The Japanese Cocktail + home-made orgeat.

Japanese Cocktail; new style.

The Japanese Cocktail.

Appearing in the first ever cocktail book – Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide (sic) of 1862 (#113, page 51) – the Japanese Cocktail is a curious drink. Although this hallowed tome contains almost 500 recipes only a handful are cocktails as such and the Japanese Cocktail is one of those few. As was usual in early books the author tells us nothing more than the recipe but cocktail historian David Wondrich has a theory that goes something like this: Shortly before the publication of Bartenders Guide Japan opened up its previously insular culture and sent some diplomats to New York. It happened that they stayed quite close to Jerry’s bar (and Jerry T. was something of a superstar in those days). While the diplomats were presumably the usual stuffy crusty old types their much younger translator was a certain Tateishi Onojirou Noriyuki who was better known as “Tommy” (well, duh!) and was apparently quite popular with the New York ladies. Wondrich hypothesizes that Tommy was a regular at Jerry’s bar and that the Japanese Cocktail was either made for him or in honour of him. So far, so good. We like an ancient cocktail with a good back-story. We also like a nicely balanced cocktail which the Japanese certainly is not:

As printed in Bartenders Guide 1862 (copyright expired).

So unless Bogart’s long-extinct bitters were the most bitter substance ever created or 19th century orgeat was much less sweet than today we are left with a seriously unbalanced cocktail. Bummer. However, I’ve recently noticed a (new?) trend of rehabilitating the Japanese Cocktail by adding a little lime juice to turn it into a more balanced sour style drink and serving it “up”. Count me in. To make it even more specialer use some delicious home-made orgeat, the recipe for which follows thereafter. Those interested in perusing old cocktail books should note that the 19th century “wine glass” used to measure spirits was quite small – around 2oz / 60ml.

Japanese Cocktail.

2oz / 60ml Cognac (VS is fine, VSOP if you want to be a bit flash).

0.5oz / 15ml orgeat (preferably home-made as detailed below).

0.5oz / 15ml fresh lime juice.

2-4 dashes of aromatic bitters.

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Garnish with lemon peel.

Toast Tommy and Jerry.

Home-made orgeat.

Turn this…

Orgeat is an almond flavoured syrup. Depending on where you live, you should be able to buy orgeat – Monin brand is decent and widely available – but it’s much tastier to make your own. There are many recipes online that involve using whole almonds and while I’m sure they are great they are also quite labour intensive. The method below is simple, tasty and pretty stable – if made correctly. The trick is to use almond milk instead of whole almonds but you need to be sure to use the best you can find; certainly unsweetened and preferably organic. If you still have a choice go for the one with the highest percentage of almonds in the ingredients list. The recipe is simple but don’t be tempted to skip the blending stage or your syrup will separate, which is annoying. That apart the orgeat seems to keep extremely well in the fridge.

…into this.


300ml almond milk (see above).

400g fine white sugar.

Warm (not boil) together in a clean pan and stir until smooth.


1 tsp / 5ml almond extract.

1 tsp / 5ml orange flower/blossom water.

Allow to cool then blend at high speed for at least 30 seconds.

Store in sterilised bottle.

Note: I’ve cut the amount of almond extract and orange flower water from an earlier version as I found it a bit too intense.



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