Drink of the Week: The Japanese Cocktail

The Japanese Cocktail.Just as there was nothing particularly Hawaiian about the Hawaiian Cocktail a few weeks back, there is nothing particularly Japanese, or even remotely Asian, about the Japanese Cocktail. There is, however, at least a connection with an actual Japanese person…maybe.

The drink, sometimes just called “Japanese,” can be found in Robert Hess’s “The Essential Bartender’s Guide,” but its roots go back a great deal further than Hess’s outstanding 2008 tome. According to cocktail super historian David Wondrich, the Japanese Cocktail was possibly associated with one Tateishi Onojirou “Tommy” Noriyuki, a dashing translator for the first ever Japanese embassy in the U.S., circa 1860. While the connection seems somewhat tenuous, Wondrich supposes that the Japanese Cocktail, which appears in Professor Jerry Thomas’s epochal 1862 manual,”How to Mix Drinks,” might have been a favorite of Mr. Noriyuki, who may very well have visited Professor Thomas’s New York bar. Or not.

In any case, it’s a pretty tasty drink, but you’d better like the very sweet, almond-derived flavor of orgeat.

The Japanese Cocktail

2 ounces brandy
1/2 ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lemon twist (highly recommended garnish).

Combined the brandy, orgeat (Torani or Monin would be standard) and bitters in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir or shake and strain into a mixing glass. Add the lemon twist and toast, I don’t know, the vastly improved state of Japanese-American relations since a certain well-known mid-20th century low point.


I really like the Japanese Cocktail, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a bit on the sweet side. I would therefore strongly counsel you to never forget the bitters or the lemon twist garnish, as both help prevent the drink from slipping into sickly sweet oblivion.

I will say I had the best results using Reynal, my ever so reliable value-priced default brandy (It’s not Cognac, because it’s grapes aren’t harvested from the Cognac region, however, it’s offices are in Cognac, France. So there’s that.) Using the possibly even less expensive Paul Masson VSOP, which is a bit sweeter, was ever so slightly less appealing. For some reason, excess sweetness was even more of an issue when I shook the drink than when I stirred it, resulting in my worst attempt at the not-so-Japanese Japanese cocktail. Take that, Ian Fleming.