Japanese Whiskey Cocktails on shelf

Revitalize 5 Classic Cocktails with Japanese Spirits

Japan has a long history with the delicate art of distilling. For centuries they have moulded liquid into refined pieces of art. As a result, it’s been long embedded into the country’s cultural fabric. But despite this, it’s only recently that the rest of the world has turned its attention to Japan’s eclectic array of unique spirits and flavours.

Shochu, sake and umeshu have begun to inspire bartenders globally into shaking up tradition that’s paving the way for new and imaginative forms of mixology. 

Francesco Braun, a London-based brand consultant for BBC Spirits and master bartender, well-versed in Japanese spirits, helps us take on the challenge of making classic cocktails with an Eastern twist:

“I was introduced to the likes of Sake, Shochu and Awamori a few years back and I started using them in classic cocktails, to help understand them better and what they can offer to bartenders.  If they work, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be used in a wide range of cocktails!”

Below find a collection of Francesco-recommended cocktails.

1. Japanese Adonis 

japanese cocktails

  • 30ml Umeshu
  • 30ml Junmai Daiginjo sake
  • 2 drops umami bitters

First up on our list of Japanese remixes is the Japanese Adonis. 

A twist on the classic Adonis, the Japanese version enhances the dry, bittersweet flavours present in the original recipe, normally achieved with equal parts of sherry, dry vermouth and Angostura bitters. Substituting the sherry for Junmai Daiginjo Sake, we can create the same dry texture while keeping the subtle umami notes also found in Oloroso sherry. 

Or, we can easily swap out the vermouth for the Umeshu given their similar aromatic bodies. I recommend choosing a whiskey-based Umeshu, like Matsui Umeshu, or one with a robust body. Your best bet would be to go niche, in this case. Commercial Umeshus are often either too sweet or too sour, and low in any aromatic qualities. 

Helping to bond both these spirits together, I chose to add some umami bitters. It rounds off the cocktail nicely. 

Also interesting: our Drinks World Whiskey Cocktail Collection and Bourbon Cocktail Collection.

2. Awaitini 

japanese cocktails

  • 50ml Awamori
  • 10ml Junmai sake 

The Martini is one of the most iconic classic cocktails out there, and the simple nature of the Martini means it can be adapted easily. 

Remaking the Martini requires a powerful spirit that’s enjoyed neat, or at least with a little drop of water. This is where the awamori comes in. It’s a delicately balanced spirit with earthy notes of black koji and hidden hints of rice, making it perfect for a Martini. By diluting it slightly with the sake, the drinker is able to discover all of the beautiful flavours of the awamori, alongside the drink itself. 

Choosing a Junmai Sake over other types means you’ll be adding more body to the Awaitini. Alongside this, you’ll add some creaminess and umami into the recipe’s flavour, perfect when paired with the awamori.

3. Chuhai

japanese cocktails

  • 50ml Imo shochu
  • top jasmine soda

Say ‘sayonara’ to the Gin and Tonic: If you’re looking for your new favourite ‘spirit and mixer’ recipe, then look no further than the Chuhai.

Plus, if you’re a fan of shochu, it’s the perfect way to serve the iconic spirit. Imo shochu is made from sweet potato and holds a very strong, distinctive flavour. This is mostly due to the black koji used in them, so they need a strong character to accompany them in a cocktail. 

For this, I decided on using jasmine, more specifically a jasmine soda. The floral elements work really well with the strong shochu notes. To make the jasmine soda, I added 5g of jasmine tea pearls to 1L of water and left it to cold infuse for 40 minutes. You can adjust the measures based on your preferences, of course. 

4. Japanese Daiquiri

japanese cocktails

  • 50ml Kokuto shochu
  • 20ml shikuwasa (or lime) 
  • 15ml Kokuto sugar

Rum is a fantastic addition to any cocktail and no more so than in the Daiquiri, as every bartender knows. And, when it comes to kokuto shochu, it’s no different. 

Kokuto shochu is distilled from sugar, so has similar notes to a molasses-based rum. In fact, compare it to the Caribbean version and you’ll discover it’s almost identical – just with less booze. The rice and koji flavours only serve to enhance the spirit, giving it a unique twist.  Add in some kokuto sugar and a squeeze of shikuwasa to complete this delightful Japanese-style Daiquiri. 

Best consumed on one of the exotic sub-tropical beaches of Ryukyu—the birthplace of Kokuto Shochu. 

5. Umeshu Sour

japanese cocktails

  • 50ml umeshu
  • 20ml yuzu juice 
  • 15ml kokuto sugar
  • Egg white

Lastly, we have a twist on a Sour. 

The key to a Sour (whether it’s with whiskey or amaretto), is the citrus element. Unsurprisingly, this is where the sourness comes from. To achieve this, I used yuzu juice—a quintessential, aromatic Japanese fruit. 

But, the spirit is just as important—and needs to be full-bodied to contrast well with the other flavours in the Sour. With this in mind, an Umeshu is a perfect accomplice. As for the sugar, the unrefined, earthy kokuto variety works extremely well. Paired alongside the yuzu and Umeshu it perfectly balances this Japanese twist on the Sour,

Check also: Japanese Whiskey Cocktails.

So, if you’re looking to elevate your mixology and explore new flavours, consider diving into the diverse world of Japanese spirits. 

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