Rikuo Cocktail

Sometimes I hear or read about something while going about my every day business and it inspires me to hit my liquor cabinet and create something. Sometimes it's the other way around, where I'm playing around with different spirits and ingredients and I come across a combination I really enjoy. In the case of the former, the final product practically names itself. In the case of the latter, christening the drink with a name often requires a creative process all its own.

Today's drink, the Rikuo Cocktail, is an example of the latter process. It's one I created several weeks ago, but couldn't write about it until this week because until just a few days ago it was nameless. My research on the internet tells me "rikuo" is Japanese for "road king". Consultation with a more reliable source on Japanese lexicon (our editor's father, who is Japanese; and verified with Yoko) has indicated Rikuo translates to "land king." But before I explain why I call it that (hint: it's got nothing do do with this guy who also shares the name), let's deal with the most important part, the recipe.

Rikuo Cocktail
1 1/2 oz VSOP Cognac
1/2 orgeat (used Trader Tiki brand)
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz Campari
1 barspoon (approx tsp) A.B. Smeby Spiced Cranberry Bitters
lemon twist for garnish

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: chilled coupe or cocktail glass

Shake well with plenty of ice and strain into your glass. Cut a swath of lemon peel and twist it over the drink to release its oils, then garnish the drink with it.

As is often the case, I came up with this drink one night as I was playing around with ingredients that I chose almost randomly. I say almost because other than choosing a base spirit, a sweetener, and a citrus for acidic balance, there really was no rhyme or reason as to why I initially chose to play around with those precise ingredients, other than plain curiosity as to how they'd play together, and whether they even belonged in the same playground (there are some ingredient combinations that no matter how much one tinkers with the proportions, they just don't play well together).

In this case it was instantly clear that with a bit of tweaking, the basic flavor profile could potentially lead to a really good cocktail. So after several attempts I decided the proportions above created the most balanced drink, and moved on to figure out what to call it.

So where does the name come from? Well, my mind continued to draw a blank for weeks. Then a few days ago as I was listening to the Nas song "No Idea's Original," a thought popped in my head: what if someone already made a drink like this? Although I was sure there wasn't a drink exactly like this, at least nothing that I've come across, it did lead me to start thinking in terms of cocktail genealogy. Parsing out the DNA of the drink I'd made, I instantly saw shared traits between my drink and the classic Sidecar, which has Cognac and lemon juice. Then I remembered reading about an old Jerry Thomas creation with Cognac, orgeat, and bitters called the Japanese Cocktail, which many believe he named in honor of the first Japanese mission to America. It then dawned upon me that despite not intentionally trying to do so, I'd made a cocktail that was in many ways like an offspring of the two classics.

So there I had it, a Japanese Sidecar! Well, not so fast. I thought that name was too gimmicky, and what's more, an insincere representation of the drink and the creative process behind it. It may be true that no idea is truly original, but it was also true that I wasn't inspired by the Sidecar and the Japanese Cocktail when making this--at least not on a conscious level--so I wasn't going to call it a Japanese Sidecar. Per se.

The name Japanese Sidecar did however remind me of something I read a few years ago about the first motorcycles manufactured in Japan in the 1930s, and how they were basically Harley-Davidsons, but were later produced under the name Rikuo once World War II threw a wrench in the whole US-Japan relations thing. A quick internet search revealed the Japanese bike, a bad ass one in particular, a gun metal black military sidecar model from 1943, and I knew I had found what I was looking for.

I admit the name Rikuo doesn't roll off the tongue as well as Land King or King of the Land might, at least not for those of us who don't speak Japanese. Despite that, I thought Rikuo as a name was a fitting tribute to both the Japanese Cocktail and the Sidecar, perhaps more so than Land King. Besides, the Japanese name seems more likely to spark a conversation between the drink's maker and its imbiber, which is really the whole point of naming these creations in the first place, isn't it?


*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.
Column: Happy Hour


  • Sam – If you can’t find the cranberry bitters I suggest leaving out the bitters entirely. The Campari should suffice on its own. You can however sub a grapefruit twist for the lemon if you wish.

    Paystyle on

  • Can some other bitters be subbed for the cranberry? Grapefruit, maybe?

    Sam on

  • Sam – You’re exactly right. One reason I love sours so much is that they’re such a perfect launchpad for so many different flavor combinations, considering all the various amaros and liqueurs available today.

    Margaritas and Sidecars are similar in that they differ from traditional sours by relying on a liqueur component (Cointreau) for the sweetness, rather than sugar itself.

    Looking at it this way, it’s as if I’ve combined the orgeat and Campari in order to create a workable substitute. They total 3/4 oz, which is half of the Cognac, which is approximately the ratio of Cognac to Cointreau were I making Sidecar.

    Breaking down cocktails into these components is not only a great way to improvise new drinks, but it also shows just how well structured some of these classics are. It becomes ever more clear how much thinking went into the creation of these original classics.

    Paystyle on

  • I’ll give it a try sans bitters. Lately, I’ve been really into drinks like this, which contain a small measure of Campari and are basically just modified sours of one form or another. It’s kind of a perfect formula. And it totally works with a margarita, daquiri, or gin sour/collins. Clearly, the same goes for a sidecar. Though, I haven’t tried the campari whiskey sour yet.

    Sam on

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