The 5 Exquisite Cocktails With Japanese Whisky

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Cocktails with Japanese Whisky

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Cocktails with Japanese whisky are a stunning showcase of the spirit’s meticulous craftsmanship and delightfully nuanced flavours. While Japanese whisky is undeniably elegant and sipped neat, its smooth, complex taste also elevates cocktails with Japanese whisky to new heights.

But first, a brief history: Japanese whisky production began in the 1920s, with pioneers like Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru applying Scottish techniques to local ingredients. The Japanese passion for refinement and harmony soon yielded unique expressions that rivalled the world’s finest whiskies, making cocktails with Japanese whisky a must-try for any whisky enthusiast.

As a whisky lover who’s spent years experimenting with Japanese spirits, I’ve compiled this list of the 5 most exquisite cocktails with Japanese whisky. Each recipe showcases the whisky’s versatility and depth, often incorporating distinctive Japanese ingredients. These cocktails with Japanese whisky are sure to impress and delight, offering a unique and refined drinking experience.

Before we dive in, let’s review the main styles of Japanese whisky:

  • Single Malt: Made entirely from malted barley at a single distillery. Known for pure, elegant flavours.
  • Grain Whisky: Mostly corn-based, these whiskies are distilled in continuous column stills for a smooth, light taste.
  • Blended Whisky: A mix of malt and grain whiskies from multiple distilleries. Versatile and approachable.

Consult our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Whisky for more terms and tips for appreciating these stellar spirits.

Remember, always imbibe responsibly and appreciate quality over quantity. Now, let’s mix!

1. Shiso Smash

Shiso, a herb in the mint family, adds a distinctly Japanese twist to the classic whiskey smash.

  • 1.5 oz Japanese whisky (I suggest a smooth, blended whisky like Hibiki Japanese Harmony)
  • 0.75 oz lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • 6-8 shiso leaves
  • Muddle the shiso in a shaker, then add the other ingredients and ice
  • Shake vigorously and fine strain into a rock glass over fresh ice
  • Garnish with a shiso leaf
Cocktails with Japanese Whisky

Why It Works: The Shiso Smash is an ideal canvas for Japanese blended whisky’s subtle complexities. The shiso’s herbaceous notes mingle with the whisky’s mellow honey and fruit tones, neither overpowering the other.

Ingredient Spotlight – Shiso: Shiso, also known as perilla, is a Japanese herb with a unique flavour between mint, basil, and anise. Find it at many Asian grocers or upscale supermarkets. Mint makes a worthy substitute.

Shiso Smash Video

2. Yuzu Whisky Sour

Yuzu, a tart and aromatic Japanese citrus, lends a memorable tang to this bracing, elegant sour.

  • 1.5 oz Japanese whisky (a vivid, cereal-forward whisky like Nikka Coffey Grain
  • 0.75 oz yuzu juice
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • 0.5 oz lemon juice
  • Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass
  • Garnish with a thin yuzu wheel or lemon twist
Cocktails with Japanese Whisky

Why It Works: The zesty yuzu perfectly punctuates Nikka Coffey Grain’s round vanilla and tropical fruit notes in this bright, refreshing sour. The grain whisky’s light body keeps the cocktail eminently drinkable.

Ingredient Spotlight – Yuzu: Yuzu is a bumpy-skinned Japanese citrus with an aromatic tang between lime and grapefruit. Find bottled yuzu juice at Japanese markets and online. Fresh lemon or lime juice are fitting substitutes.

Yuzu Whisky Sour Video

3. Japanese Milk Punch

This silky, clarified milk punch is an uncommon but delectable way to showcase Japanese whisky’s refinement.

  • 1.5 oz Japanese whisky (a malty, lightly peated expression like Yoichi Single Malt
  • 1.5 oz whole milk
  • 0.75 oz simple syrup
  • 0.5 oz lemon juice
  • 1 bar spoon matcha powder
  • Combine ingredients with ice and shake hard for 30 seconds
  • Fine strain into a bowl and let sit 30 minutes as the milk curdles
  • Slowly ladle the punch through a coffee filter into a rock glass with fresh ice
  • Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg
Cocktails with Japanese Whisky

Why It Works: The Japanese Milk Punch’s silky mouthfeel and delicate flavours allow Japanese single malt’s subtle elegance to shine. The matcha lends an earthy backbone that highlights the whisky’s green and umami notes.

Ingredient Spotlight – Matcha: Matcha is a finely ground green tea prized for its vivid colour and creamy umami taste. Use a high-quality ceremonial grade for the best flavour and hue. Find it at speciality tea shops and many supermarkets.

Japanese Milk Punch Video

4. Sakura Highball

A springtime special

Salted sakura (cherry blossom) adds a softly floral, Japanese-inspired twist to the refreshing whisky highball. Learn more about the best Japanese whiskies for highballs

  • 1.5 oz Japanese whisky (a light, easy-sipping whisky like Suntory Toki
  • 0.5 oz salted sakura syrup*
  • 3-4 oz chilled sparkling water
  • Build the ingredients in a tall, ice-filled glass
  • Stir gently and garnish with a fresh or pickled sakura blossom

*Salted Sakura Syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 2 tbsp salt-preserved sakura blossoms in a saucepan. Simmer until sugar dissolves. Let steep, covered, for 2 hours. Strain out blossoms and store syrup in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Cocktails with Japanese Whisky

Why It Works: The classic highball is the quintessential Japanese whisky cocktail – fizzy soda and abundant ice let the whisky sparkle. A hint of salinity from preserved sakura amplifies Toki’s gentle honeyed notes.

Ingredient Spotlight – Sakura: Salt-pickled cherry blossoms, known as sakura, are a harbinger of spring in Japan. Their delicate floral flavour is prized in teas, sweets, and cocktails. Find them at Japanese markets or online.

Sakura Highball Video

5. Matcha Mint Julep

Earthy, subtly bitter matcha adds an unexpected layer to the refreshing Mint Julep. For a unique twist, try making it with Suntory Ao, a distinctive world blend. 

  • 2 oz Japanese whisky (a round, mildly smoky blend like Hibiki Japanese Harmony) 
  • 0.5 oz matcha honey syrup*
  • 8-10 mint leaves
  • In a julep cup or rock glass, gently muddle the mint
  • Add the whisky and matcha honey syrup
  • Fill the glass with crushed ice and stir briefly
  • Top with more crushed ice to form a dome and garnish with mint
  • Serve with a short straw

*Matcha Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup each of hot water and honey. Whisk in 2 tsp high-quality matcha powder until dissolved. Cool before use. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Cocktails with Japanese Whisky

Why It Works: Smoky, malty Japanese blended whisky makes a natural match for grassy, savoury matcha, with the mint lifting both elements. A refreshing, East-meets-West triumph.

Ingredient Spotlight – Honey: Opt for a mildly floral, non-crystallizing honey such as acacia or clover to complement the matcha’s verdant notes. Local farmers’ markets are a great source of fresh artisanal honey.

Matcha Mint Julep Video

From timeless highballs to unconventional sours, these cocktails with Japanese whiskey underscore the spirit’s remarkable range and finesse. When preparing these drinks, I recommend using pristine, crystal-clear ice – either large cubes or hand-carved spheres in the Japanese tradition. Quality ice not only chills more efficiently but also lends an elegant aesthetic.

I encourage you to experiment with each recipe using various styles and brands of Japanese whisky. You’ll soon discover how different expressions highlight different aspects of each cocktail. And if you’re thirsting for more knowledge and inspiration, consult expert resources like Dekanta’s Japanese Whisky Blog and Whisky Advocate’s Japanese Whisky Hub.

Like any fine spirit, an adventurous, curious palate is the key ingredient. Mix, sip, and savour these Japanese whisky cocktails thoughtfully – there’s a world of nuance to appreciate. Kanpai!

Always enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation. Relish the artistry and craft in each sip.

By Pasito Tola, whisky enthusiast and experienced home mixologist

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