In spring of 2011, I finally realized one of my dreams – visiting Japan. My curiosity with Japanese culture was spiked by the book Shōgun and Miyazaki movies (extra Valcohol points if you’ve seen Totoro). I went on to take an elective Japanese history course at college and one of the themes that stood out to me most was celebrating the beauty of the fleeting moment. So many aspects of the culture center on this concept and teach the indispensable patience it takes to appreciate that beauty.
I was lucky to have a friend teaching English in Fukuoka so I started my voyage there and then continued on to Kyoto and Osaka. One of the most ephemeral yet timeless spots on our journey was the blooming Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. Walking along the cobbled pathways by the side of a babbling canal and surrounded by flowering trees and ancient temples, I truly lost myself to the breathtaking beauty of the moment. While the cultural site has so much history behind it, the state of the path is always changing as nature works it course.
I wanted this cocktail to evoke the transience of nature and the richness of Japanese culture, so I chose to craft it with matcha tea and a likeness to cherry blossoms. Matcha tea is a powdered form of green tea leaves traditionally used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Similar to other Japanese green teas, matcha is bold, grassy and vibrant in flavor. Because the leaves are actually consumed in the powdered form, matcha is especially high in antioxidant and vitamin content. Matcha can range considerably in price depending on its intended use. I recommend selecting a less expensive, culinary grade variety for a cocktail application.
Natural cherry blossom flavoring is surprisingly difficult to find outside of Japan, so I had to get creative with my substitutions. I knew I needed a floral element, a hint of cherry and a sweet aroma. The combination of rose water and Bittercube's Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters was the perfect solution. Note that there's no need to overpay for rose water since it's a common component of Middle Eastern cooking and therefore available in much more cost effective form than what you would find at a gourmet grocery store.
To emphasize the grassy and floral notes of the cocktail, I used a base of Death's Door Gin. Simple and always delivering in quality, Death's Door has been one of my favorite gins since I first started exploring the spirit. Of course, I especially love that it hails from Wisconsin.
I finished the cocktail with egg white and fresh lemon to smooth the boldness of the matcha and the strength of the floral flavor. Lemon balanced the sweetness of the matcha syrup and gave the drink a pleasant, lingering tartness. The resulting cocktail is truly one of my personal favorites with its lovely marriage of grassy tea, bright botanicals, aromatic blooms and creamy finish.
The Philosopher's Path
- 1.5 oz Death's Door Gin
- 0.75 oz matcha syrup*
- 1 barspoon rose water
- 6 drops Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 egg white
Dry shake all ingredients (without ice) for 10-15 seconds, popping the cap occasionally to release the pressure from the egg white. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a fresh blossom. Enjoy while losing yourself in the transient beauty of spring.
* To make matcha syrup, heat 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add 1/2 tbsp matcha powder and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Excess can be stored in the fridge for several weeks but should be shaken before use as some settling may occur. Try adding the leftover syrup to some almond milk for a matcha latte or using it in baking if you're feeling adventurous!