Once upon a time, when curly mustachioes were un-ironic and tattoos were for peg-legged sailors, a cocktail was a simple means to dress up your breakfast booze. (The drinking habits of our forebears were a wee bit more…alcoholic, than today.) You took some spirits, added a bit of sugar or liqueur and a dash of bitters. Mix it up with some water or ice. If you were feeling fancy, toss a citrus peel in it. Finish it by slapping on some name that was “insert name of spirit” + cocktail. Then down the hatch with whatever passed for Alka Seltzer in the days when Al Swearengen kept a saloon.
Eventually, you run out of booze names and have to start getting creative. One of the original slingers behind the brass rail was “Professor” Jerry Thomas – he of the seminal 1860’s “Bar-Tender’s Guide”, which amongst its 230 plus recipes includes a “Japanese Cocktail” – brandy, orgeat, bitters & a lemon peel.
You’ll notice there isn’t anything obviously Japanese on that list. Who knows why its called Japanese. One theory – which is as good as any – starts in 1860 with New York City hosting the first Japanese mission to the United States. The official translator for the envoy was a young bachelor named Tateishi Onojirou Noriyuki, called “Tommy” in the local press. Apparently Tommy was fond of a few things – the saloons and the ladies of Manhattan amongst them. (Though based on the rampant “yellow peril” racism of the era, who can know how much excessive bon vivant-ing Mr. Noriyuki actually engaged in.) Professor Jerry ran the hottest spot in town at the time, so legend is that “Tommy” likely frequented the joint and the drink is named after him.
Either that, or its completely apocryphal bullshit. Regardless, this version is a wee bit more balanced. Or “improved” as the kids say.
2 oz. brandy
1 oz. orgeat
1 oz. lemon
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Shake & strain.
Toby Cecchini, Long Island Bar