Category Archives: Brandy

Improved Japanese Cocktail

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.

Improved Japanese Cocktail

2 oz. brandy

1 oz. orgeat

1 oz. lemon

3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Shake & strain.

Toby Cecchini, Long Island Bar



Gin may be cool, bourbon certainly sweet, and rye the next big thing – but brandy just rocks.  Cognac, Armagnac, American alembic – its all good.   And its even better in the only good cocktail to come out of Prohibition.  Because honestly, anything that involves mixing “bathtub” whatever with something is still going to taste like shit.  So it makes a certain amount of sense that the one good cocktail from that time period came from overseas where Prohibition was likely seen as the Americans going off on one of their periodic mass psychoses.

Where exactly the Sidecar was invented is lost to time,  but it is believed to have come from either London or Paris around World War I.   The Hotel Ritz in Paris claims to have come up with the recipe; others claim it was Harry’s Bar in Paris, a popular hangout for American expatriates of the Lost Generation.  The earliest recipes show up in 1922 in a couple of sources, including Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails.  (The same Harry from Harry’s Bar.)   In Harry’s own book, he originally claimed it was invented in London at the famous Buck’s Club by bartender Pat McGarry, who also invented the Buck’s Fizz, which we know as the Mimosa.  (What’s with all these famous Scottish bartenders from the 1920s? I have no idea – maybe its good training to grow up serving lots of ornery heavy drinkers in kilts.)  In later additions, Harry would claim he invented it himself.

My favorite origin story, because its so ridiculous, comes from Embury who claims it was the favorite drink of an American Army captain in Paris during WWI and named after the motorcycle sidecar the captain would ride in.  It was supposedly his favorite way to warm up  during the winter after a brisk ride in his sidecar.  Silly? Possibly.  Fucking awesome? A heavy drinking captain during the Great War zooming around on some insane contraption in the middle of Paris, his scarf flying in the wind like Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, regularly ending up at the same bar and downing a French twist on the American Cocktail? Hells yeah.

In truth, the Sidecar is a variation of a classic Sour – with brandy as the spirit and triple sec as the sweetener.  Regardless of who or where it was invented, today there are two basic recipes – the “French” version and the “English” version.   The French version calls for equal parts cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice – its a fairly light, citrusy, refreshing drink.   The alternative English version is the modern classic, more complex and robust with a 2:1:1 ratio.  I personally prefer the latter, but with the Sidecar, the exact proportions are entirely a matter of personal taste.  Some folks also like the addition of a sugared rim – but I often go without.


English version:

2 oz. brandy
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice

French version:

1 oz. brandy
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice

Shake and strain into cocktail glass.  Sugared rim optional.

Boukman Daiquiri

I think we can finally kiss the rain goodbye at least until next November here in the Bay Area. This week has been filled with clear blue skies, sunny days approaching as close to shorts weather as we get, and nice warm nights where the fog never rolls in.  All of which  says “I’m springtime bizzatches! Suck on the sunshine till July.”  The next six plus weeks will be glorious, at least until the Fog-th of July.  Perfect weather to indulge in drinks with a more tropical bent.  Preferably with rum.

1 1/2 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. cinnamon syrup

Shake with ice and strain. Garnish with lime.

Recipe courtesy of The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company via Imbibe.

The Capheda

I recently picked up a bottle of Firelit coffee liqueur, a collaboration between Jeff Kessinger, a former Bock Spirits sales rep, and St. George Spirits of Alameda.  Its an elegant take on coffee liqueur that eschews the syrupy sweetness of Kahlua in favor of a drier, higher proof spirit with the fruitier, more acidic coffee style of Third Wave coffee roasters.  It combines cold pressed coffee, unaged Chardonnay brandy, brandy made from coffee grounds, and whole vanilla bean.  Initially featuring Blue Bottle Yemen single origin beans, the current batch is made from Aged Mocha Java by Weaver’s in San Raphael. 

 It’s an intensely local, artisanal product through and through.  However, it’s also an intensely particular product as well.  The alcohol content is 30% (60 proof), so when using it in recipes calling for coffee liqueur, the recipe may need adjustment to avoid resulting in a boozy, out of balance cocktail.  Likewise, the sugar content is about half that of Kahlua, so its use as a sweetening agent is also more limited.  I think its great on its own or with a little ice.  For mixing in a cocktail, it requires some thought in order to balance it well – but that’s the fun with ingredients like this.  Limitations in one direction open up (tiki) possibilities in another.

 I’ve previously used it in a variation on a Coffee Flip for Mixology Monday.  (Ironically, the traditional coffee flip recipe does not include any coffee.)  Here, I took the base recipe for a Brandy Alexander and steered it in the direction of a dessert cocktail inspired by Vietnamese iced coffee – which for anyone who has ever had cà phê đá previously knows, it is caffeinated crack dipped in sugar served over ice.   My idea was to add booze to the equation.  Call it Four Loko meets the Pacific Rim.  I promise it tastes better than that sounds! 

1 1/2 oz. cognac
1 oz. Firelit coffee liqueur
1 oz. sweetened condensed milk

Shake with ice and strain.  Garnish with grated coffee bean.