Cask and Still

Cask and Still

This whisky haven gives Nishi-Kawaguchi a good name


Originally published on on January 2010

Photos by Will Robb

Photos by Will Robb

This week’s bar is in Saitama. Still reading? Good, because it’s a bar worth leaving the city for.

My photographer, a drink-friendly Scot who knows a fair bit about whisky, emailed me: “Went to a little place last night called the Cask and Still which had a really nice selection of whisky’s [sic], 400 different malts which you don’t find many places… They also had Yona Yona ale on draft, the best pint I have had in Japan. The place is pretty small, just on the Tokyo/Saitama border in Nishi-Kawaguchi (Saitama’s soapland).”

That’s a little harsh. Nishi-Kawaguchi has spent the last three years tackling its reputation for harlotry: it closed many of its sex parlors and asked artists to paint murals on the shutters. It’s still not a central plank of Japan’s tourism strategy, but better bleak than seamy. At least you can take your mum there now.

Especially if she’s a drinker. Cask and Still is a special bar. It’s got those 400 whiskies, the Yona Yona draft (¥950), and Guinness (¥950) and Sapporo’s Edelpils (¥900) on tap too. It stocks a connoisseur’s collection of rums and even an artisan cachaca. Name your drink, and you’ll find the best of it in this Saitama basement.

I went for the whiskies and asked for the Octomore (¥2,850). Owner Masahito Kawamoto suggested instead a Port Charlotte PC8 (¥1,850) from the same Bruichladdich distillery. I tried each of them, and he was right. They both wallop you with peat, but the PC8 tastes surprisingly mature for its eight years, while the Octomore is peppery, green and wants to go back in the cask.

It’s a special bartender who can listen to your order and then tell you what you really want—and be right. I put myself in Kawamoto’s hands and discovered his passion for Glen Grant, and mine for Ichiro’s Malt. He indulged my obsession with drinking booze that was made the same year I was. And then I noticed that nobody else in the bar was drinking whisky.

Photos by Will Robb

Photos by Will Robb

“What’s your most popular drink?” I asked.

“Probably Guinness,” said Kawamoto.

“Isn’t that disheartening with a bar full of whisky?”

“Not at all,” he fibbed. He does have whisky-loving customers, he says, and each May he closes his bar to take them on a tour of a distillery.

On my second visit to Cask and Still, I went with the Scotsman. We tried more Glen Grants—a 5-year-old bottled in the mid-’80s (¥1,800) and a 21-year-old bottled around 1990 (¥2,100). The older version was a robust sherry-rich dram.

“Raisins and burnt tires,” I wrote. “Reminds me ay mah Auntie’s Christmas cake,” said the snapper. I pointed out that the younger one had a nose of unmistakable marzipan, and so was clearly the more Christmas cakey of the two. “Obviously yiv nae hud Scottish Christmas cake,” he said.

I’ve nae hud most Scottish food, quite deliberately, and nor was I tempted by the bar’s home-made haggis (¥1,300) or Jura deer burgers (¥1,300). I went to Saitama for the single malts, and so should you.