These Floral, Fruity Cocktails Are Fresh from Tokyo

These drinks are emblematic of the new Japanese cocktail movement.

Sakura Martini
Photo: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ali Ramee / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

We've come a long way from the saketini. When Kenta Goto was bartending in New York City in the aughts, he decided that the formerly trendy sake-and-cucumber concoction needed an upgrade. What if, instead, drinks actually highlighted the beauty of Japanese ingredients? "I thought, 'Somebody needs to do something,'" he says. "I started feeling I should be the one."

Today, he's not the only one. The types of cocktails he serves at Manhattan's Bar Goto and Brooklyn's Bar Goto Niban have become popular, while American mixologists have started cribbing ideas from Tokyo sipping trips. And Japanese-born bartenders are introducing "ingredients special in our culture," says Julia Momosé, owner of Chicago's Kumiko and author of last year's The Way of the Cocktail: Japanese Traditions, Techniques & Recipes. With ever more Japanese products available stateside, home mixologists can follow the pros' leads, creating sublime libations that merit a hearty "kanpai!" Read on for Momosé's and Goto's top tips for bringing this tasty trend home.

Try Low-ABV Bases

Japanese whiskeys and gins are great, but consider gentler foundations. Built around the fruity Ryujin Kakushi Ginjo Namazume sake ($33,, Goto's Sakura Martini reverses the proportions of the classic cocktail. "We use the higher-proof spirits just as support," he says. That might be mellow Plymouth Gin for a delicate junmai ginjo, or bolder London dry for brash, unpasteurized namazake or caramelly, aged genshu—"We find the right harmony."

Sake averages 16% alcohol, and shochu clocks in around 25%—still less than other spirits. Momosé suggests trying it first with equal parts water to "get inspired by the flavor." Shochu, as a single-distilled spirit, expresses its base: grainy buckwheat, earthy sweet potato, grassy sugarcane. "I do everything to highlight that ingredient," she says. The Mizu Green Tea Shochu ($41, in her Midori Shochu Sour is infused with a tea that lends tropical notes and meshes seamlessly with the melon liqueur

Find Fruit-Forward Liqueurs

Momosé's Midori Shochu Sour refines the drink that launched Midori in the U.S. back in 1978 (at a Saturday Night Fever cast party at Studio 54, of all things). This fluorescent-green liqueur has been updated using muskmelons and Yubari melon, a cantaloupe cultivar. But Momosé's association is with the melon-soda floats of her childhood: "I wanted to replicate that summery sparkle."

Umeshu, made by macerating the tart ume plum with shochu or sake and resting it up to several years, is great in brambles or spritzes, she says. Try Akashi-Tai Ginjo Umeshu ($27, And sake blended with bright, sweet yuzu juice such as the Yamamoto Yuzu Omoi Citrus Dream ($30, is "stunning" in citrusy cocktails.

Buy a New Brand of Bitters

The Japanese Bitters Company ($45, is recommended by both Momosé and Goto. Its Yuzu Bitters enhance martinis, and its Shiso Bitters accent gin and tonics. Momosé also uses it in a Manhattan variation with Galliano.

Made using dried shiitake, kelp, and bonito, the company's Umami Bitters replace the dashi in the infused vodka that Goto blends with tomato juice, miso, and spice for his Umami Mary. Soon to hit the States: cypress-flavored Hinoki Bitters and salty, flowery Sakura Bitters. "I'm dying to experiment with them," Goto says.

Add Fruits, Flowers, and Leaves

"It's a Japanese way to work with ingredients at their peak freshness," says Momosé, pointing to a style called the Ginza fruit cocktail, popular in Tokyo cocktail dens. Zesty yuzu is perfect for a winter version; in summer, look in Asian markets for myoga, Japanese ginger. "It has this gorgeous galangal-ginger-grass profile." Sliced thin and muddled, it adds panache to mojitos. Goto suggests fresh shiso for a "complex, minty pop" when mixed with a French liqueur like St-Germain. Everything need not be fresh: Sakura (cherry blossoms), washed in plum vinegar and salt-preserved for availability year-round from Chinriu Honten ($16,, offer a "hint of floral salinity" in Goto's Sakura Martini. "And," he says, "presented in the glass, it looks as if the flower is blooming."

Spice It Up

Shichimi togarashi—chiles ground with orange zest, nori, ginger, and sesame and poppy seeds—adds layered heat to Bloody Marys. Momosé also values citrusy, tingly sansho pepper for rimming gimlets and margaritas. "It's a sensory experience," she says.

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Midori Shochu Sour

Midori Shochu Sour
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ali Ramee / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

This Midori Sour, which melds the best qualities of Midori with Shochu, was created by Julia Momosé, owner of Kumiko, a Japanese dining bar in Chicago, and author of The Way of the Cocktail: Japanese Traditions, Techniques & Recipes. This dazzling cocktail comes together quickly in a shaker, and dry-shaking the drink without ice aerates without over-chilling. Though a juicy, chilled melon ball might be the perfect garnish for any cocktail, its fragrant acidity plays off of the melon liqueur and fresh citrus juice for a perfectly quenching bite.

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Sakura Martini

Sakura Martini
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ali Ramee / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

This elegant, modern take on the saketini was created by Kenta Goto, owner of Manhattan's Bar Goto and Brooklyn's Bar Goto Niban. Goto uses aged genshu sake and gin in the drink, and garnishes it with a salt-pickled sakura, or cherry blossom.

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