Infusing Umami Into An Old-Fashioned With Shiitake Mushrooms

The smell of vanilla from an oaky bourbon — mixed with citrus oils and a bit of bitter complexity — is one of the greatest things about an old-fashioned. Its timeless formula existed even before the word "cocktail" came into being, and it's also the perfect canvas for improvisation from bartenders. More and more, umami and savory flavors are being integrated into cocktails, and though it may seem like they would get lost in a drink, mushrooms can pack more of an earthy punch that many realize.

One of the most popular drinks at Honolulu, Hawaii's lauded Bar Leather Apron is head bartender and co-owner Justin Park's Japan Old Fashioned. Using the lightly smoked Hakushu 12 year from Beam Suntory, Park wanted to create a drink that reflected the umami flavors found in Japanese cuisine and apply that to this classic. "Infused with dried shiitake mushrooms, the whisky takes on an umami flavor, leaving it with a flavor that is amazing on the palate and nose but curiously different," he says.

"More and more, umami and savory flavors are being integrated into cocktails."

Maple syrup adds a distinct richness, contrasted by a high-proof rum that is spritzed and flamed over the top of the cocktail, providing "a finishing aroma that totally sets all your senses up for the perfectly balanced umami bomb." Savory and earthy characteristics are not often expected, but they're a welcome change from the sweet flavors that so easily dominate the cocktail lexicon. Infusing mushrooms into whisky or other spirits is a perfect way to create an unexpected twist to any drink, and though perhaps not as popular as spice, it's likely a flavor trend that will continue to pop up on menus in the future.

Japan Old-Fashioned

Serving: 1 cocktail

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate


1 1/2 ounces Shiitake Mushroom Infused Suntory Hakushu 12 year*

1/4 ounces Grade A Maple Syrup

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Flamed Rum spritz


1) In a chilled rocks glass, add 3 dashes of Angostura and maple syrup.

2) Add in Japanese whisky and an ice ball. Stir briefly for several seconds.

3) Garnish with flamed spritz of Lemon Hart 151 rum over the cocktail.

*Shiitake Whisky Infusion:

1) Combine 2-4 ounces of dried shiitake mushrooms in an airtight container with one bottle of whisky.

2) Infusion timing and intensity is based on taste. Generally 2-3 days and once strained back into the bottle, refrigerate for later use.