This Drink Is Da Bomb
Kamikaze Cocktail (Courtesy PIXNIO)
Having recently learned how to make a superior Lime Juice Cordial (see last week’s column), I thought I’d continue the cocktail theme to highlight other libations for which the homemade cordial would be needed. Only trouble was, at the time I was planning this week’s article, I was only able to think of one other cocktail that was any good: The Kamikaze.
The word kamikaze was once—perhaps still is—a widely understood American vernacular for mindlessly extreme, purposely reckless, even crazy dangerous behavior. The word comes from the Japanese, where it means “spirit wind,” and was the name for the Japanese specialized aviation attack units in World War II that carried out suicide missions against American forces in the Pacific. In the post-war period, the word entered common usage. This is how it came to be attached to what cocktail historian Dave Wondrich calls the first “shooter” cocktail in 1976. That is, a mixed alcoholic drink meant to be slammed down one’s gullet in one shot. The idea being to get drunk quickly, not wet one’s whistle. It was designed to cut to the chase for Disco partiers pursuing fun with reckless abandon. The Kamikaze is traditionally made by shaking equals parts vodka, triple sec, and Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial.
When I first encountered the Kamikaze as a shot, I thought of it the way I think of nearly all of the cocktails that emerged in the 1970’s “dark ages” for mixology—yuck. Eventually, however, I encountered it modified to serve as a proper cocktail, rather than as a shot; to be enjoyed for its flavor, rather than strictly its effects. Perhaps I ought not to admit it, but I really liked it.
Why my hesitancy? To most serious mixologists, the Kamikaze is of a piece with all the other un-improvable lowbrow cocktails of its generation. My attempt to find other cocktails that call for lime juice cordial that might merit inclusion in this space is illustrative.
Dipping through my library of bar books I encountered no difficulty in finding many other cocktails for which lime juice cordial was an established ingredient— Death From Above, Bleeding Weasel, Bowl Hugger, Confirmed Bachelor, Ivy’s Poison, and many, many more. Unfortunately, these drinks are all varying degrees of awful. Some of these concoctions I’d had before, years ago, and the taste-memory fluttering back was enough to make me feel queasy. Those I hadn’t had before sounded as gross from the ingredient list as their names suggested.
Wondrich, my cocktail historian guide in these matters, once explained it at a cocktail seminar: “Two generations ago, American drinkers looked at a 150-year-old tradition of mixology and said, collectively, ‘meh.’ In place of Martinis and Manhattans, Slings, Sidecars, and Sazeracs, they wanted things that were fun and flirty: easy to mix, easy to drink, and ‘modern.’” Further, the rise of recreational drug use in the night-club scene also had a negative impact on cocktails. “Drugs made cocktails seem kind of tame,” he noted, “so they had to adapt by getting fancy and weird. Liquor companies started churning out sweet gimmick cocktails featuring fruit juices, dairy, and crazy names. It was a true era of excess.”
By the next generation, however, a lot of this excess was recognized as a blind alley for mixology. As Wondrich put it, “drinks like the B-52 with a Mexican Tailgunner and the Festering Slobovian Hummer—those are not made up, alas—didn't seem so damned amusing. They seemed like crap.”
From this generational realization sprouted the mixology revolution in which drinkers with more mature sensibilities rebelled and bartenders hunkered down, learned their trade properly, and re-discovered their tradition. There have been excesses here too of course, as anyone who’s ever tried to get excited about a martini made with lemongrass-and-Lapsang souchong-infused vermouth will tell. But at least modern mixologists are aiming for flavor and balance rather than the fastest liquid-path to oblivion.
So even though the Kamikaze hails from the dark ages of the cocktail craft, and folks like me are not supposed to like or recommend them, here is a version worth trying with your homemade lime juice cordial:
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz lime juice cordial
3/4 oz triple sec
Wedge of lime
Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with hard cracked ice and shake until well chilled (12-15 seconds). Strain into chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. To be enjoyed, not slammed. L’chaim!