The flavors incorporated into Asian culture are very diverse and powerful. In North America there seems to be an emphasis on complimentary flavors when compiling a recipe either in the kitchen or in the bar. But when you look at the diverse range of flavors usually combined to create a dish in the Asian world, you find flavors that are usually seen as complete counterparts being brought together to create a strong, powerful sensation to your palate within each taste.
Distinctive flavors like lemongrass, coconut milk, Thai basil, and even Szechuan pepper are great to use as leading roles in your cocktail concoction but can also be imposing. Asian cocktails frequently need to be mellowed out and complimented with Asian fruits and herbs like kalamansi, kumquat, yuzu and lychee. Of course there are other ingredients commonly featured among the offerings on an Asian-influenced cocktail list such as cucumber and ginger.
With all of these great flavors in mind, we now need to give this libation some kick. Sure, you can put these together with some vodka, gin, or other spirit, but to give your cocktail an aura of authenticity you really need to look for the traditional and unique spirits distilled in the region you are looking to represent.
If you’re looking to impress, try some bold, heavy flavors mixed in with some Japanese Whiskey in an old-fashioned style cocktail, like in the Old ‘Foie’Shioned below. If you’re looking for a more elegant libation, a straight-up-style cocktail incorporating rice spirits, such as sake or shochu from Japan, or possibly some delightful soju from Korea, then you’re off to a good start.
Combining these ingredients can be daunting and extremely difficult to balance. Luckily for us, we live in a world full of imaginative bartenders who have taken the hard work out of it for us.
By sipping on one of the following cocktails, you’ll be mystically transported to your favorite Asian destination:
PABU | Old ‘Foie’shioned | San Francisco
With an entire 35-page beverage book available, there’s no doubt PABU is an obvious choice when looking to indulge in a delightful libation with superbly crafted Asian influences. PABU has created a cocktail list that not only modernizes many classic cocktails but also celebrates creative new cocktails produced by the team. Dedicated to using the freshest ingredients and fashioning their own syrups in house, there are many ways PABU is separating itself from your average Izakaya house.
A cocktail that started out as a joke is now making a splash in San Francisco. The Old ‘Foie’shioned is something that you just have to try for yourself. Incorporating a foie gras house infused Nikka Coffey Still Japanese Whiskey with kumquat sugar and a few dashes of chocolate and orange bitters, this drink is just too unusual to pass on. The garnish, of course, is a skewered cut of kumquat and foie gras.
Shojo | Kamehameha | Boston
Shojo, named after a mythical sea spirit who enjoys drinking sake, can be found in the Chinatown district of Boston. With a culinary menu concentrated on modern Asian flavors and techniques, Shojo’s cocktail list is holding its own, using the best of seasonal ingredients.
The Kamehameha pays homage to Dragon Ball Z, a popular Japanese animation series, and was developed to give tastebuds a real kick with Thai chili infused vodka and Fire Puncher vodka combined, then lightened and balanced with coconut milk and fresh lemon juice.
Malai Kitchen | Kaffir Collins | Dallas
If you happen to be in Dallas, Malai Kitchen is a must-visit for those fond of Thai or Vietnamese food. Working closely with the kitchen, cocktail creation specialist Jason Kosmas created a menu that does a superb job of complimenting the robust flavors coming from the kitchen. The owners, Braden and Yasmin Wages, even found a local farmer to grow fresh kaffir leaves (a fundamental ingredient) so they have an abundance of fresh produce whenever needed. Alongside their cocktail menu, Malai Kitchen brews their own Vietnamese Lager, Bia Hoi, for those who aren’t so bold.
Malai’s most popular libation is a twist on the classic Tom Collins, fittingly named the Kaffir Collins. This cocktail is prepared with house-infused kaffir lime Hayman's Old Tom gin, fresh lemon juice, and topped with soda.
When asked of their favorite Asian influenced classic cocktail, a lot of people either respond with a Japanese Slipper or a Singapore Sling. While these are both great examples characterizing simplistic Asian flavors, step outside your comfort zone, be adventurous, and try something a little more exciting.