Japanese whisky? Cocktails? Turns out, the two are a perfect mix (see what we did there). Now, remember, most Japanese whisky isn’t your average joe—flavor profiles are meticulously crafted and meant to be tasted mindfully. So, especially when you get a really nice, coveted bottle, we recommend always tasting the whisky first. Sipping it neat is the best way to experience the spirit and appreciate the distinct way each batch was made.
Once you’ve properly tasted the whisky and doted on every wiff and sip, it is perfectly acceptable—in fact, encouraged—to pour it into a satisfying cocktail. When you’re entertaining with friends or feeling fancy at home, there are plenty of ways to stir things up with your Japanese whisky.
Don’t be intimidated by mustached bartenders with their lavender and smoke. Making a good Japanese whisky cocktail doesn’t have to be a dog and pony show.
Here’s 5 easy Japanese whisky cocktail recipes that any drinker will love, and anyone can make.
FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T RESIST A CLASSIC
Japanese Style Old Fashioned
An elevated Asian upgrade to the oldest trick in the book. Get some bitters from your local liquor store and give this go-to a try.
- 2 oz whisky
- Sugar cube, teaspoon of sugar or quarter-oz simple syrup
- two dashes angostura bitters
Add the sugar cube or sugar to a glass. Then dash those bitters. Muddle it all together so the sugar and the bitters are well-mixed. Add your ice, whisky, and stir until cooled and combined. Garnish with an orange peel (pro tip: twist it first!) and a maraschino cherry.
Something smokey adds a sensational touch to the old fashioned. Try Suntory’s Hakushu single malt if you’re looking to splurge.
FOR THE NO-FUSSERS
The Whisky Highball
When we say easy, we mean it. This summer sipper is both refreshing and refreshingly simple. Plus, it has roots in Japanese whisky history. When whisky was first booming in Japan after WWII and small western-style whisky bars started appearing across the country, two-ingredient mixed drinks like this one were the most common way to enjoy the spirit.
- 2 oz whisky
- 4 oz club soda
- Seriously…that’s it.
Nothing crazy here. Fill a highball glass with ice, pour whisky and top with double the soda water. Stir a few times with a long spoon the experts recommend 7 times, but really, who’s counting). Squeeze a lemon wedge in there if you got it.
Switch it up: try tonic water instead for a sweeter concoction, or mix 2 oz of tonic with 2 oz of soda for something in the middle.
Something clean, simple and smooth like Nikka’s Coffey Malt.
FOR THE HISTORY BUFFS
The Black Ship
This creation pays tribute to the very moment in history wherein Japanese whisky begins. In 1853, when Japan was culturally and economically isolated from the rest of the world, Commodore Matthew Perry landed on Japanese shores and encouraged the gates to open.
On what naval vessels did he arrive? Black Ships. And what did him and his sailors bring ashore? Whisky.
So serve this one in a martini glass if you got it and sip it like a 19th century conqueror.
- 45ml Japanese Whisky
- 30ml Pomegranate Juice
- 8ml Port
- 1 tsp. Lemon Juice
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, shake shake it up. Strain into a Martini glass and garnish with a twisted lemon peel.
This one could call for a Japanese whisky with an authentic native flair. Try something aged in Japan’s distinct Mizunara oak, like Shinobu Blended.
FOR TEQUILA TRAITORS
The Red Akuma
We are them, or we know them. The friend that only drinks margaritas and puts hot sauce on everything. This is a whisky cocktail that just might bring them over to the dark side.
- 1 cup of blood orange juice
- 2 teaspoons of Agave
- 1/2 cup of your finest Japanese whiskey
- 1 average sized jalapeno, chopped with stem removed (about 2 teaspoons)
Mix blood orange juice, agave and whisky in a cocktail shaker. Shake it a few times, then add jalapeño and shake a few more times. Now pour through a strainer into glasses filled with ice.
A selection aged in sherry cask will complement the orange sweetness and contrast the jalapeno spice. Try Kurayoshi’s pure malt sherry cask, which made our 2021 under $100 list.
FOR THE CITY SLICKER
The Tokyo Sidecar
Another classic gets a modern Japanese makeover. Swap the cognac for Japanese whisky and the lemon juice for yuzu juice and transport yourself to one of the world’s exciting notable cities.
- 60ml Japanese Whisky
- 23ml Cointreau
- 0.5 tsp. Yuzu Juice
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a Martini glass.
The subtle sake flavor of a rice whisky will go wonderfully with the yuzu sweetness. Try burgeoning brand Kujira.
Now, go forth and get mixing.
Turns out, Japanese whisky is just as versatile as it is delicious. Mix these five easy cocktails to please any palate and any crowd. Who needs the fancy bar? Order some take-out, get yourself a shaker or some ice and it’s a party. Cheers to good whisky and easy livin’.