I Think I’m Turning Japanese

21st Century Tinkering with a 19th Century Cocktail

A month or so ago I attended the press opening of Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco. Jennifer Colliau (among other SF bartending luminaries) was behind the bar and I asked her to make something for me using her artisanal orgeat syrup. (Nothing on the drink list that night used it.) There was a pause and then a flurry of mixing behind the bar. Less than a minute later Jennifer placed a small drink in front of me and introduced me to my first Japanese Cocktail.

The Japanese Cocktail was created by Jerry Thomas and the recipe is one of the ten cocktails* in his 1862 Bartender’s Guide. The recipe is pretty simple:

Japanese Cocktail

2 oz. brandy
1/2 oz. orgeat
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

(*) – The guide contains many more than ten recipes, but only ten are proper cocktails, the remainder being punches, juleps, smashes, and cobblers.

The suggestion, made by Jerry Thomas himself as a note following the recipe, is that the drink had been created in honor of a (then) recent visit by a Japanese diplomatic delegation to New York. No more than this is know about the drink’s inspiration.

In the days that followed my visit to Heaven’s Dog I made a number of Japanese Cocktails at home, using the orgeat I had made just a couple of weeks prior (my first attempt, passable but not yet over the top). And then I decided to start tinkering.

I tried both bourbon and rye in place of the brandy and found both to be quite acceptable alternatives to the brandy. I also started upping the amount of bitters I was using, choosing to add 2 – 4 heathy dashed after the drink had been built and chilled. (My memory is that Jennifer put a pretty serious dollop of bitters in the one she served me.)

Then I decided to see what adding a bit of triple sec would do. I think almond and orange is a great combination so it seemed like it should work in this drink as well.

Japanese Cocktail #2

2 oz. Rye or Bourbon
1/2 oz. orgeat
1/2 oz. triple sec

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. 2 – 4 dashes of bitters on top. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Not quite what was I was after. By adding in the triple sec (I tried both Cointreau and Luxardo Triplum), I was also increasing the sugar. So the drink, already kind of sweet from the orgeat, became a bit too sugary for my palate. Something acid was called for so I started experimenting with citrus.

First I tried adding 1/2 oz. of fresh squeezed orange juice. The orange flavor deepened but the drink was still too sweet overall. So I figured that I’d let the triple sec carry the orange note by itself and I’d add lemon juice to tart things up. That got the drink’s sweet/sour balance right where I wanted it. Yes! One more detail remained: the garnish!

Fortunately, this was something of a no brainer: an orange peel, flamed and then left in the drink added a teensy bit of burnt caramel and looked lovely floating in the glass afterward.

My new cocktail in hand, I started musing on a name, something more original than “Japanese Cocktail #2” and then it came to me and it was perfect:

I Think I’m Turning Japanese

2 oz. Rye or Bourbon
1/2 oz. orgeat
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. lemon juice

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.
2 – 4 dashes of bitters on top.
Orange peel garnish, flamed and then left to float in the drink.


I Think I'm Turning Japanese Cocktail

P.S. In the days since I wrote the original post two thoughts worth sharing, I think, crossed my mind:

1- This drink does make me think of a Sidecar (brandy, lemon, triple sec), though with more spirit, the addition of the orgeat and without the sugared rim.

2- It might be interesting to try shaking one of these up with an egg white!


One Response to “I Think I’m Turning Japanese”

  1. Vert Nice cocktail !

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