working in a bar. I could have worked anywhere, but since I was in London, I wanted to find a place where I could use my English. I ended up working in a lounge bar, or something between a club and a bar, with a DJ and lots of fun things happening on the weekends.

I began thinking about my philosophy, or logic, of layering flavors, like painting colors.

●Were you mixing drinks there?
There was a test that you had to take to be able to make cocktails, and gradually I was allowed to make them. Then I started going to bars all the time and not really attending school. In the bar, the way you use English is completely different from how it’s taught in school, and it didn’t matter if my grammar or pronunciation were correct or not. I was able to listen to people in the way they naturally spoke, and slowly my English got better and better and I was able to answer them. I enjoyed the experience. There was no other Japanese staff at the time, only a few Brits, Italians, and Brazilians, and we all had a similar level of English, so we were able to help each other and improve together.

●Did you work in the bar for a long time?
I worked in three or four bars in total, but for the last two years, I worked in a restaurant/bar called Hawksmoor, which is still quite popular today. The interesting thing about Hawksmoor is that it’s a group of bars and restaurants all under the same name, but in different locations, with different head bartenders and different managers, each with their own distinct atmosphere and personality. It’s like an organization of bars, and it’s good to have a horizontal connection between bartenders.

●When you started mixing drinks, did you immediately think that this was the way forward for you?
At first, I was just doing it for fun, but then I started to see the fun in it and I started to think that this was my path. Seeing the reaction of the customers changed the way I saw cocktails and I started to realize the value that cocktails have.

●How did you discover the complexity of cocktails?
I used to serve cocktail garnishes, mint and lemon slices, on top of the drink, in a very cool way, and the customers loved it. That’s when I started to think about how to create space and where to put things. I also thought it would be fun to think about colors and color schemes. I began thinking about my philosophy, or logic, of layering flavors, like painting colors. Just like when you mix colors you get different colors, when you mix flavors you get different flavors. That’s how I interpreted cocktails and that’s the moment when I knew I could do it as a job.

The cocktail of where to put what is also a space production.

●Perhaps the cocktails were the realization of the spatial design you had envisioned as a student.
That’s right when I realized that, I was able to expand my horizons. Now I actively try to go out to eat at various places. I’m inspired by interesting flavors, layers of flavors, and balance.

●I’m sure there are many more episodes you can’t tell us about living in London, but what did you do after your seven years there?
Yes, I learned a lot about the bad sides of drinking! I felt weird to go directly back to Japan from London, so I saved up some money and traveled around South America for around a month, exploring Chile and Colombia. I knew Shingo Gokan (*1) from The SG Club, so I asked him if there was any work in New York, and he said yes. I worked in a bar for a while, but I could speak English and I had bartending skills, so I felt confident enough to be able to work anywhere!

※1 Shingo Gokan
After working as a bartender in the United States and winning the BACARDI Legacy Cocktail Competition World Championship in 2012, he opened The SG Club in Shibuya in 2018.

●You seem like the type that could live anywhere!
I think so too! I met a lot of bartenders in New York and learned about the latest cocktails and trends, it was interesting to see the differences between London. I spent about two months in New York, saved up some money, and returned to Japan.

●What did you do upon returning to Japan?
I worked as a bar manager at FUGLEN TOKYO (*2), which was still in its second year or so and was still focusing on coffee and not so much on cocktails. We had a Norwegian head bartender who came from abroad to direct the bar, and I started to build up the cocktail menu. It was refreshing to work with a head bartender who was looking for ingredients that would give a sense of the four seasons in Japan.

※2 FUGLEN TOKYO
The first overseas branch of the popular Norwegian café opened in 2012 in Tomigaya.

●Is there a difference between international and Japanese cocktails?
I think Japanese cocktails are very delicate. In other countries, they are too big, too acidic with lime and lemon, or too sweet. If you make a cocktail, even as an experienced head bartender, it can be too sour for the Japanese palette, so you have to adjust it. I myself had to adapt my skills to adjust for the delicacy of the Japanese palette.

●You won many awards at FUGLEN TOKYO, what made you quit?
When I came back from abroad, I was getting a lot of offers from people around me, so I started to think that I didn’t have to stick to one place. I was asked to be an ambassador for the Kyrö Distillery Company, a Finnish rye-based gin. I thought it would be interesting to do something I wanted to do based on the Kyrö Distillery Company, so I started my own consulting company, ABV+.

●What kind of consulting do you do?
Mainly I focus on drink and bar development. The ABV of ABV+ stands for Alcohol By Volume, which means we want to express things with alcohol, whether it’s cultural or innovation-based, like new products for example.

●You have also held events at Kabi nikai.
I was asked to do something upstairs as it was empty, so I rented it out and ran a bar. Around the beginning of 2018, we had a bar event about once or twice a month.

●How did you start -Ao-?
I was approached by Media Surf Communications and that’s how it all started. This space the bar is in now was originally going to be a sushi bar, and the bar was going to be a speakeasy in the basement, so there were a lot of twists and turns from the beginning. In the end, we decided to have the bar on the ground floor, and I asked Kai Tanaka, who was working with me on the start-up of GYRE, to help me. He said yes, so we decided to go ahead with it.

●Did you have a concept in mind from the beginning?
There was a lot going on, so we didn’t actually start work until the very last minute. But when I saw the space, I thought it would be interesting to have books and tea, so I started exploring further. I thought about Kabutocho and Shibusawa Eiichi’s name came up. I decided to take a walk around the buildings owned by the Shibusawa Zaibatsu, and so I went to see the Seien Bunko Library Bankoro Cottage in Asukayama Park, which gave me inspiration for the concept.

There are things you can do as a bartender even if from outside the counter. I would like to communicate this new way of working.

●I’m sure the bar industry has had a lot of difficulties due to COVID.
I think the bar industry as a whole is having a hard time because a lot of bars are closed. But on the other hand, I’ve shifted to producing products. Recently, I’ve been selling bottled cocktails based on gin produced by distilleries in Okinawa, and I think there is a need for that. We also sell cocktail kits with a liquor importer, and we’re getting more orders for those. I’ve been working beyond the counter for quite a while now, but one of the things about working in the middle of COVID restrictions is that there are things you can do as a bartender from outside the counter. It’s something that everyone can do, and I’m sure there are many people who are better than me, but they don’t have the chance or they don’t know how to do it. I think it would be great if we could introduce different ways of working as bartenders.

●You are a bartender pioneer. Do you have any plans for the future?
I’d like to do consultancy, but I’m also thinking of setting up my own place. I’m thinking of a liquor store and bar. A liquor store with a personal selection by bartenders. I’d like to do an e-commerce site with a selection of alcoholic beverages that I’d like to sell but can’t, or that can only be found locally. We could do delivery and subscriptions for people in the neighborhood. In the bar next door, you can drink cocktails made from liquor sold in the liquor store, and if you like it, you can buy it to take home. The bar can also be used as a test kitchen and tasting room for producing products. I’d like to shift a bit more to the production side.

●How do you keep your mind fresh?
I go to a sauna about once a week. I often go to Marushin Spa in Sasazuka, but when it gets crowded, I’ll go to Aqua in Higashi Nakano. I used to go to Kairyou-yu in Shibuya as it used to be my local sauna. I also like outdoor saunas and have been to Lake Nojiri. Around Kabutocho, I go to Minato-yu and sometimes I invite Mr. Yamashita, the director of K5, to join me in the sauna. I also play basketball, which I used to play at school and still do as a hobby, and I’ve been talking to Mr. Oka from K5 about playing basketball together, but it hasn’t happened yet (laughs).

●What would you like to do in the future in Kabutocho?
When I first came to Kabutocho, there was nothing here and I thought, ‘what is this place and why am I here?’. But now that Kabutocho has become a town where interesting things gather, I want to hold some events here. It would be nice to have a small festival in the K5 car park, for example, with a car that can serve drinks.

Soran Nomura

Soran Nomura

Born in Tokyo in 1984, he moved to England at the age of 21 and worked as a bartender in London for almost seven years. After returning to Japan, he worked as a bartender at FUGLEN TOKYO before setting up his own consulting company, ABV+, in 2017, and producing the bar ‘Ao’ in K5, Kabutocho, which opened its doors in 2020.

Text : Momoko Suzuki

Photo : Naoto Date

Interview : Momoko Suzuki


Soran Nomura

Producer, -Ao-

The clerk that always sits at the lottery counter at Mizuho Bank

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The clerk that always sits at the lottery counter at Mizuho Bank. With the opening of EASE right in front of us, and continuing to be located in the middle of an area that is undergoing a revitalization, I think she sees the changes in the landscape the most.