Orgeat in 8 … the Japanese Cocktail

by KeithP on April 10, 2010

Already we are only two drinks into this fun little experiment and what a difference a day makes in terms of how these two classics use the orgeat – in the Mai Tai as more an enhancer and in last night’s victim the Japanese Cocktail as a front and center player.

No matter how complicated modern mixologists take their creations the Japanese cocktail is a throw back to an era of simplicity.  It is a drink of only three ingredients, brandy, orgeat and bitters served in proper proportions.   As always I can turn to the work of more experienced imbibers for the historical references such as Paul’s write up and the always useful Esquire Magazine drinks database.

So why this drink?  Well, because it is different then the first and in an important geeky sort of mixology type of way.  Whereas the Mai Tai is a complex mixed drink composed of several different important ingredients, blended in proper proportions to create a subtly complex flavor profile the Japanese is its contra – complex not because it is complex by multiple ingredients but complex in its simplicity.  This drink also highlights how you shouldn’t judge a drink by the first sip, but let it evolve.

The Japanese Cocktail
Recipe adapted from Imbibe Magazine online (itself adapted from Jerry Thomas’s Bar Tenders Guide, 1887)

•    2 oz brandy (E&J VSOP)
•    1/2 oz orgeat (Trader Tiki brand)
•    2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Garnish: lemon twist
Glass: champagne coupe
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, julep strainer and a small kitchen knife for carving the garnish

Assembly: Combine all of the ingredients in the mixing glass with cracked ice and stir well for 30 seconds. Strain into the well chilled serving glass and garnish.

The verdict: Wow, quite different then the Mai Tai.  Whereas the Mai Tai hits you with a refreshing, complex, relaxing sort of blast the Japanese is less emotive of a visual (all right, maybe a clubby sort of feel with a card game occurring nearby).  Almonds and the subtle citrus from the twist hit the nose.  The taste, well this was interesting.  At first I would have to say I wasn’t a hundred percent on board with this drink (not in a bad way, more in that sort of well its ok sort of way).  The almond taste was strong out of the gate and then we had the warming fire of the brandy and as always, the bitters came in at the end.  Well chilled the flavors did not seem to really meld – they stood apart, separate and strong but not unified.  Interesting enough though, as the drink warmed the flavors melded quite nicely and a well balanced drink emerged.  Sweetness yielded to the subtle bitters which yielded to the warming goodness of the brandy and became one flavor profile versus separate distinct tastes.  This drink improved greatly for me later in my tasting and I would like to try this one again but next time maybe chilling it less and subbing in say a nice cognac to offset a little of the sweetness.

theSpeakista’s Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Up next … the Cameron’s Kick cocktail (scotch, a personal favorite … can’t wait to see how this one goes down)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam April 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I like the Japanese cocktail in its original formulation well enough. Though, the variation with lime juice that’s posted on CocktailDB ( is almost miraculous in its awesomeness. I say miraculous, because I wouldn’t have ever thought to pair lime, orgeat and brandy, but there it is and awesome it is. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

And here’s another riff on the Japanese that looks interesting:

KeithP April 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Thanks Sam – I’m some what conflicted on the original formulation of the Japanese so it’s worth giving the lime/cocktail db version a try … interesting how the orgeat is paired back a bit in favor of the lime.

I looked at Chuck’s posting for the riff you note and almost included it in Orgeat in 8, but my deep abiding love of Scotch over took me and i defaulted to two Scotch based drinks – given you raised it here and I considered it originally I think it is worth doing as a post-Orgeat in 8 follow up.

Thanks again!

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