(Cover photo courtesy of Ping Pong Dim Bar - revamp.com)
If you ever walked in to an American bar and asked for an Asian cocktail you would probably get a blank stare from the bartender. It’s a pretty vague request, but so is asking for an “American” cocktail. If you say that you would like a cocktail that uses Asian ingredients or flavors, such as ginger, jasmine, or lychee, you may experience the same result.
Asian-inspired cocktails are both old and new. There are some obvious classics, but there are a plethora of new-age cocktails popping up around the country, particularly in Japanese steakhouses and Chinese-American restaurants. Many bar chefs working behind bars in Asian restaurants or restaurants that feature Asian ingredients are starting to create unique cocktails that are more genuinely Asian than even the classics from the Roaring Twenties. This increased interest in the West is due to Asian cuisine kitchens where cocktails are often paired with the food being served. The relationship of bar chef and kitchen chef has become symbiotic where both have access to some wonderful fresh and dried Asian ingredients from exotic spices to herbs to fruits.
Where bitters has been traditionally used in the West for cocktails to offset sweet syrups, liqueurs, and fruits, spice, like chilies, has become popular via Asian cocktails. In addition, there are many more Asian wines and spirits, such as Sake, plum wine, Shochu, or Japanese Whisky, mixers and flavoring agents, such as Calpico, lychees, Thai basil, cucumber, lemongrass and yuzu now available in the American market. They can be used by themselves, as a juice, syrup, pureed, or infused in your favorite vodka or gin.
In this Asian-inspired Margarita from Buddakan in D.C. the pronounced vegetal flavor of silver tequila is enhanced by the refreshing and cooling cucumber - the perfect counterpart to the pleasantly spicy simple syrup.
- 2 oz piece of Japanese baby cuke or English Cucumber ends trimmed
- 2 oz El Jimador Silver Tequila
- 3/4 oz triple sec
- 3/4 oz equal parts fresh lemon and lime juice
- 1 oz Thai Chili Syrup (1.5 cups simple syrup to 1 Thai chili or 2 serrano chilies chopped, bring syrup to boil then add chilies and simmer)
- 2 or 3 cucumber wheels or ribbon for garnish
Preparation - Peel the cucumber piece in strips leaving half the skin on. Coarsely chop the cucumber and place in blender at low speed until crushed. Fill rocks glass with ice. Place two tablespoons of crushed cuke and the rest of the ingredients in a ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and don't fine strain into rocks glass (leave pieces of cuke). Garnish wheels if served in margarita glass or ribbon if served in rocks glass.
Peaches were long considered to have their origins in Persia, but it is now generally thought that they originated in China, making their way to the Mediterranean with trades along the Silk Road. This is a delicate mix of aromatic flavors.
The Silk Road
- 15 fresh Thai basil leaves
- splash of simple syrup
- pinch of kosher or sea salt
- 1.5 oz Square One Botanical Vodka or Square One Basil Vodka or Thai Basil-Infused Vodka (use only 5-6 leaves)
- 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
- 1/2 peach schnapps or creme de peche
- splash of fresh lime juice
- club soda top
Preparation - Combine basil, simple syrup, and salt in rocks glass, and muddle. Add ice and remaining ingredients, except club soda, and stir thoroughly. Add the club soda and stir gently.
This pretty pink cocktail makes a nice after dinner drink. Anisette, a clear very sweet liqueur is similar in flavor to anise, a favorite spice in China.
- 2 oz light Jamaican Rum
- 1 Anisette
- 1 fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp grenadine
Preparation - Combine all ingredients in a ice-filled shaker and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- 2 oz Ketel One Citroen Vodka
- 1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1 oz Lemongrass Syrup (see below)
- splash of club soda
- lemon twist garnish
Preparation - Combine all ingredients except club soda in a ice-filled shaker. Shake and pour into a highball glass. Add more ice if necessary. Top with club soda and stir briefly.
Lemongrass Syrup (really good) - 2-3 stalks of fresh lemongrass to 1 1/2 cups of simple syrup. Wash lemongrass and cut about 1/2 inch off the hard ends and top 1/3 of stalks and discard. Remove the tough outer layers and discard. Bruise the stalks with a knife. Chop and set aside. Boil simple syrup and add chopped lemongrass and simmer.