Jason Loucas

The world of classic cocktails is led by founding members the Negroni, the Martini, and the Old Fashioned. Australia’s contribution to the mix? the Japanese Slipper. Invented in the ’80s — otherwise known as one of the sweetest and most-chaotic eras of cocktail making — the Slipper never quite took off as much as its colourful counterpart the Cosmopolitan, but things are looking up for the melon-centric drink, which slots right into the ‘loosen-up’ mentality of today’s drinkers.

Hospitality speaks to Claudia Morgan from Double Deuce Lounge and Sam Kirk from Jacksons on George in Sydney about their take on the drink, spin-offs, and why they think people will be going green in the very near future.

Back in 1984, French native Jean-Paul Bourguignon was working as a bartender at Mietta’s in Melbourne. A sales rep handed him a bottle of Midori and he got to work, mixing the melon liqueur with just two other elements: Cointreau and fresh lemon juice. The name of the drink was inspired by a book he was reading to learn English, which depicted a Japanese woman and her slippers, with the word slipper becoming a new addition to his vocabulary and cocktail history.

While the drink was popular across Australia during the ’80s, it never quite resonated with people as much as other staples, which could be attributed to its bright green hue or the polarity of drinks that don’t shy away from sugar. Midori, however, is a liqueur most people are familiar with whether it was one of their earliest drinks or a staple in their parent’s liquor cabinets — as was the case for Jacksons on George Bar Manager Sam Kirk.

“My parents would pull out all the random liquor bottles when we had relatives over — I think that was my first experience with Midori,” he says. “When I started working in cocktail bars, I looked into the most famous cocktail that used Midori as a base and it was the Japanese Slipper.”

Sam Kirk by Jason Loucas.

The discovery of the cocktail was also part of Claudia Morgan’s early bar career
when the Double Deuce Lounge manager began learning about classic cocktails.

“I first came across it when I started bartending in 2012 and it was considered
a bit of a daggy drink at the time,” she says. “But there’s been a movement where
retro cocktails have made a comeback and Midori has become more popular. We’re
seeing people go for less-serious cocktails and more for things like a Cosmo or a
Piña Colada, which is what we’ve always embraced here.”

The Japanese Slipper is as straightforward as cocktails get, comprising equal parts
Midori, lemon juice, and Cointreau. The drink is shaken with ice and strained into
a chilled coupe with a maraschino cherry.

“You can bash them out as fast as you can,” says Kirk. “We tried a few different
options, but the original reflects the era we are pushing at the bar — drinks your mum would remember and your mates would like when they try it for the first time — so
I went with the classic ratio.”

The classic is not officially on the menu at Double Deuce, but Morgan says orders
have begun to flow in over the past few months, which is fortunate timing given
Midori’s recent addition to the backbar after requests from the team.

“It never used to happen, but in the past year, people will name-call it,” she says. “We
have a lot of hospitality people come in who are excited to see it and they are
usually well ahead of the trends.”

Along with requests for the original, Double Deuce has run its share of spin-off
cocktails inspired by the Slipper. “We’ve done a Japanese Slipper Collins using a
Japanese melon liqueur and fresh melon as well as a frozen Glass Slipper as a special,” says Morgan. “When people read melon, especially during summer, they order it.”

Kirk has also come across various riffs, recalling a Midori cocktail on the menu
at Melbourne’s Above Board a few years ago. “I was really surprised, and I asked
Hayden [Lambert, owner] about it, and he was like, ‘Honestly, why not? It’s
delicious’,” he says. “Katana Kitten in New York also do a highball with lime vodka
and Midori.”

It’s important to note the Midori you may have last tried is not the same as the
version on the market today. The recipe was changed back in 2012 by Suntory as a
means to cater to the modern palate, which resulted in less sugar and the integration of natural melon flavourings from Japanese melon, muskmelon, and Yubari melon. “The flavour is on point and it’s lighter and less-sweet than you think it will be,” says Kirk.

The revival of the Japanese Slipper signals an incoming roster of cocktails that will
see guests sip on the rainbow. But the bigger picture presents an opportunity for
bartenders to re-educate the public and encourage them to give these drinks another chance.

“Everyone has memories of Midori,” says Kirk. “It was viewed as a spirit that was
too sweet and fruity, but using it correctly to create a well-made drink is something
people are open to. We went through a serious two years of cocktails where drinks
were pushed towards this chef mentality of being artistic and forward-thinking, but drinkers are ready to have fun now.”