Apart from its name, I have no idea what this cocktail has to do with Japan. Containing Cognac, orgeat, lime juice and Angostura Bitters, it’s light but slightly cloying; the orgeat lends it a marzipan-y flavour that’s lifted by the lime, and the Cognac, while providing the base note to this perfumed concoction, almost fades into the background. It tastes like the kind of thing you’d drink at a summer wedding instead of having a piece of wedding cake; pleasant, celebratory and enjoyable, but not so good you’d say, “Oh my God get me a dozen more!” before collapsing head first into the bridal party.
According to the drink’s introduction in Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail, which is where I came across this recipe, the Japanese Cocktail was included in the 1862 (ie first) edition of How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivants Companion by the legendary Jerry Thomas, who is widely considered to be the father of American mixology. Also known as The Bar-Tenders Guide, it was the first drinks book published in the United States and one that I (shamefully) still don’t have a copy of. If you have a spare one lying about, feel free to send it my way so I can find out what Thomas had to say about the Japanese Cocktail, which is the first cocktail on record to have a name that doesn’t reflect its ingredients (fair enough – it’d be hard to put a Japanese person in a cocktail) and may have been inspired by the first Japanese mission to the US, made when “Professor” Thomas, as he was known, had a very popular bar in New York City.
2 ounces (60ml) Cognac
1/2 ounce (15ml) orgeat
1/2 ounce (15ml) fresh lime juice
dash of Angostura Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a spiral of lime peel.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
Way easier than eating a piece of marzipan-covered wedding cake. Seriously, who likes that stuff? And why would you eat it when you could have a cocktail instead?
This recipe appears in The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff (Clarkson Potter, 2002), who in turn credits it to Jerry Thomas. That’s one legend to another….and now that I’ve credited it to Dale I’ll pretend it’s one legend to another to another. Cheers.