The Not-Japanese Cocktail

This recipe appears in America’s very first cocktail book, Jerry Thomas’ “How to Mix Drinks.” But it’s not even a little bit Japanese.


To explain why the Japanese cocktail has nothing Japanese about it, drinks historian David Wondrich tells the story in his book Imbibe.

Short version: In 1860 the first Japanese diplomatic delegation to visit the U.S. was in New York, lodged not far from Jerry Thomas’ bar on Broadway. Thomas, America’s first celebrity barkeep and author of How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862), may have served this drink to the delegates. Like most ancient cocktail history [Wondrich will be the first to admit], the story is built on rickety inference and hopeful attempts to associate long-disconnected dots.

Anyhow, the Japanese Cocktail is one of a few drinks in that seminal text that’s easy to make from contemporary ingredients.

The Japanese Cocktail 

  • 2 oz brandy
    • I used Martell VSOP Cognac
  • .5 oz orgeat
    • Fee Bros.
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

It’s a smooth, drinkable imbibation, with a distinctive nutty sweetness. Circling the rim with the lemon garnish adds complexity. And hey, you’re drinking history.


  • Orgeat [pronunced or-ZHAT, hard to say without sounding like a twit] is a syrup made from almonds. It has a powerful nose of old-school bakery.
  • I ordered Fee Bros. orgeat from Amazon. Fee’s version uses corn sweeteners, as many of their “authentic” cocktail products do. [Yo, Bros., what’s up with that?] Once I run out I’ll try a less manufactured product. Trouble is, it’s hard to run out. Besides the Mai Tai and some other Tiki drinks, it’s not used much. Maybe I should just make almond cookies and be done with it.
  • You’ll notice that Thomas’ recipe calls for Bogart’s bitters, which are long gone. It also uses defunct measurements like a “wine glass” of brandy, which historians translate to 2 oz. The volume is of full of such charming and maddening anachronisms.
  • Please don’t be impressed with the fact that I own the book. It’s a $12 knockoff. Not many useful recipes, but a cheap way to bask in Cocktails as They Once Was, all for the price of an Appletini at TGIFriday’s.

Author: Craig Stoltz

Suburban boulevardier. Former Washington Post journalist, entrepreneur, Top 25 blogger. Foodie. Cocktail geek. Proudly work in digital communications for you, The American People.

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