The trees are also in full bloom in Japan, the source of the trees celebrated in Washington every year since the mayor of Tokyo gave it to the Taft government in 1912. Hanami – flower viewing – is an annual public celebration in Japan that people have enjoyed for centuries. The Tale of Genji, the 11th-century Japanese text often cited as the first novel in history, refers to a cherry blossom (sakura) festival. The bloom is still being celebrated, now with more selfies and an accompanying wave of sakura-based treats in Japan, some traditional, like teas and mochi, but also pale pink sakura drinks at Starbucks, Sakura Coke, and Sakura Kit Kats. What would be a glorious celebration of nature’s rebirth if global brands didn’t find their way into it?
To be fair, I also want to collect the cherry buds while I can. I can’t watch this explosion of flowers without wanting to incorporate them into drinks, their flavor and delicate aroma, and sometimes just as a beautiful garnish.
There are a few bottles that can help — Roku and a number of other gins include cherry blossom in their list of botanicals, and there’s a delicious pale pink vermouth from Mancino that’s flavored with sakura extract and Italian violet. Cerasum by Don Ciccio & Figli, a bittersweet cherry aperitivo, contains both sakura flowers and fruit. (Of course, cherry liqueurs abound, too, but they’re a different beast. Cherry cultivars were bred to emphasize either fruit or blooms. The trees now showing up around the Tidal Basin won’t produce anything delicious later; there’s a reason why the National Cherry Blossom Festival isn’t followed by an appalling National Cherry-Stamping Bloodbath.The only ones who enjoy the bitter little fruits of these trees may be the DC pigeons, who are proven to be willing to eat anything.I saw one once DC pigeon becomes cannibal on a discarded box of Popeyes. This town, Amirite?)
You can also go straight to the factory for cherry blossom drinks. The sake-and-gin-house martini at both Bar Goto and Bar Goto Niban in New York features a pickled, salted cherry blossom that floats in the drink like a blushing jellyfish.
“A lot of people like to garnish a martini with an olive because they enjoy a touch of saltiness to round out the drink,” bartender and owner Kenta Goto said in an email. “Salted cherry blossoms with a delicate floral saltiness replace the olives here and pair really well with sake and maraschino.”
Goto recommends picking a sake and gin that go well together – for example, using a smooth, elegant Daiginjo sake with a smooth, elegant gin like Plymouth or Portobello, or going in the opposite direction by pairing a bolder Namazake or Genshu – Sake combined with a traditional London Dry Gin. “Both delicate and bolder versions of this cocktail work – what’s most important is matching your sake and gin and finding harmony in those flavors.”
Momosé felt connected to the sakura from a young age; She has pictures of herself as a toddler looking at the trees in Japan with her family. She grew up there and says: “The seasons are really important and we definitely celebrate them. Sakura is one of those moments where everyone just goes outside and takes these little walks, either just around their neighborhood or a little drive to sakura groves, so every spring I get excited to share a little bit of that joy.”
Her Sakurazuké martini plays with the sakura mochi, popular in Japan this time of year, a treat made from a salted cherry blossom petal wrapped around a pale pink mochi (rice cake) filled with koshian, a sweet red bean paste. Momosé cocktail refines the pleasure with sake (representing the rice), Mancino cherry blossom vermouth, a touch of Campari and a solution of salted cherry blossoms.
The salted pickled flowers, she says, are a great way to bring the flavors into drinks, “because since they’re preserved, you can bring them out whenever it feels right.” And I love the way they unfold and bloom in the jar – I think it’s one of the most eye-catching, stunning, but also one of the most practical garnishes because you can eat it and actually taste the flower.”
Masahiro Urushido, whose enviable title at his New York bar Katana Kitten is “director of deliciousness,” also turned those salted cherry leaves wrapped around sakura mochi into a cocktail and created a sakura julep. (Urushido has a DC pop-up at the Silver Lyan in the Riggs Hotel in the Penn Quarter through Saturday.)
In his book The Japanese Art of the Cocktail, Urushido uses the leaves in an oleo-saccharum (which uses sugar to bring out the flavors of other botanical ingredients) and adds their salt and herbaceous quality to a whiskey-accented drink Peach and ginger. “Storing the cherry blossoms helps you enjoy them out of season so you can enjoy the season at a different time,” he says.
You can get both the salted flowers and leaves at some Japanese markets and online. But what if we are surrounded by blossoming trees?
As a rule, sets should be both functional and visually appealing. We garnish a martini with an olive or lemon wedge not just because it looks good, but because it makes the drink taste better; Fresh mint fits into a julep not only because of that gorgeous greenery, but because the scent that hits your nose before the drink hits your lips influences the taste.
I generally stick to this rule, but when the world is plush with cool pink blooms, you won’t catch me enforcing the cocktail catechism. A fresh cherry blossom looks beautiful floating on top of a martini, and its aroma enhances rather than harms the drink. And if you want to throw one in a drink where all it will do is sit there and look pretty, who am I to judge? As the saying goes, the eyes drink first.
However, consider where you are looking. You won’t make yourself sick by placing a fresh, gently rinsed flower on the top of your cocktail. On the other hand, if you go further — pickling your own buds in salt or pouring the buds into a schnapps where the alcohol extracts whatever the trees have absorbed — you should exercise more care.
Nobody wants to end up with a drink that tastes like exhaust fumes from the tour buses that drop people off to gaze at the cherry trees. Except maybe a DC pigeon.
A lighter martini due to its sake (Japanese rice wine) and gin base, this is the signature martini at Bar Goto in New York. Pair stronger gins with stronger sakes, or lighter and more floral gins with lighter ones. The salted cherry blossom garnish isn’t just for show — its brine adds a hint of the saltiness you get from the olive, which is often used in classic martinis. You’ll find that tweezers are a useful tool for manipulating the delicate embellishment.
Where to Buy: Salted cherry blossoms are available at Japanese specialty stores and online.
1/4 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
Soak the salted cherry blossoms in hot water a few hours before serving the drink to remove excess salt, then soak in cold water until ready to serve the drink. You can use tweezers to avoid damaging the flower.
Place a cocktail glass in the freezer about 5 minutes before serving.
Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add the sake, gin and maraschino liqueur and cool and thin while stirring.
Strain the drink into the chilled glass and garnish with the cherry blossom.
Named after the mayor of Tokyo who presented a shipment of cherry blossom trees to the Taft government in 1912, this cocktail uses mancino cherry blossom vermouth and hints of yuzu citrus for a bright, delicately floral drink. A gin like Roku or Citadelle Jardin d’Ete, both of which contain yuzu in their botanicals, is a great option, but any floral or citrusy gin will do just fine. A fresh cherry blossom is a nice garnish but doesn’t detract from the flavor of the drink.
Where to Buy: Mancino Cherry Blossom Vermouth is available at Lax Wine & Spirits in Beltsville and Batch 13 in the District; it is also available online. Yuzu juice is available in some whole food stores and many Asian markets; If you can’t find it, Meyer lemon juice is a good substitute.
1 dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
2 ounces gin (see top note)
1 ounce Mancino Cherry Blossom Vermouth
1 cherry blossom for garnish (optional)
About 5 minutes before serving, chill a Nick and Nora glass or small cocktail cup in the freezer.
Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add bitters, yuzu juice, simple syrup, gin and vermouth and stir to thin and cool. Garnish with a cherry blossom, if desired, and serve.
Recipes by Kenta Goto, bartender at Bar Goto in New York, and liquor columnist M. Carrie Allan. Recipes tested by M. Carrie Allan.