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The Pantheon Is a Japanese Modern Classic in the Making

March 08, 2024

Story: Nicholas Coldicott

photo: Jaime Miki


The Pantheon Is a Japanese Modern Classic in the Making

March 08, 2024

Story: Nicholas Coldicott

photo: Jaime Miki

In just five years, the three-ingredient cocktail from one of Tokyo’s best bartenders has made it onto menus as far away as Thailand and Germany.

I felt a pang of anxiety when Daisuke Ito offered to devise a cocktail recipe for a book I was writing. It’s not that he can’t make great drinks—the owner of Tokyo’s Land Bar Artisan is one of Japan’s most technically brilliant bartenders. But he has always been a staunch advocate for refining and rediscovering, rather than inventing.

“You can make a fancy cocktail like a cheese Martini, but that’s the kind of thing you’ll only drink once,” he told me. “I like to take old recipes and update them for the modern palate.”

His signatures are a fresh, lush Bloody Mary and an extraordinary Garibaldi, which he makes, counter to modern conventional wisdom, without the “fluffy” orange juice.

So when he promised to create something novel, I feared I might receive instructions for a Martini with a particular blend of vermouths, or a Rob Roy stirred clockwise with two kinds of ice. A different bartender I admire had already submitted a recipe for an Alaska, shaken not stirred. But tweaks of technique weren’t going to fly with my publisher. 

I gave Ito two weeks, and he gave me a simple three-component recipe using ingredients common to almost every bar in the world: Scotch whisky, Bénédictine and lemon juice. 

I was sure that any combination of three bar staples would be either famous or revolting. Bartenders have had 160 years to play with the French herbal liqueur; surely one of them would have thought of mixing it with Scotch and lemon. 

This drink was deliciously complex, with balanced sweet and sour flavors, so I went home to look up the name. My collection of cocktail books had nothing remotely close. On the internet, I found a rye drink called a Frisco Sour that bore a resemblance, though sometimes had lime and occasionally egg white. But nobody, it seemed, was or ever had been mixing Scotch, Bénédictine and lemon.

Ito told me the idea began with the Bénédictine, not the base spirit, because he felt he should devise a drink that readers would want to try. 

“The point of creating a cocktail recipe, for me, is to have it served 50 years from now in another part of the world. But that’s not going to happen if I give you a recipe with an obscure liqueur and things you’d need to go shopping for,” he said. “Every bartender owns a bottle of Bénédictine but unless someone asks for a B&B, they probably never touch it.”

Pantheon Cocktail Recipe


Scotch, Bénédictine and lemon juice come together in this burgeoning modern classic.

That’s also why he declined to state a style of Scotch. “It works with all of them,” he insisted. “I make it with Dewar’s; I make it with Talisker. It’s nonsense to say a recipe can only be made with one specific expression of a spirit.” 

Lemon juice, he says, is often the best match for a liqueur of 40 percent or more alcohol, as Bénédictine is. The only thing the drink needed was a catchy name, and Ito threw out a few suggestions until one sounded right: Pantheon.

The book was published in 2019 with 115 recipes, and I expected it to slide precipitously from Recommended Christmas Gift to irrelevant tree shavings. But then I heard that another bartender featured in the book, Rogerio Igarashi Vaz, had begun serving Pantheons in his much-loved hole in the wall, Bar Trench. Igarashi Vaz says he tried many whiskies, but Cragganmore 12 has herbal notes that particularly suit the Bénédictine.

A year later, on a Bangkok bar crawl, I visited Ray Cocktail and Bite, a Japanese-influenced, cocktail-soaked restaurant by leading Thai bar creators Sugarray Group, and I saw “Pantheon” on the menu with Ito’s recipe. There, it was made with Monkey Shoulder blended whisky.


Sugarray general manager Dheeradon Dissara said he and beverage manager Boom Rikysmith tried to make the drinks in the book with accessible ingredients, and the Pantheon stood out. “I thought the ratios looked strange to my way of making drinks,” said Dissara. “But when we tried it, it was so good.” They also put it on the menu at Bar Glide, their intimate hideaway in the St. Regis hotel, with Japan’s Chita grain whisky as the base.

One measure of a cocktail’s acceptance is the appearance of twists on the recipe, and Charles Schumann, of Munich’s Schumann’s Bar, provided this earlier this year. He sent me a text with nothing but a photograph of a yellow drink in an Old-Fashioned glass, and a recipe for a Pantheon with a blend of Bénédictine and yellow Chartreuse.

“That makes absolute sense,” says Ito, who now serves his own riffs—a rum Pantheon, tequila Pantheon, and best of all, a Calvados Pantheon, along with Japanese whisky versions.

The drink hasn’t stood the test of time yet, but it sure looks likely to outlive the book it was invented for. At a time when invention so often means novel syrups, cordials or distillates and an appliance or two, a three-ingredient, easy-to-replicate formula seems to have struck a chord with its simplicity, which was the point, of course. The Pantheon was a recipe invented specifically so others could take it and play with it.

“My dream is that three or four years from now, someone will come in and ask me if I know how to make a Pantheon,” says Ito. 

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Tagged: modern classic