By Tom Lindstedt
GHOST WORLD (née NIKKA JULEP)
stirred — Old-Fashioned glass / sprig (1-2) mint, dash (3) matcha powder
1.5 oz Japanese whisky (Nikka coffey grain)
1.0 oz apple brandy (Laird’s bonded)
0.5 oz rich simple syrup (2:1)
3 - 4 shiso leaves
3 - 4 mint leaves
garnish: SHISO LEAF
We embraced a certain Japanese aesthetic for one episode of Last Meal (view extended trailer here). Permeating that into the featured drink, we looked to traditional flavors set in a simplistic template to highlight their elegance. After discussing the possibility of a Japanese-influenced mint julep, we sourced smoked glass cups with a beautiful gradual opacity to serve as the cocktail vessel. With glassware that striking, we wanted a garnish as befitting. Shiso, or perilla, has such a wonderful aromatic presence and flavor, and the freshest leaves can plume upwards with a spiky silhouette that seemed destined to crown our chosen tumbler. It was a natural direction to think of the Japanese “mint” as the starring element and use its national whisky as the base for the drink. To connect those flavors, we employed apple brandy, which borrowed some of the roundness from the Scotch-like Nikka grain whisky to nudge its way into the herbal profile of the shiso. It was, in many ways, the epitome of a “little black dress” drink: seemingly simple, but devastatingly gorgeous.
Transitioning the on-screen drink to Barlow’s environment, we chose to omit some of the chic components for practical reasons, and ended up with a mixed drink with enhanced sensory aspects that wouldn’t have translated well on film anyway. The most dramatic change: we opted for matcha powder in place of the fickle perilla leaf for consistent flavor. Instead of the regal (if fleeting) herbal adornment, the dashed green tea powder resting on ice cubes and swirling into the whisky looked like moss on a headstone and eerie spectral plumes under the surface. The drink still continued to evolve with the grassier flavor, much as the julep-style drink did. However, the matcha was not as brightly flavored as the shiso, so we fortified the apple component and highlighted a subtle spice undertone. Each component passes into the next, extending the journey like a ghost travelling through worlds.
For those unfamiliar with Japanese whisky, the category is as varied as Scotch. In fact, it was with reverent study and imitation that Japanese whisky-makers first took care to produce their own. So while the offerings of Nikka, Suntory, and many other Japanese companies are uniquely special in their own right, if you are unable to locate (or afford) a bottle, a low-peated blended whisky from Scotland will suffice for this drink, preferably one aged in used bourbon barrels. Both the Suntory Toki and Nikka Coffey Grain (named for the style of still and not to be confused with the caffeinated bean) have a rounder, fruitier mouthfeel from their grain component, with little to no smokiness.
APPLE BRANDY —
Unless you’re fortunate to have a local distillery producing good apple brandy, you’ll want to use the bonded version from Laird’s. Say “apple brandy” or “apple schnapps” and you’ll risk getting something artificially flavored, or something that is barely detectable as apple when mixed into a cocktail. Thankfully Laird’s has been doing this for a long time and puts out a great version. Your mileage may vary with the supporting schnapps. Berentzen is our go-to for the reason we know that it tastes like crisp apple juice and modify any remaining sweetness around that fact.
The original Nikka Julep was pretty sweet to begin with precisely for the reason it was also boozy upfront — the ice was to work its magic over the session of drinking it, like any respectable southerner will tell you is how to properly prepare a julep. For a home bar setting, you can control both the sweet and alcohol levels to taste, especially if using larger ice cubes. Just make sure to include enough sweetener to give the drink a pleasant weight — without it the drink might become too thin too quickly. J.D. Velvet falernum has muted spice notes that don’t overstep the other aspects of the drink, so bear that in mind if you have other versions of the syrup which may be more potent in flavor.
Use herbs that are as fresh as possible. If your mint or shiso is sad-looking, make a different drink. It’s really that simple. Also, we find there’s hardly a situation where “too much mint” is even a thing, let alone something bad.
Matcha powder should be available at most specialty stores, or online. It isn’t your typical green tea — enjoying a traditional cup of matcha requires special tools. It isn’t cheap either, so if you can purchase smaller amounts from a tea shop that might be best to start. The powder can be utilized in baked goods and sweets as well, so don’t feel like you’re stuck with any excess after this drink, particularly if you’re not a fan of tea.
From his very first stints at bartending, Tom has enjoyed scripting cocktail menus within specific themes. Overseeing two restaurant cocktail programs (Biwa, Little Bird) prior to establishing those at Barlow and High Noon, Tom is drawn as much to the educational aspects of craft cocktailing as the actual service and hospitality elements.