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Drink Me Now: Sesame Cocktails

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Alderman at GreenRiver (image: Tim Nusog)

Whether it’s dressing greens or dusting bowls of rice, Japanese cuisine is rife with sesame. Fittingly, barman Mat Resler of New York’s Bar Goto, stirred by the sesame-laden Kobu Celery dish on the menu, started tinkering with an infusion. Upon tasting Resler’s work-in-progress, Kenta Goto, the proprietor of the contemporary izakaya who was previously at Pegu Club, also felt compelled to experiment.

The bar already served “a milk punch made with matcha, showcasing the beautiful high notes of the tea,” he says. By adding a jolt of sesame, the concoction became “fuller and rounder, a harmony of fresh green and deep, nutty flavors.” It shrouds a.m. bagels and spawns silky tahini, and now the petite sesame seed is proving an alluring ingredient in savory-minded libations like Goto’s Matcha-Sesame Punch (sesame-infused vodka, sencha-infused vodka, cane syrup, half-and-half and matcha powder.) Just as sesame successfully amplifies food, Goto believes it provides another subtle layer to drinks.


image: Chamille White

Fellow New Yorker Franky Marshall also embraces sesame at the gilded Marie Antoinette–inspired Brooklyn bar Le Boudoir. For the Axel von Fersen, a nod to the Swedish count who was purportedly the controversial queen’s lover, she makes a toasted sesame paste and pairs it with bourbon, applejack, curry powder and a black caraway garnish. Marshall relished snacking on sesame snaps as a kid, and “it really started from there—the desire to experience that flavor from childhood again,” she says.

While Goto is quick to warn that sesame can powerfully overwhelm both a cocktail’s aromatics and taste if not used sparingly, Marshall points out that balancing texture is essential as well. “Mouthfeel is important in this drink,” she says, “maintaining the consistency where the seeds have all been liquefied but the paste is not too runny.”

Axel von Fersen at Le Boudoir

Healthy sesame oil, synonymous with Asian cooking, is what Morgan Weber of Houston’s Coltivare uses to fat-wash the Cruzan Black Strap rum in the Cookcamp, his rich riff on the Corn ’N’ Oil with Bitter Truth falernum, lime and Angostura bitters. An ode to “one of my grandpa’s favorite afternoon snacks—peanuts and Coke—this spiked version helps to take the edge off in a more efficient way,” says the co-owner and beverage director of the Italian restaurant. “Sesame has a pronounced flavor, which helps it stand out in bold cocktails.”

That’s also one of the reasons Julia Momose, the head bartender at GreenRiver and Annex in Chicago, seeks it out. For example, she infuses white rum with black sesame for Annex’s Law-Maker (The Macallan 12 Year, amaro, The Dead Rabbit Orinoco bitters, mole bitters, agave and sumac) and incorporates white sesame into GreenRiver’s Alderman (Wild Turkey 101 rye, Teeling whiskey, Pedro Ximénez sherry, amaro, coffee liqueur, black walnut, lemon and The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter bitters).

“The Alderman takes flavors that are typically enjoyed after dinner and brightens them with some citrus. The expression of orange oils over the top brings everything together,” says Momose. Before infusing, she likes toasting the sesame but cautions its high fat content can easily lead to burning. Instead of smoldering notes, those crackling seeds should elicit much more desirable hints of vanilla and honey.

Series & Type: Drink Me Now
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