On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy is joined by author and former bartender John deBary to discuss the Midori Sour. While often deemed an “unserious” cocktail ingredient, Midori has been increasing in popularity as of late, and without it the world would be robbed of the vibrant green, iconic Midori Sour cocktail. Tune in for more.
John deBary’s Midori Sour Recipe
(As featured in “Drink What You Want”)
- 2 ounces Midori
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 egg white
- Garnish (optional): lime wheel
- Add all ingredients to a shaker.
- Dry shake without ice.
- Add ice and shake until chilled.
- Strain into a chilled Old Fashioned glass.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: It’s just like writing, John deBary. Wow, apt one, we were just saying that off-air, but apt one for today’s episode because we’re going to cover a drink that has been teased before by one of our previous guests. You’ve been highlighted as the perfect candidate for the Midori Sour, but before we do, John, that’s a cocktail that you covered in your first book, which published in 2020, and Midori itself is an ingredient which you’ve used in multiple cocktails in your new book, “Saved by the Bellini,” which is just hot off the press right now. Is that correct?
John deBary: Literally today. Today is the publication day.
T: Today is the publication day. Thank you for carving out some time for us. Welcome to the show. Can you tell us a little bit about both of them? Can you tell us a little bit about both of those drinks before we do get into the more — not drinks, those books. Sorry, before we do get into the Midori Sour itself.
J: Yes, of course. “Drink What You Want” was my first book that came out in June of 2020. If you had something else going on at that time, I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing when the book came out, but that book was very much like a repository of all the things that I learned, not necessarily the information about drinks that I learned, which I definitely use in the book, but really what I learned through teaching so many people how to bartend. I worked at PDT for five and a half years and helped to train people there, of course, but my primary bar job was working for Momofuku, where I was there for nine years, and I opened basically 10 restaurants over the course of that time. I had to learn how to teach people how to make drinks and how to think about bartending and how to not only just bartender and shake and stir and you know all that stuff, but also train servers and managers and how to actually talk about cocktails and understand things really easily because I usually what would happen is I would get a day or two, three days before the restaurant opened, like, “Okay, John, go. You have three hours to train everybody having drinks.” I’m like, “Oh, crap.” Getting enough reps under my belt with that prepared me to write this book where it took all the cocktail arcana and all of the things that people are very intimidated about, like, “Oh, can I use this? Am I going to get in trouble if I do it this way instead of that way?” I’m like, “I like this ingredient, does that make me a bad person?” All those questions are like it doesn’t matter. It’s called “Drink What You Want,” and it’s like, if you like it, and you understand the reason why you like it, and you understand your own contours of your own preferences, then that’s all that matters. If your drink, if someone thinks is a bad drink, if someone’s going to judge you for liking — I don’t even know what a bad drink is, but if you like a super sweet drink, or if you like just straight whiskey, it’s all valid because you’re enjoying it and no one else is experiencing that experience for you. That’s what the book was all about. It was a real 101 class in terms of the recipes that were in the book, so it was demonstrating to the reader that there’s this language and this family tree of cocktails. There’s a highball, there’s a Daiquiri, there’s a Manhattan, there’s an Old Fashioned, and then there’s these primal drinks that you can then branch out and find other drinks on, like the Daiquiri, then metastasize into like the Margarita, modified sour, and then how do we modify that. It’s like you can vary these — drink recipes are very basic in terms of — it was not like a lot of original whole-cloth cocktails in that book. It was drinks I had done before for PDT or Momofuku or literally just Tom Collins.
T: It sounds a lot like something we were chatting about off-air just both through the title of the book and the content very much you put in your — and I hope you don’t hate me using this word, but philosophy when it comes to making drinks and drinking, right? Down on paper everything you’ve built up throughout your career and just putting that down, whereas “Saved by the Bellini” maybe feels like a step in a slightly different direction there, but very fun all the same.
J: Yes, exactly. To go into why the Midori Sour showed up in “Drink What You Want,” there’s a lot of — I was the perpetrator of this as well. Just a lot of judgmental, like “Oh, we’re not going to make this drink because it’s bad. I don’t serve vodka because it’s boring.” I wanted to rehabilitate the Midori Sour and show that you can make drinks with liqueurs that are balanced and just as delicious as a perfectly balanced Margarita. It’s just the sugar coming from different places. In the book, I actually have the Midori and Amaretto Sour next to each other because it’s the same recipe, and it’s a three-ingredient drink. It’s just the liqueur, egg white, and citrus, and it shows that when you have a super sweet base spirit, which is your liqueur, you can just leave out the rest of the sugar that has to be in the other drink. It’s a way of illustrating that you really can make a good drink out of any ingredient, as long as you’re really thoughtful about why it’s there.
J: That was a way for me to sneak in the Midori, and I’d written about liqueur drinks, Midori Sours, and Blue Hawaiians before. One of my fun things to do is to rehabilitate drinks that are considered bad or liqueur or ingredients that people think are tacky. With “Saved by the Bellini,” if you don’t get the reference, “Saved by the Bell” is a very iconic ’90s television show, and a Bellini is a very iconic Champagne in white peach puree cocktail. Once I had that title, the book basically wrote itself. The thing for me with “Drink What You Want” was that it was very philosophical. I don’t object to that word at all. It was a lot of existential questions like, “What am I writing about?” Whereas this I was like, “Okay, I’m just writing a book about the ’90s. Do I like “Jurassic Park”? Yes. How do I make a Jurassic Park cocktail? Okay.” Then that becomes very easy, but then when working with the drinks themselves, basically all of these drinks except for a few are fully their own drink. It’s not like a “Here’s my version of a Daiquiri.” There’s whey — there’s all sorts of weird stuff in it, things that you would never necessarily put in a cocktail are there.
T: When it comes to those drinks, I’m curious, maybe it’s a case of both, was it kind of like the book itself? Was it kind of like you came up with a name and you’re like, “What drink would fit this name?” Or was it maybe like you had some recipes floating around that you had in your arsenal, and you were like, “Okay, what reference can I come up with for this?” Or was it a bit of both?
J: Yes, it was a little bit of all, column A, B, and C. Example of a more straightforward riff is — The Cranberries is this Irish rock band and they have a song called “Zombie.” Of course, I’m going to put a Zombie riff in the book, and Zombie is a very complicated drink, so I made it a little bit more simple and I used a grenadine syrup that has some extra fancy ingredients in it to make it my own, but it’s still basically was just a Zombie. Another entry point into a drink is — I was talking about “Jurassic Park,” so the Jurassic Park cocktail is called Life Finds a Whey, and it’s a whey cocktail. You basically make ricotta, and then you use the whey in this blended mango, tropical drink that’s supposed to refer to Costa Rica, where that’s the setting of the movie. It was like, “Okay, I need to do Jurassic Park.” The best pun for Jurassic Park is Life Finds a Whey, so you need to use whey and make it a Costa Rica Central American drink. From that, you then can put those pieces together in a way that’s balanced and delicious. Another way is — sorry, no pun intended. “Another whey.”
T: We love a pun here on this podcast, do not worry at all. You’re right at home here, John.
J: For instance, there’s a Clueless cocktail and it’s like, “Come on. It’s one of the most —” It’s like the world was divided before that movie and after that movie, it was so good. I wanted to see what people were drinking in that movie. I watched the movie. I did a close viewing of “Clueless” on 10 a.m. last year, February morning, and just noticed all the things that people were drinking. Obviously, they’re drinking alcohol at a party, but then she’s drinking Diet Coke in a few scenes. Then there’s also this storyline where she’s trying to set her teachers up with each other, and she gives one of her teachers a thermos full of coffee and says to her teacher, “Oh, I don’t drink coffee because it stunts growth and I want to be six foot tall.” Then you see her in the movie later, her being Cher Horowitz, Alicia Silverstone, you see her in the movie drinking mocha frappuccinos or something like that. It’s basically like a Starbucks drink, so she actually does drink coffee. Is she lying or is it a continuity error? I’m working with that and how to make a drink. It’s like, what’s a Diet Coke and coffee cocktail that you could make that’s good? I actually put together — it’s basically a rum and Coke with cold brew in it. It’s a fancy Diet Coke cocktail which sounds completely insane and unhinged, but when you actually drink the drink, if you were to blind taste someone on it, people wouldn’t necessarily object to it on any visceral ground. Maybe they would just be like, “Wow, you made a drink with Diet Coke.”
T: That’s wild. That’s so good.
J: That’s how those drinks all came about.
T: As we mentioned up top, there are two Midori features in this book as well. If folks are maybe listening to this episode, they don’t own a bottle, they’re going out and buying one because they want to experiment with the Midori Sour, then they can go right out there and buy the book there too and figure out some other uses for it because I do think this is something that comes up a lot in this show, but when you have those one cocktail bottles, in a sense, one ingredient that only gets used for one thing, it can be a tough sell. Sometimes the drink really does merit it. I’m thinking about the Paper Plane and Nonino and things like that. It’s just like if you’re only going to use it in one drink, it’s absolutely worth it. Midori, plenty of other options there, and people can go out and find that book, I’m assuming in all the usual ways. Spoiler alert, it’s called Google, folks, just do it.
J: Or you can go to my website, johndebary.com.
T: That’s even better. Well, I’m hoping that’s the first hit there, but yes, please go to johndebary.com, search it out, buy a copy of each, and maybe dive into some Midoris we’re going to do now, John. Why that cocktail specifically? You mentioned before that it was something that maybe during your time behind the bar, maybe pointed to a shift in your own thinking where you can reconsider these drinks that people think are bad or people might judge you for. Also, you can reconsider the recipes too. Was it the Midori — did this particular cocktail really stand out for you or is it one of many?
J: I became a bartender in 2008, which is the peak cocktail snob. I was one of them. I was that person who if you came into PDT and you ordered a whiskey and ginger, I would roll my eyes at you, and I’d be like, “Are you sure? You don’t want to look at the menu?” Then after I did it a couple of times and I was like, “Wait a second, I can do less work and charge the same amount of money, and the guy gets what he wants instead of me being a d*ck to him. Why am I doing this?” Then eventually, that just faded away. I realized that if your drinks are good and you’re making drinks well and they look cool when you’re making them, people are going to come around. If they’re not, then they’re never going to anyway. You might as well just forget about it. I internalized that snobbery and then I let it go pretty quickly. PDT was not the kind of place where we would not have vodka, but it was very much like we’re encouraging people to try the menu drinks because they’re good and we want you to try them. If you don’t want them, no big deal. There was still — we didn’t have Midori behind the bar. We maybe had one downstairs, or it was like a secret. We had Amaretto, it was tucked away in a crusty bottle and no one touched it. Then Blue Curaçao, I think it was a hidden bottle that we had to hide from Jimmy. I think that’s actually the thing. With my first awakening of how we can take these trashy ingredients and make them into something that exists just as valid alongside a bacon-washed Old Fashioned. I included Blue Curaçao in a cocktail on a dare, and it went and it sold and it was actually — it’s still on the menu. That was like 10 years ago. It’s like, “Oh, wow. If you actually just apply these ingredients in the right way, it’s just as good as using some Old Weller or whatever.” It’s just another thing in your toolkit. Something that got me on my liqueur journey, so to speak. I grew up loving Japan. I majored in Japanese history in college. My grandfather was this big East-Asian scholar, historian. He was a professor for 70 years. It’s always been something that I was really fond of. I spent a lot of time there, but I spent some time there and I’d actually just come back from Japan before working at PDT. I was going to live there. It didn’t work out. This idea of a Japanese melon liqueur that was overlooked and considered to be tacky and gross and too sweet and artificial and whatever really appealed to me. I’m like, “Okay, how can I turn this around? What’s the PR rehabilitation I can do?” I just took a few tries. I never actually got a Midori cocktail on the menu at any place where I worked, I don’t think. No, I don’t think that. As I was starting to write, I became — basically, I was my own cocktail bar. I didn’t have anyone else to answer to in terms of a boss or whatever. I was like, “Okay, well, now I can just do whatever.” I wrote an article for Punch maybe five years ago about the Midori Sour and the Amaretto Sour and the Blue Hawaiian. I just had to figure out how to make this work and how to make it good. You do the math on the amount of sugar in the liqueur and then you’re just like, “Okay, well, then let’s just take it out from somewhere else.” Then add enough acid, then the egg white gives it a great amount of the body, and it cuts a lot of the aromatics and makes it really palatable. That was how I got to the Midori Sour. That became my — I know that Morgenthaler has an Amaretto Sour where there’s a little bit of whiskey in it. I love that recipe too, but for me, it’s like, “How can you even pair that down even more?”
T: Even more? Yes.
J: This is like the core version of that. That spec applies to both Amaretto, and I guess, any really liqueur you’re thinking about.
T: That’s so fascinating. I had no idea coming into this, your connection there and interest in Japanese culture, but also, I did think hearing you speak leading up to that, I did imagine starting this liqueur journey and that new or different way of thinking. The Midori Sour, obviously, stands out because of — first thing — the iconic color. Maybe can you tell us a little bit more about just Midori as an ingredient? Before we start looking at this drink in particular, Midori as an ingredient for those who aren’t familiar with it, I’m saying it there. It’s like neon green, maybe? I think neon’s probably the right way to describe it.
J: It’s not an inaccurate description.
T: What else is it? What does it taste like? Where does it originate from?
J: Well, it’s a Japanese muskmelon liqueur. Believe it or not, they actually reformulated about 10 years ago. I think it was a bit more artificially tasting. I think it was around 2012-ish. They were like, “Okay, let’s try to make this a little bit more approachable to fancy bartenders,” because in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, cocktails had a different identity, and people didn’t really have a lot of craft mentality towards it. I think that was a product of its time in a way. After the reformulation, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually tasted the un-reformulated versions because I don’t think I ever allowed myself to explore Midori before. About five or six years ago, maybe. When I first started to taste it, it was like, “Wow, this actually doesn’t taste like total artificial nonsense, it actually tastes good. Let’s work with this.”
T: I bet there’s some crazy bottle hunters out there now, they’re pricking up their ears, and they’re going, “Oh, wait, there’s pre-formula Midori from the ’70s out there somewhere.” Bottle hunters out there just being like, “I need to get my hands on this.”
J: Yes, where you’re going to some obscure liquor store in the middle of nowhere, just hiding in their back room for the past-
T: Forgot they had it.
J: -20 years.
T: Probably still good, the amount of sugar that’s in it.
J: Yes. The sugar, the alcohol, I’m sure it’s totally fine.
T: This made its way over to the U.S. in what, the late ’70s-ish?
J: Yes. From what I understand, I’m not the biggest historian. I don’t hate history, but to me, it’s more like, “What are you going to do about it now?” I do love the association with Studio 54, and it’s very that opulent time in our culture, at least in New York, where the idea of a bright green melon liqueur from Japan was super exciting, and you can imagine Andy Warhol chugging a few with some quaaludes.
T: I think the story goes that the Midori itself — not this cocktail, I’m sure it probably arrived a little bit later. To your point, especially for drinks like this, there’s not too much point in going into the history, but apparently, the Midori itself also debuted that Studio 54 in the launch party for “Saturday Night Fever,” which also does feel-
J: I love that.
T: I do think that there’s a good tie in there.
J: Also, this is maybe a bit pedantic, but the word Midori means “green” in Japanese. I forget that people don’t know that.
T: I did not know that as well.
J: Midori, that’s green. I also love that.
T: That’s wonderful.
J: Midori is not some arcane reference or something. It’s just like, “Hey, this is a green liqueur.”
T: Look, another drink you mentioned earlier that I’m sure they would’ve been drinking and just pounding around this time, the Amaretto Sour. It makes complete sense that someone would turn around and maybe swap out one ingredient for another one.
T: A new exciting one. I’m sure there’s probably some story there, one that everyone’s forgotten or no one really knows. Probably wasn’t one first person to do it, but a honed-in, dialed-in version of this drink, what are you looking for profile-wise? Where do you think it should land at Midori Sour?
J: Well, this is maybe a cop-out answer, but balance. You’re using a really healthy amount of a liqueur that has a ton of sugar in it. If you’re talking about any other cocktail that you’re going to make, there has to be a certain amount of sugar, it has to come from somewhere. You might as well — if you’re combining two birds with one stone and have the spirits and the sugar and the flavors come from the same thing, just compounding the ingredients. I have to speculate that the Midori Sour was probably developed using sour mix, which is basically just sugar and an egg white powder and some level of citrus in some form depending on how good your sour mix is. Not fancy bar-made sour mix that you can find now, but real on-the-shelf, preservative sour mix. It does have that egg white component to it most likely, so the airiness cuts through a bit of the aromatic intensity as well as the sweetness so that the foam creates air that creates space. It’s like a bit of a bigger drink. I think a Midori Sour, it’s just Midori in lime juice or Midori in lemon juice, probably is not disgusting, but I think that the egg white really is what makes it and brings everything more to life rather than just acidified here.
T: I’m going to do a little bit of a spoiler alert here because I know that there are versions out there printed in many different ways, but oftentimes, you might see this cocktail, the ingredients being Midori, citrus, sparkling water, and vodka, right? That drink ends up looking like a bit more of a highball than a sour. It seems like you’re definitely approaching this from a very literal perspective then when it comes to the name, so you’re approaching it as a sour.
J: Like a Whiskey Sour, yes.
T: Exactly. Or a true Amaretto Sour. Now, if people want to hear about Morgenthaler’s version, we’ve got that back somewhere there in the archives. You can learn about what bringing in an extra spirit, especially one maybe that’s a little bit higher proof, this sour brings to that. If you want to take that approach, we got you covered on that front, listener. We’re going to do your approach here today, John.
J: Although now that I’m thinking about it, I’m like, “Go with a quarter-ounce of navy-strength gin.”
T: Nice. Yes, something with a little flavor, but also some proof there just-
J: Like a cucumber-y gin.
T: Some backbone maybe, is that what that’s bringing to it.
J: Yes, I mean, just a little bit of-
T: Yes, a little kick. Before we move into any of the other ingredients, anything else you want to say just about Midori in general because I know we’ve covered it in various ways up to this point.
J: Well, you know what I learned recently, that there’s actually a bunch of line extensions in Australia. There’s passion fruit, and there’s banana. They’re not called Midori, but they’re in that really iconic modeled bottle. I don’t know how to describe the texture of the bottle. Yes, I was hanging out with someone from Suntory and he was like, “Yes, we’ve got —” I’m like, “Hey, can I be the Suntory mascot for your entire world?” He’s like, “Probably not, but do you want to know that there’s all these other liqueurs out there that are basically based on the Midori model, but they’re for other flavors and they’re only available in Australia?” Which is interesting. Kind of messed up.
T: Well, that’s a good point that we did actually maybe gloss over, that this is a Beam Suntory product.
T: I got this information from Wikipedia and the Wayback Machine to the old Midori website.
J: Yes, I think I did that too.
T: There’s a lot of misinformation on there. It says ABV I think is something like 4.5 percent to 25 percent. That seems like a major reformulation so that seems like an error, but it does say on there — again, we might be spreading misinformation here, which we don’t mean to do, but apparently it was previously called Hermes Melon Liqueur before it was rebranded as Midori and launched here. I don’t know whether there’s anything just to do with geographical closeness. That means that maybe some of those extensions might be more or maybe just the Australians love very vibrant liqueurs.
J: Yes, maybe. I mean, I feel like we went through a very dry phase, not dry in terms of no alcohol, but dry in terms of like if people were just really afraid of sweetness, even though people like sweetness more than they think they do. Maybe that never really happened in Australia, I don’t know, but I feel like-
T: They’re out there just drinking flat whites for breakfast and then a Midori banana liqueur for — you got to love them. I love the Aussies. All right, well, I think that’s a nice little wrapping up the Midori. Otherwise, I put citrus here on the list because I’ve seen various versions of this where we’re using both lemon and lime.
T: Would that be your approach or are you going for one over the other?
J: I mean, I think for me, there’s a certain beauty of the three-ingredient drink. Just to show people how simple it is and to reveal the underlying structure of these kinds of drinks. I love a Pisco Sour with lemon and lime, so that definitely would work. Just yes. Splitting it, you could do other, even Meyer lemon or Yuzu or whatever you got, you could definitely play with the citrus. I think that’ll be super fun.
T: I point that out too as well because, like you said, yes, it works in a Pisco Sour, but definitely maybe not the classic version of that. To my mind, the only cocktail I could think of that uses a standard lemon-lime would be with the Ramos Gin Fizz.
J: Yes. I got to — I haven’t even thought about that drink in a really long time. I’m trying to remember. Yes, I think I definitely use an ounce of citrus. I think I would do lemon and lime. Yes, for sure.
T: If you’re going down to one and your approach, I do like that too, just keeping a very clean three-ingredient cocktail. Would you go lemon or lime then for this?
J: I always get so — I feel like I’m living in a simulation when I’m trying to think about the difference between lemon and lime because sometimes you can tell a difference and it’s really, really noticeable, and sometimes you’re like, “Are these just the same thing?” Definitely, there’s different types of acids in those things. I think the apple-y malic acid vibe of lime juice works a little better, but I think it’s one of those drinks where it’s less about the aromatics from the citrus juice because aromatically Midori is quite strong, so it wouldn’t — I don’t think — it’s more about the structure of the getting the acidity to balance the sweetness. To me, it’s the best citrus for — this is whatever you have on hand, as long as it’s not orange because it’s just a totally different profile. Grapefruit, I think you would still need a lemon or a lime, but either of those two I think would be fabulous. I think that I did lime in my book.
T: That makes sense. Maybe that feels like — I don’t know whether this is true on the actual pH scale, but it definitely feels like lime is a little bit more piercing when it comes to acidity. That makes sense.
J: I feel like there’s a superstition about lemon and lime. Has someone done — I’m sure Dave Arnold probably has done some rigorous analysis of the difference between the two of these citruses, but-
T: Almost certainly.
J: -you just have to feel it out. yes. Whiskey and lime is great, but whiskey and lemon is also really good. It’s like, why? Lime and gin or lemon and gin, they all work for different reasons.
T: Well, it speaks to “Drink What You Want.” I feel like people are almost apologetic, where they’re like, “Look, I’ve got this cocktail that I want to make that’s sour profile, but I only have lemon on hand instead of lime. Should I be apologetic about the fact that I’m using lemon instead of lime?” Like, “No, drink it. See if you like it.”
J: Yes. That’s my — I’m an online cocktail therapist. People will DM me and they’re like, “Hey, is it okay if I do this and this?” I’m like, “Yes.” They’re like, “Wow, thanks.” It’s like, “I just told you to do whatever you were going to do anyway. Just don’t feel bad about it.”
T: Yes. Making people feel good about that. I think it’s an interesting point too though, right? You really highlighted that journey there where it’s like — at least this is the journey that I had, and I think it maybe is true for a lot of people that when you start to get into drinks and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to take this seriously now,” whether it’s wine or cocktails or beer or everything. In the beginning, when you start taking it seriously, you almost feel apologetic for everything like you have to, or like, “Oh, I haven’t tried all the bourbon in the world, but I like this one. Is it bad that I like it?” The more time you spend in it, maybe it’s just because you get so fed up of hearing people like that speak or maybe you’re just like, “No, everyone’s palate’s different, so drink what you’d like,” but I think that’s a really good way to describe where hopefully a lot of people arrive in their own journeys.
J: Yes. It’s like a confidence dip. It’s like if you don’t know what you don’t know, then you’re really confident. Then you start to learn and you’re like, “Oh, crap.” There’s someone who you don’t know and then you’re feeling really bad about it. Then as you learn more, it starts to tick back up again. Definitely, I’ve noticed that for myself too, where I’m very insecure and very — “Oh, I have to conform to what my people who I consider to be better at this than me think is good.” Then now I’m like, “Whatever, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
T: That’s a very accurate and succinct way of putting into words what I was thinking about. It was talking around, it’s like, yes, you don’t know what you don’t know and then you do know what you don’t know, and then ultimately-
J: Then you don’t care.
T: Yes, exactly. It’s a really nice curve there. The bell curve is that — I don’t know.
J: Yes. Sure.
T: Egg white, fresh is best obviously. Are you using fresh or are you using an alternative? Fresh is best if you’re using fresh is what I mean.
J: Yes. It was funny. I forget where I was doing this, but usually, when you do call for an egg white, you just say egg white, like whatever. It’s a standard egg white. I haven’t done any research on this, but there’s some validity to the idea that when a lot of these old-timey drinks were developed, eggs were smaller. We didn’t have jumbo eggs. The egg whites are bigger, so you should use less egg white and measure it out and put it in a squeeze bottle and have more reason — I feel like milk and honey did this really well. They had these subtly egg-white drinks that were not eggy, but they definitely had that foam to them. One day I was trying to figure out how much an egg white actually is, and it was pretty close to a half ounce. It seemed like it was more, but I was actually really surprised by how small an egg white actually ends up being. Maybe that was just the one egg that I did and I’m extrapolating all that data to the entire world, and maybe that’s wrong, but I think that egg white should definitely be fresh because I think that there’s a lot of — since you’re so much — not necessarily in terms of volume, but in terms of-
J: -real estate-in the drink, egg white’s everywhere because we have all the ingredients wrapped up in this airy matrix of proteins that it’s very in your face and you can have this almost barnyard smell, which is why a lot of egg drinks have bitters over the top, so you’re masking this smart gamey flavor, which I don’t always pick up on, but I think definitely if you’re using an egg white that’s been sitting out for a while, it’s probably not a great idea. I think as long as it’s refrigerated and reasonably fresh, I think it’s fine.’
T: Do the old trick. Stick the egg in the water, and if it floats-
J: Oh, is that bad? I want to say if it floats it’s bad. If it sinks, it’s good. You think because it’s losing moisture or something, so it becomes less dense as it ages?
T: Yes, or it might be the other way around. I don’t know, Google it. One of them’s bad and one of them’s good. This is a former chef speaking with apparently no experience there. One of them is bad, one of them is good. I believe the floating is bad and it’s to do with air content.
J: I buy that.
T: Sure. Just faux science along with misinformation, that’s what we’re known here at this “Cocktail College” for. Half an ounce you’d say is the way to go when it comes to the old egg white.
J: Or just an egg white. For me, I think it’s in “Drink What You Want,” it’s a standard cocktail book structure where there’s a primer in all the ingredients. The relative rates of salmonella or the sports forms of foodborne pathogens is actually pretty low compared to other foods. Spinach is much higher, peanut butter is also very risky, not very risky, but relatively more risky than raw eggs. Raw flour is raw and not safe to eat. I’ve made and drank tons of egg white drinks or whole egg drinks, and I’ve never really had an issue with getting salmonella or some other illness from it. If someone tells you that the alcohol kills it, it’s wrong. Unless you’re drinking a 61 percent alcohol drink, then yes, but then you have other problems on your hands. Don’t be scared by the egg white, but you can do the aquafaba trick if you want. I’ve never really loved that, but I have very valid reasons for not wanting to consume eggs. I wouldn’t stop you. I haven’t specked out a Midori Sour with aquafaba, but I think actually the aquafaba has this green grassy thing to it. It actually might be nicely compatible.
T: That sounds good. Yes, that tracks.
J: It could work. Let me know.
T: I like that, though. I’m taking away two things from that. From here on in, I’ll probably start choosing to measure my egg whites. I think we’ve had a few guests on that talking about that before too, but also just the bitters, right? If you do get put off a little bit by the smell that can come from egg white cocktails, from sours, the bitters, it’s a great trick, like aromatic on top.
J: Little orange bitters or for Angostura in a spray bottle, you’re good to go.
T: What would you go for in this-
J: I’ve been thinking about that, if I was going to put bitters on top of a Midori Sour. Orange could be fun, but it’s a little. I think the Angostura orange isn’t quite super — it’s orangey as opposed to spicy like Regans. What about celery bitters? It’s so overlooked, celery bitters. They’re so good.
T: Especially if you’re used to knocking back green juice, right? You’re familiar with it, you’ve got your melon in there, your apple flavors-
J: Yes. I was looking at this, there’s the Scrappy — I was looking at bottles of Scrappy’s Bitters last week and they had a black lemon. That could be good.
T: Yes. I’ve had that.
J: They had cardamom. That could also be nice with melon or even a lavender maybe. I don’t know.
T: This brings up something that I’m keen to ask actually. Based on a very recent experience that has nothing to do with today’s topic, but it’s to do with bitters and it’s a question for you. I’m not going to ask you to call out any brands, feel free to if you want or not. That’s not the point of this, but I was in Charleston for the Wine and Food Festival recently and went for my standard order of Martini. A bartender, I asked her, “I want orange bitters.” It was like, “Absolutely.” Made the drink. On my first sip of the drink, I was like, “Ooh, something’s not right about this Martini.” I know. It was not the spec that I wanted. I was like, “I’m not sure what vermouth you are using here. Maybe there’s some —” I’m like, “I’ll pay for this, but there’s something not quite right.”
T: He did that, and made the drink again, and it tasted exactly the same. I drank it. I’m like, “Okay, that’s weird, but whatever.” It’s a gin that I liked, a vermouth that I liked, add bitters and a twist. A couple of other places I had more Martinis during that visit at Charleston like it, just making sure, doing the groundwork. Every single one I had that same experience and ultimately came to realize that everyone was using Angostura Orange Bitters rather than Regans, which I’m used to. I’d always previously assumed, look, these two things are interchangeable.
T: No. I had no idea. That’s a very long and roundabout way of asking, do you have preferences then when it comes to bitters, and brands specifically matter versus all orange bitters are interchangeable?
J: Absolutely. Not all oranges are interchangeable. When I was starting at PDT. We had house orange bitters, which is the equal parts blend of — I think it’s Fee’s and Regans. Fee’s is very orangey, and it’s a glycerine base too. It’s really more about the orange, literal orange, and plus a non-aromatic bittering agent. They probably mention it, but the Regans, it’s from what I understand an archival recipe. He basically found a couple of versions and why it’s number six on the bottle.
T: Oh, interesting.
J: It was like a TTB thing. I forget, it’s arcane, but interesting — if you can find him talking about it, which I’m sure exists. It’s very clove-y. It’s very aromatic, it’s not a face full of oranges. We blended the two. I don’t know if that’s still being done, but for my entire time there, that’s what we did. Then I found the Angostura orange, and I think that Angostura orange is the best balance of the two.
T: Oh, interesting.
J: I like that. I have a bottle of Angostura orange in my back bar
T: That’s interesting, though. I appreciate the expert insight in there too and just realize now, maybe I should start making my own bitters and blends at home.
J: It’s so annoying.
T: It’s annoying?
J: It’s a lot of work. I mean if it’s fun for you, then that’s what-
T: What if that’s what I want to drink though, John?
J: Exactly. I’m not going to stop you, but there’s a certain — it’s, again, the confidence curve where you’re like, “I could do a better job than so and so.”
T: Oh, not making bitters. I mean, just the blend. Just f*cking around the blends.
J: Oh, yes, do the blend. The blend is-
T: No, I’m never — I’m not-
J: Making your own bitters-
T: No, no.
J: -I’ve been a bartender for 15 years and I’ve never made my own bitters.
T: No, John. I had a craft Coca-Cola for lunch today, or not Coca-Cola. I had a craft Coke for lunch today and it just reiterated everything that I think about making your own bitters.
J: That’s so funny, the craft cola reminds me of a failed drink from “Saved by the Bellini” that did not make it in, although I was sad that it didn’t, is I wanted to make a version of Crystal Clear Pepsi-
J: -which if you don’t remember, Pepsi released a crystal-clear version. Basically, from what I can gather, it was like everything except for the caramel coloring. Pepsi is very citrusy just normally. Then there’s caramel coloring, which is used in very small amounts, but it affects the flavor in two ways. One, because it looks darker, so you taste — literally, it affects the flavor based on your site. Also, there’s a little bit of caramel flavor from that, obviously. It was very refreshing, but it was cola. It was actually really delicious. I remember the flavor of it. I remember this awesome Van Halen commercial that had — anyway, I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to go to Kalustyan’s and get all their — I found some old-school Pepsi recipe with magnesium phosphate or whatever it is that you have to put in there and orange and clove and cola. I was like, “Maybe I can do a thing where I can make a little — tell people to make a sachet of these little dried aromatics and throw it in some Everclear. Then you have this cola base and you can use that. Now it’ll be brilliant and you can make DIY and it’ll be this genius thing.” It tasted like farts. It was so bad. It was disgusting. I’m like, “I’m not even going to try to do this again.” I’m like, “No, no, no.”
T: I love the intention, though. Bringing back clear Pepsi.
J: It would’ve been amazing.
T: It would’ve been amazing.
J: It was not going to happen for me.
T: Oh, we do digress. I am going to bring us back onto the course of the Midori Sour briefly here. I’m going to get you to commit to a recipe, if that’s okay, or-
T: You can either go with the one you go from “Drink What You Want.”
J: I need to look at my own recipes.
T: Look at your own recipe. Yes.
T: We’ve had guests on here plagiarize themselves before and actually get it wrong, which is fine too because guess what? Tastes change.
J: It’s true.
T: Ingredients change too.
J: Ingredients do change, yes. If you’re an author or if you’re ever going to be an author, take the PDF that your publisher sends you of your book and save it as JPEGs. Then you have it on your phone and you can always look it up whenever you want. That’s-
T: Also, some of the-
J: -my pro tip to anybody who has a cocktail book.
T: That’s wonderful. Also, the PDF files themselves can be kind of big too, right?
J: Yes. The JPEGs, their quality isn’t spectacular, but you just need to be able to read it.
J: I’m finding my recipe here. All right. Midori Sour. Two ounces of Midori, one ounce fresh lime juice, and one egg white, and optional garnish with a lime wheel.
J: That’s it.
J: Dry shake. Combine, dry shake, add ice. Strain. I did chill Old Fashioned glass with ice for the Amaretto Sour. Sorry, I’m reading it. I strain into — did I not go for glassware in the Midori Sour? That’s really funny.
T: You were able to revise history here too.
J: Okay. Oh, I guess I just did Old Fashioned glassware for both. That’s what I did. I just made things simple for people.
T: You like that approach then, the Old Fashioned glass and the ice or is it — again, is that-
J: Straight down?
J: The Amaretto Sour, I think the ice is nice for some reason. It just feels more correct, but the Midori — I don’t know, I think it has to do with almost the color of the aromatics. The Amaretto is brown and rich and syrupy and honeyed. It reads a little bit sweeter, so having the ice sort of cuts out a little bit, but the Midori Sour has a brighter overall profile. So I don’t think you necessarily need it. It’s either a big coupe or an Old Fashioned glass or it could be fun in a little fizz. Little fizz guy. The glassware for me, I’m not so concerned about glassware for a lot of cocktails because it’s usually unfair to be like, “Hey, can you have this very specific type of glassware?” Most people just have whatever they have and they should be able to enjoy drinks based on what’s in their cabinet and not feel derelict in not having the right kind of coupe. I think a coupe or one of those claret glasses. I don’t even know that’s the right word for-
T: I know the one.
T: Literally, the old — I think they’re called-
J: Like an absinthe glass even. That would be nice.
T: There’s one that’s shaped. It’s like a bell that’s not a Margarita glass, but I think that used to be a sour glass.
T: Yes, I think so.
J: Not a Nick & Nora, it’s too small.
T: I think they used to call it a — Anyway, search that one. John, any final thoughts on the Midori Sour before we move into our final five questions of the show?
J: Any final thoughts?
T: We’ve already used our “Drink What You Want” card.
J: Don’t knock it until you try it.
T: Don’t knock it until you try it. Nice. All right then. Let’s do it. Let’s head into the final section of the show now with our recurring questions for our weekly guests. Beginning with question number one, John, what style or category of spirit or drink otherwise typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
J: I think I’m a liqueur guy. I think if I had to say — because it’s like you have a whiskey and you’ve got your whiskey covered. It’s like you need the full palette. Also, you drink it less quickly, so there’s just more likely to be there still. If you had to open up my cabinet, it’s very gnarly, but probably a lot of liqueurs.
T: That’s a great point. You can do many cocktails, one bottle of whiskey, but oftentimes yes, the liqueurs, they don’t often do many drinks well. Nice. Question number two. Which ingredient or tool do you believe is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
J: I think hands. I think people, first of all, don’t wash their hands enough. They don’t wash their nails enough when they’re in photo shoots. A pet peeve of mine. I think people get really hung up on if they have the prettiest bar spoon or if they have the right type of jigger or if their shaker is from Japan, or whatever, that it’s like you don’t really realize how much power you have in yourself and your own ability to manipulate the world. It’s fun to watch bartenders who know how to use their hands versus bartenders who are just working the tools.
T: You mentioned the Zombie, the Cranberries earlier.
T: I think for the longest time I was singing that is in your hands, but it’s in your head, isn’t it?
J: Yes, it is.
T: Ten years I was singing that song wrong just in my head.
J: It’s in our hands. It could have been that.
T: I don’t know. I was thinking about that because I think we did use that pun reference as well when we covered the Zombie on this show. We like a pun, as I said. Question number three. What’s the most important piece of advice you received while working in this industry?
J: God. Can I give you two?
J: One is from Jim Meehan. It was in the — my confidence curve was up on the upswing, so I was getting to be prominent and known. I was not just some bartender who was trying to figure something — I was feeling a little bit bored. I was like, “Oh, I’m not busy enough. Should I be doing it this or that?” Jim was like, “You should work out like it’s your job right now because you probably won’t always have the chance to do so.” I always prioritize exercise and physical maintenance of myself because I know that if I have the chance, I should do it. I’m also very lucky that I enjoy doing it. Then I also know that there are some weeks or some days where it’s just not going to happen, and banking that time, and maybe I’ll go to two yoga classes on a Sunday morning or whatever. That’s just something that happens. That’s very good advice that I think about a lot and not to feel bad about that either, and not to see that as like a luxury or something, but actually see this as an investment in yourself, especially if you’re working in a creative field or a field like bartending, where you need to be in shape and you need to be able to move as well as you possibly can, then that’s actually very good to do. Don’t feel like you’re being luxurious. This is not necessarily “advice,” so to speak. When I was working at Momofuku, I was talking to Dave Chang about this restaurant that we opened in Chelsea called Mishi. It’s no longer open, very sadly. It was a very good restaurant. We were at this meeting and we were just talking about everything, and he just turns to me and he’s like, “John, I want you to make a cocktail program that is completely Italian, but don’t use anything that’s actually from Italy.” I was not that at the time. I probably should have been more scared than I was, but I was like, “Oh, my God. Yes, this is — I love this.” It instilled in me the love of f*cked-up limitations and how restricting yourself in arbitrary ways can actually be tremendously powerful and very productive in terms of allowing you to explore creativity and giving yourself freedom within boundaries. Choice can be very paralyzing, and going in any direction is easier than going in two. The drinks that I created based on that prompt ended up being some of my favorite drinks I’ve ever made in my life. That made me just love to have restrictions, which I think is also why “Saved by the Bellini” was so for me because it was like ’90s drinks, drinks about things — drinks from the ’90s that I love, making drinks based on that. It was like it wrote itself. It just flowed out of me. I value arbitrary restrictions as a way of spurring creativity.
T: Can you share one of those drinks from that time with us? Maybe one of your favorites there?
J: Let’s see. I did this really awesome Daiquiri riff with this shochu that was made with black sugar. There’s soju from Korea and there’s shochu from Japan. It was a rummy white spirit. It’s 30-ish percent ABV. Then there was this German hibiscus liqueur that was really delicious. I made this hibiscus-y, not really very Italian, I have to admit, but-
T: I was going to say that very famous Italian essential cocktail there.
J: Yes. It was so delicious. I forget what I called it. I also made a White Negroni with a saffron-infused gin. I forget what it’s about now, but it basically was this — It also uses a black sesame shochu as well. It had this earthy thing. The name of it was Shiro Negro, which is a portmanteau of Shiro, which is white in Japanese, and Negro, which is black in Italian. It was very much like an encapsulation of that restaurant in terms of the Japanese take on Italian.
T: Nice. That’s really cool. That sounds like a lot of fun.
J: Very specific liqueurs are probably not even on the market anymore.
T: Amazing. Question number four, the penultimate question today. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
J: Here’s my question about these. Am I visiting the bar and then I can’t go to another bar for the rest of my life? Or am I visiting the bar and I’m dying right afterwards?
T: I’ve always imagined this as open to interpretation from the person who’s on the receiving end. Generally speaking, people don’t ask, but that’s a great point. It can be either. It can be, “I’m only going to one last bar, but I can go as many times as I-”
J: You walk out and someone just cuts your head off.
T: No, no, no. It can be like, “Yes, but you can go there as many times as you want for the rest of your life.”
J: Yes. That’s another wrinkle to it. I guess either way, it’s the Tonga Room in the Peninsula Hotel in San Francisco because it rains inside of a bar. That’s it. I’m sorry. What more could you ask for?
T: Midori Sour.
J: Sorry to all my friends who own bars, but it’s going to be the Tonga Room.
T: Nice. All right. Last question for you. Actually, no, this one is a lot more specific. Just reminding myself of it. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
J: Again, is this a, “I’m going to finish this cocktail and then I’m in the guillotine?” Or is it like, “This is it,” and then I can live for 70 years afterwards?
T: Can be either of those. I’m going to ask you therefore to tell me whether you’re ordering it or making it because no one ever answers that part.
J: Interesting. I think if it was the “getting-ready-to-go-to-the-guillotine” cocktail, it might be a fancy Champagne. Something just nice and you have the very sensation of the very intense and this delicious champagne as your head gets chopped off. I think that sounds nice. If I had to keep living after the drink or if it could be the only drink I will ever be able to drink for the rest of my life, I have to pick one. It would probably be something a bit more boring and refreshing. I’m a huge fan of sparkling water. There’s this Romanian sparkling water that my dad’s wife introduced me to a couple of years ago and it’s so good and so bubbly in a weird, very powerful way. It comes in 1.5-liter bottles and I can just crush an entire bottle of it in two seconds. If I had to live with myself after this drink, it would probably be one of those.
T: Is it one of those really salty ones like a Gerolsteiner or a Vichy Catalan?
J: It’s a little Gerolsteiner-y but not quite as intense and a little bit softer in the bubbles. It’s Pellegrino texture with Gerolsteiner minerality.
T: Nice. That one’s for the Wharton nerds out there. John, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today.
J: Thank you.
T: A reminder once again, folks, support independent places to publish things, johndebary.com. Forget Amazon, forget Google. You don’t need any of those things, johndebary.com.
J: There’s a link to my publisher’s page where you can buy the book from wherever you want. I would recommend this. Blue Stockings is a queer bookstore in the Lower East Side that’s right by me. Bluestockings.com, they have it, they’ll ship it to you, or you can pick it up if you live in New York City. Leave me a review on Amazon.
T: Leave the review on Amazon. Just game the whole system, folks. While you’re at it, head over to the Apple Podcasts page. Leave us a review. Leave us a five-star review if you want. Anyway, John, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. Cheers.
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