Kamiya Bar, which located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, is the oldest western-style bar in the city. The inside is like a cafeteria, with simple tables, minimal decor and excessively bright lighting. The logo slapped on the door looks like it was selected from a catalog of stock logos designed for business students. There are no initials carved into tables; there are no red lanterns hung from the ceiling; everything seems sterile and devoid of character. It’s out of place. But make no mistake, Kamiya Bar is something special, a Japanese drinking institution since 1880. The reason? Denki Bran.
Created in 1882 by the bar’s founder, Denbee Kamiya, Denki Bran (“Electric Brandy”) is a brandy-based cocktail served in a shot glass that looks like a sawed-off trumpet’s bell. The drink—which can be consumed straight or as part of a larger cocktail—drove writers and creative types like Osamu Dazai and Sakutaro Hagiwara to take up residence at Kamiya Bar (or, “Mikahaya Saloon,” as it was originally known). The bar found its way into many books and films for this reason, and it helped the drink take on a mythical status.
Denki Bran became popular for its unique taste, which, while certainly brandy-forward, is noticeably different from the aforementioned cordial on account of the variety of ingredients used in its creation—gin, assorted herbs and other components. The recipe still remains a secret.
Today, you can stop by Kamiya Bar for one of two Denki Brans—a 30% ABV version or a 40% one. You can also snag a bottle to take home if the sprawling cafeteria is too packed. Best of all, drinking Denki Bran at Kamiya Bar is crazy easy on the wallet, as the legendary liquor only runs about $2 a pour.
So what exactly does Denki Bran taste like? Well, it’s definitely similar to brandy, and it’s very sweet. It smells slightly herbaceous, flowery even, with some berry notes. The consistency is like watered-down cough syrup, but the burn after you swallow isn’t nearly as rough as other liquors. Like Jägermeister, Denki Bran has a lot going on, but it’s not quite as brash as the German digestif. Overall, it’s far better than the price tag would suggest. If we had it here, and we were trying to save a few bucks, we’d gladly purchase a bottle.