Whether you see the blossoming cherry trees as the ascent out of a long and cold winter, a symbol of friendship or a reminder to take your allergy medicine, we are approaching Peak Bloom.
Cherry blossom season has been linked with drinking for centuries: Since Japan’s Nara period (710–740 CE), people have drunk sake at hanami—“flower viewing”—parties to celebrate spring. Today, the blossoms are among other Japanese-style ingredients that have become prevalent at bars across the United States.
At New York’s Bar Goto, the house Martini incorporates the floral flavor with its garnish, a salted cherry blossom, which replaces the salinity that olive brine might otherwise give. The drink also swaps sake for vermouth and plays up the flower’s subtle sweetness with maraschino liqueur.
At Deep Dive in Seattle, the flowers similarly find a home in a Sakura Vesper. Bar manager Ramón Clark calls on Mancino Sakura vermouth, which blends Kyoto cherry blossoms with Italian viola flowers. According to Clark, this vermouth “dials back the citrus on a usual Vesper. Kind of like how delicate cherry blossoms are, that’s how delicate this drink is.”
While the floral flavor can soften spirit-forward cocktails, it can also take the lead in lower-ABV, sessionable drinks. Deep Dive’s Humble Brag, for example, combines equal parts Mancino Sakura vermouth and white port, aerated by throwing the mixture before it’s served in a rocks glass with an orchid flower garnish.
Likewise, cherry blossoms find a home in Middleman’s Bodega Spritz. Denver bartender Adrienne Thomas wanted to showcase one of the cocktail’s components, a “plummy Spanish vermouth,” and complemented that plum with even more stone fruit via the cherry notes in Don Ciccio & Figli’s Cerasum Aperitivo, alongside the alpine amaro Braulio and a dose of fresh lemon that “zips it up.”
Each March and April, festivals, seasonal menus and pop-up bars feature cherry blossom drinks that are often as transient as the blooms. But the flowers’ earthiness and fragrant petals can be a year-round staple, as bartenders across the country demonstrate.
“I’m all about seasonality, but you wouldn’t take a Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned off the menu [seasonally], even though you might drink those more in the winter,” says Clark, who keeps his cherry blossom cocktails on the menu year-round. Besides, cherry blossom flavor can shine in those classic cocktail formats. While the blooms themselves may be fleeting, incorporating these elements—salted cherry blossoms, cherry blossom vermouth and cherry blossom aperitivo—can make the flowers a fixture at the bar well beyond spring.