Kanpai! 12 Japanese Whisky Cocktails to Master

March 17, 2023 by Helena Lombard

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Even though Japan is more famous for its shochu and sake, it’s become one of the world’s best whisky producers over the last few years. So, it stands to reason that there’s a whole world of Japanese whisky cocktails waiting to be discovered. Excited yet? So are we!  

As most of you will know, rules are big in Japan, and when it comes to drinking, it’s no different. Rule number one? Never drink alone. Rule number two, wait for all your friends to have their drinks in front of them before touching yours. And lastly, someone has to say “kanpai!” before you’re allowed to take your first sip.  

Ready? Invite your friends over and try your hand at mixing up a few of these classic Japanese whisky drinks. 

1. Japanese Highball

Japanese whiskey and soda cocktails on ice

This is a great place to start if you’ve never tasted Japanese whisky. The Japanese Highball is a simple 2-ingredient cocktail that mixes whisky with sparkling water. This tall, bubbly drink is refreshing and has a low ABV, making it the perfect serve for garden parties and barbecues.

2. Japanese Sour

Japanese Whiskey Sour with orange and rosemary garnish

Smoky, sour, smooth, and seductively frothy on top, the Japanese Sour is a spin-off of the classic Whiskey Sour. While the smoky whisky no doubt shines in these Japanese whisky drinks, the addition of the other ingredients makes this cocktail a total showstopper. Fresh lemon and yuzu (or lime) and Japanese kuromitsu (black sugar syrup) add a warm caramel tone, bitters cut through the sweetness, and egg white adds volume and a foamy texture on top. This Insta-worthy cocktail will be a hit at your next dinner party, so if you’re looking for something exceptional, this is it. 

3. Nail in the Coffin

Nail in the Coffin Japanese Whiskey cocktail

If you’ve just finished a spectacular dinner with friends, this is the cocktail you’ll want to serve for an impressive and sophisticated end to the evening. The oddly-named Nail in the Coffin is made with Japanese whisky, Portuguese wine, and a vanilla-forward citrusy Spanish liqueur. The result is out of this world!

4. Nippon

Nippon cocktail with lemon peel garnish

This simple 3-ingredient cocktail is another after-dinner delight and was created by an Italian bartender. Smoky, gingery, and very smooth, these classic Japanese whisky cocktails are easy to master.   

Stir together Japanese whisky, Cinzano Rosso, and ginger liqueur with ice. Strain into a chilled glass and finish it with an elegant lemongrass knot garnish. This cocktail is absolute perfection for a special night in.

5. Japanese Americano

Toki Americano cocktail and whiskey decanter

Japan comes to hang out in Italy’s aperitivo hour in one of our favorite new drinks. This stir-and-strain drink is a spin-off of Italy’s famous Americano cocktail. It is a beautiful balance of bittersweet and savory flavors. A Japanese Americano combines Italian liqueur, Japanese whisky, and Cynar—a refreshing artichoke liqueur. If you love an interesting twist as much as we do, give this one a go. It’s magic.

6. Black Ship

Black Ship cocktail served on the rocks with lemon and olive garnish

This intriguing cocktail is fruity, full-bodied, and pays homage to Japan’s whisky history. The story goes that in 1853 commodore Matthew Perry arrived at Edo harbor on big black ships. But he didn’t arrive alone. He came with a few barrels of whisky and presented the Emperor with America’s best tipple. This was Japan’s first taste of whisky, and two decades later, they started importing it into the country. Then, in the 1920s, they started making their own, and the rest is history. Cheers, Matt!   

To make the Japanese whisky cocktails stir together pomegranate juice, port and lemon juice, and ice, then strain it into a chilled martini glass and add a lemon peel twist as garnish. Sophisticated, simple, and very sippable.

7. Tokyo Sidecar

Tokyo sidecar cocktail

Grand Marnier, Japanese whisky, and yuzu juice combine to create an Asian-inspired Sidecar cocktail. Cognac gets replaced with whisky, and lemon juice is replaced with yuzu juice—but lime will do just fine. Shaken and strained into a chilled coupe, this bright cocktail will delight your guests. Best served icy cold, just before dinner.

8. Whisky Smash

Refreshing Japanese Whiskey Smash cocktails with chipped ice, lemon and mint

The Whisky Smash came onto the cocktail scene yonks back, and this is a Japanese spin-off of the American classic. This muddled zesty drink is all lemon, which, by the way, you’ll be muddling straight in the glass, along with fresh mint and simple syrup. Add to that some Japanese whisky, and if you want to spritz it up, add some sparkling water.

Simple to make with smashing citrus notes, this refreshing drink can be served all summer long. And believe us, you’ll want to. 

9. The Red Akuma

Spicy Red Akuma Blood Orange cocktails

This one is for the adventurous drinker looking for a Japanese whisky drink with a spicy edge. If you love a Spicy Margarita, then the Red Akuma will be right up your matchi. To make this burst of flavor, combine Japanese whisky, agave, blood orange juice, and chopped jalapeños in a cocktail shaker. Give it a good shake for at least 30 seconds, and strain it into ice-filled rocks glasses. Pair it with platters of sushi and tempura if you’re hosting a cocktail evening with friends. 

10. The Beast

The Beast cocktail served in a highball glass garnished with an orange wheel and with muddled cherries in the bottom of the glass, served with a plate of sushi

This bubbly beast is best-served in the summertime and is easy to convert to pitcher size to please the crowd. The Beast is built straight in the glass: sugar, citrus cherries, and grenadine are added to a highball glass and muddled. This fruity mixture is given some Japanese whisky love and then topped with a splash of ginger ale or club soda. We suggest converting these Japanese whisky drinks to pitcher size for BBQ season. A real refreshing crowd pleaser! 

11. Japanese Old Fashioned

Two Japanese Old Fashioned cocktails served with beef sliders

The Old Fashioned is another one of those classic cocktails that makes an excellent canvas for different flavour variations. To make this version, you’re going to replace the bourbon with Japanese whisky and replace the simple syrup with ginger-infused black sugar syrup. The rest of the ingredients are as you’d expect, with a few dashes of bitters and a classic orange peel twist for garnish. Oh, and don’t let black sugar syrup put you off trying any of our Japanese cocktails! You can easily make your own using molasses or treacle sugar instead.  

12. Yuzu Whisky Sour

Two Yuzu Whisky Sour cocktails served with a plate of grilled prawns

Bright, tart and fragrant, the Yuzu Whisky Sour is a lovely twist on the timeless classic. Making this cocktail is easy, but finding Asian yuzu in the US will take a bit of dedication as it’s illegal to import it into America.The best place to find it? In California if you want it fresh, or you can buy yuzu juice online. To make this cocktail, follow our original Whiskey Sour recipe, but replace the lemon juice with yuzu, the bourbon with good quality Japanese whisky, garnish with a yuzu peel instead of an orange slice, and you’re good to go!  

It’s not just Japanese whisky cocktails that are making waves across the globe. Japanese cocktails and the art of making them is a hot topic right now, so learn more about it if you want to get in on the scene.


You can either enjoy it neat or make one of our delicious cocktails with Japanese whiskey.

Sparkling water, ginger ale, and blood orange juice are all good non-alcoholic mixers for Japanese whiskey.

After work, Japanese people enjoy meeting up after work to chill out and catch up. Highballs are popular because they’re easy to make and even easier to drink. It’s considered to be one of the best pick-me-up drinks to enjoy with friends.

You don’t need to store your Japanese whiskey in the fridge, no! Just like other spirits, this one has high alcohol and doesn’t need to be chilled.

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