Friday Happy Hour: Le Japonais

Cocktails are a malleable bunch. There’s no recipe out there that can’t be tweaked or deconstructed to suit your tastes or your mood, no matter how classic or venerable. Here’s a good example: a classic, the Japanese Cocktail (which, despite its name, has nothing to do with Japan) and a modern update, incorporating the enormously versatile St-Germain, Le Japonais.– Andrew



Illustration by Shauna Lynn for Oh So Beautiful Paper

Le Japonais

2 oz Brandy
1/2 oz St-Germain
1/4 oz Orgeat Syrup
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
2 Dashes Orange Bitters

Combine everything in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir well until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the biggest piece of lemon peel you can carve. Enjoy!


The original Japanese Cocktail paired a full half ounce of the sweet, almond-flavored Orgeat syrup with a half teaspoonful of bitters, probably to balance the richness of the Orgeat. Le Japonais adds in the sweet floral notes of St-Germain, along with some additional bitters to balance out the extra sweetness. It’s a pretty mellow drink, thanks to the smoothness of the Brandy and the balance between the sweet and bitter elements.


Ok, so: the Japanese Cocktail? It’s not from Japan, it wasn’t invented by anyone from Japan (or even in Japan!), and it doesn’t contain any Japanese ingredients. Brandy and Orgeat are decidedly not Japanese in origin. So what gives? Well, David Wondrich – who should know, because he does this for a living – identifies it as the creation of famed bartender Jerry Thomas, who may have invented it in 1860 to commemorate the first Japanese legation to the United States. Maybe. Apparently, they finished up their trip in New York, where Thomas worked, and were pretty fond of cocktails, which Thomas made lots of. In other words, the first clever, commemorative cocktail name. 153 years ago. Go figure.

Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper

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