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Despite its name, the Japanese Cocktail is an 1860’s American classic brandy drink! Orgeat syrup gives it an almond essence.

Japanese cocktail
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It might be called the Japanese Cocktail, but this drink isn’t related to Japanese cocktails or cuisine. It doesn’t even have Japanese whiskey! But this American classic cocktail is worth a try. Grab your favorite brandy or Cognac then sweeten it with orgeat, a tasty almond cocktail syrup. Add a few shakes of bitters and it comes out nutty with a hint of citrus and an herbal finish from the bitters. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to class up a great brandy. Wondering where the name came from? Us too.

What’s in a Japanese Cocktail?

The Japanese Cocktail is an American classic cocktail made with brandy and orgeat syrup. The recipe was first published in an 1862 book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas, the first ever drink book published in the United States. In fact, Mr. Thomas was nicknamed the “Professor” because of his wide knowledge of bartending, and is considered the “father of American mixology.” The Japanese Cocktail is thought to be one of his only original recipes in the book.

Why is it called the Japanese Cocktail? There’s nothing about the ingredients that’s traditionally Japanese! Instead, it’s thought to be inspired by the first Japanese diplomatic mission to come to the US in 1860. The delegates stayed in a hotel across the street in New York City from Jerry Thomas’s bar. Here’s what’s in the Japanese Cocktail:

  • Brandy or Cognac
  • Orgeat syrup
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Bitters

The brandy to use

What brandy to use in this Japanese Cocktail! If you have it, our top choice is Cognac. But there are a few other choices that work well. Brandy is a liquor made from distilling wine or other fruit, like apples or apricot. Each type of brandy will yield a different drink! Here’s what to try:

  • Cognac, a French brandy that tastes spicy, fruity, and bitter, with notes of vanilla and oak (try Hennessy, a popular brand of Cognac)
  • Armagnac, a more full-flavored, richer French brandy, with notes of dark caramel, chocolate and burnt orange
  • Calvados, an apple or pear brandy made in France
  • Brandy de Jerez, Spanish brandy that tastes dry and smooth, with notes of caramel, almond and vanilla
  • American brandy, any type of brandy made in the US

What not to use? Pisco, a Peruvian brandy made of fermented grapes with a funky, earthy flavor. Save that for a Pisco Sour!

What is orgeat syrup?

The other ingredient you’ll need for the Japanese Cocktail? Orgeat. If you don’t have it already, we recommend grabbing it: it’s a fun substitute for simple syrup because it has a more intruiging flavor. Here’s what to know about orgeat:

  • Orgeat syrup is a non-alcoholic almond syrup used for sweetening cocktails. It has a distinctive nutty flavor with a hint of citrus. It’s easy to find orgeat at your local liquor store or online.
  • How do you pronounce orgeat? Say Or-ZHAAT in your best French accent, where the “ZH” is like the J in the name Jacque.
  • What other cocktails use it? Use it to make a classic Mai Tai, a Trinidad Sour, or a Virgin Mojito.
  • How much does orgeat syrup cost? You can grab a bottle for about $10. It’s easy to find online: here’s a link to buy orgeat syrup.
Orgeat syrup

Use lemon if you’d like

Lemon juice isn’t specified in the original Japanese Cocktail recipe by Jerry Thomas. But it’s a nice way to add a little brightness to the drink! We never turn down a little lemon, so we added just ¼ ounce (½ tablespoon) to this cocktail. The effect is a hint of zing, but it’s not necessary: especially if you don’t have a lemon on hand.

However, the traditional garnish for this drink is a lemon twist! So if you want to make it look perfectly traditional, the lemon is key. Here’s how to make a lemon twist without any special tools.

More tasty brandy cocktails

Got a great bottle of brandy? After you’ve made the Japanese Cocktail, use it for any of these great Cognac Cocktails or Brandy Cocktails:

Japanese cocktail

When to serve a Japanese Cocktail

The Japanese Cocktail is sophisticated and versatile. It’s perfect for sipping as a:

  • Happy hour drink
  • Dinner party drink
  • Late night drinks drink
  • Guys or girls night drink
  • Cocktail hour drink
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The Japanese Cocktail

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5 from 1 review

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x


Despite its name, the Japanese Cocktail is an 1860’s American classic brandy drink! Orgeat syrup gives it an almond essence.


  • 2 ounces* brandy or Cognac
  • ½ ounce orgeat syrup
  • ¼ ounce lemon juice*
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (or Angostura or orange bitters)


  1. Add the brandy, orgeat syrup, lemon juice, and bitters to mixing glass and stir with ice.
  2. Strain into cocktail glass. If desired, garnish with a lemon peel.


*To convert ounces to tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons

  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails
  • Diet: Vegan

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Pamela Vicik-Smith says:

    Where did you get these glasses? I must have!!!

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      They were thrifted, sorry!

  2. Victor says:

    This is a properly tasty drink. A bit on the sweet side for me though. I used a homemade 2:1 orgeat. And St Rémy xo. But so smooth and fruity. I do like brandy though and usually use it in place of whiskey in drinks