The Japanese


A rather old cocktail, the Japanese Cocktail has little to do with Japan, and what determination it does have some connection with Japan and the Japanese is speculative.

As Michael Jackson states: “a more Japanese drink would be an Alexander made with Suntory whiskey and green tea liqueur” (Jackson 185).  The Japanese cocktail has little to do with Japan; it has no “Japanese” ingredients, history or origin.  In terms of origin, Embury presumes that it was during the First World War that someone “aptly” (I fail to see how this should be called “Japanese”) named this beverage the Japanese cocktail (Embury 180).  However, as Wondrich points out, the drink is even older than that, and was a cocktail created by Jerry Thomas himself; Wondrich postulates that the origin is related to Tateishi Onojirou Noriyuki’s visit to the United States in 1860 (Wondrich 212).  Noriyuki was part of the Japanese’ first delegation to the United States, and they finished their tour in New York where he would not be far from the bar of Jerry Thomas (Ibid). 

Appearing as early as the mid to late 19th century, the Japanese cocktail can be found in Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide (Thomas 23).  The recipe is almost unchanged from what is used now a days in the drink, although some modern recipes call for the addition of lemon or lime juice in the cocktail, and not just the use of lemon peel as an aromatic effect (Jackson 185).  However, the drink calls for the use of an antiquated ingredient: Boker’s bitters.  These bitters have not been produced for quite some time, and so substitutions of an aromatic bitter or Angostura bitter are appropriate for this drink; however, recently Boker’s bitters have been recreated and put back on the market, so it is no longer an impossibility in recreating the cocktail.  Personally, the cocktail feels unbalanced when compared to using something like Bitter Truth’s Aromatic Bitters.

Seemingly a stirred drink, overtime the cocktail has gone from being created in a tumbler, to a beverage that is strained into a cocktail glass, and lastly to a shaken cocktail (Ibid 213).  If you were being proper about this drink, the middle incarnation is perhaps the most appropriate set of techniques to apply: stirred and strained into a cocktail glass.  The practice of shaking the cocktail probably is rooted in two things: a movement and general trend towards shaking drinks, and also Michael Jackson’s work.  Jackson is perhaps the only authority who writes about the inclusion of the lime juice, and also talks about shaking the drink using cracked ice (Jackson 185).  However, the act of shaking is logical if there is the inclusion of lime juice, since it will be opaque thanks to the inclusion of the juice (and to a lesser extent the orgeat).

Concerning the inclusion of lime juice; personally, while not historically correct, it adds a bit more sharpness to the drink and complexity.  The lime juice pairs rather well with Cognac (which I chose to use in this cocktail rather than any generic brandy) when the orgeat is present which acts as a mediator, balancing the vanilla and wood notes of the Cognac with almond flavors which go along well with the citrus of the lime.  Furthermore, orgeat and lime juice is exceedingly popular in rum drinks such as the Mai Tai. I would try the drink with and without the lime juice, seeing which is more preferential to your taste buds; if you were to order the Japanese cocktail in a bar, most likely if they are following the historical method, let alone know what the drink is, they would make it without the lime juice. 

Orgeat, which I talked about when discussing the Mai Tai, is a syrup made from almonds that are macerated in water, and extracting the oils from these ground up almonds.  This is essentially “almond milk” that is then mixed with sugar to produce a thick syrup. You can purchase these syrups commercially, but historically orgeat was made as a sweetener that would not necessarily go bad, from almond milk which would last longer than normal milk for people to which cow’s milk was not readily available in cities; almond milk is a way to have an oil water emulsion that cold be used to flavor recipes and baked goods when such ingredients were not available or fresh (O’Neil).  Just so you are aware, traditionally this emulsion was created using barley rather than almonds due to availability and cost effectiveness (Ibid).

 The Japanese:

2 ounces brandy
1/4 – 1/2 ounce orgeat
1 tbsp lime juice (optional)
1 – 3 dash(es) aromatic bitters

Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice; stir until diluted and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist.


Embury, David A.  2009.  The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.  Originally published 1948.  New York: Mud Puddle Books, Inc.

Jackson, Michael.  1995.  Michael Jackson’s Bar and Cocktail Companion: The Connoisseur’s Handbook.  Originally published 1979.  Philadelphia: Running Press.

O’Neil, Darcy.  2006.  “Orgeat Syrup.”  Art of Drink.  Originally published February 12, 2006. (accessed Sept 10, 2010).

Thomas, Jerry.  1887.  Bartender’s Guide.  Reprint of original.  New York: Dick and Fitzgerald.
Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.
–.  Esquire Magazine.  “Japanese Cocktail.” (accessed September 12, 2010).