For Washington bartenders, the beloved annual Cherry Blossom Festival is more than an excuse to mix pink drinks to match 3,000 blooming cherry trees adorning the Tidal Basin. Constructing crisp, delicate cocktails with Japanese-inspired flavors and details is about honoring the historic gesture of friendship, hospitality, and mutual respect shown by Tokyo’s mayor when he gave Washington the trees more than a century ago.
At Penn Quarter sushi lounge SEI (444 7th St. NW, 202-783-7007) bar manager RedianDoci slings the Choya Princess, a blend of bourbon, plum wine, and bitters that is simplistic but balanced to honor Japanese tradition. “We don’t want to make [the cocktails] over-the-top,” Doci says.
For those seeking the exotic, Doci’s Sakura Treasure, a combination of cherry-infused vodka, yuzu juice (Japanese citrus), and Thai basil sake, features a sakura (or cherry blossom) frozen inside a single ice cube. The “treasure” is in the ice, and “it’s like you are opening the chest” as the ice melts, Doci says.
When Art and Soul (415 New Jersey Ave. NW, 202-393-7777) manager Christian Eck thinks cherry blossom season, he also thinks of nicer weather. “Sunny days, but a little bit crisp... the fact that winter’s over and people want to celebrate,” he explains.
This plays into his Capitol Hill cocktail menu, with effervescent drinks like the Sakura Spritzer, a pitcher of vermouth macerated in smoked cherries, lemon-lime soda, and white wine for sharing; or the nostalgic Chocolate Covered Cherry Old-Fashioned with chocolate bourbon, cherries, sweet vermouth, house-made cherry soda, and cherry juice, reminiscent of his favorite childhood treat.
On the other hand, Daikaya (705 6th St. NW, 202-589-1600) beverage director Lukas Smith makes The Gift—an aromatic concoction of barley shochu, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, distilled Japanese white ale, and orange bitters featuring an edible salted sakura—in homage to the cherry trees as an acknowledgement of mutual obligation. After all, as he says of Washington’s blush-colored blossoms: “They are not just pretty, but an important symbol of international harmony.”
Beverage director Lukas Smith of Daikaya melds Japanese tastes with a nod to cherry blossoms in a fragrant—and quite stunning—springtime cocktail.
1.5 oz. Iichiko barley shochu
1.5 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
.125 oz. Kiuchi No Shizuku, the distilled
white ale from Hitachino
3 dashes (or 9 drops) of Bittercube
Preserved edible cherry blossom
Stir all ingredients in a glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with the cherry blossom.