The word kamikaze was once a term for mindlessly extreme, purposely reckless, even crazy dangerous behavior. The word comes from Japanese, where it means “spirit wind,” and it was the name for the Japanese aviation attack units in World War II that carried out suicide missions against U.S. forces.
In the postwar period, the word entered common usage. This is how it came to be attached in 1976 to what cocktail historian Dave Wondrich calls the first “shooter” — a mixed drink meant to be slammed down in one shot.
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 1970s — yecch! Eventually, I encountered it modified to serve as a proper cocktail, to be enjoyed for its flavor.
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 are all varying degrees of awful. Some of these concoctions I’d had before, years ago, and the taste-memory 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.’”
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. 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— 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:
1½ ounces vodka
1 ounce lime juice cordial
¾ ounce 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!
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].