Though often spurned by cocktail lovers, Midori, the Japanese melon liqueur, cast an enduring spell on Kate Richards early in her drinking career. She argues the neon green elixir deserves a resurgence as a backbar essential — and some Adelaide bartenders agree.
The good green drink
Like many people who grew up in the era of chunky belts over Supre mini dresses, Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse and Snake II, I have fond memories of Midori.
On Wednesday nights, I’d tear up the dance floor at my hometown’s local club, Danger Danger, fuelled singularly by Midori Splices.
My friendship group were recognised as certified freaks by our schoolmates – until we snuck pre-made Midori and Baileys Quick Fuck shots past the security pat-downs at our school ball. We got so drunk someone vomited on the floor.
Like a fiend, I took to Midori as a nursing kitten, sculling from the melon-skinned bottle in the lounge rooms of many pre-drinks gatherings past.
Unlike most of my once-upon-a-time Midori mates, I did not graduate from enjoying drinking it. New here? Sign up to receive the latest happenings from around our city, sent every Thursday afternoon.
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A recent survey of Adelaide’s bar scene cemented what I already suspected: in some elitist circles, Midori has dipped from its position as number one party punch to famously uncool.
A Solomon Street insider tells me she’s badgered the owners of 1000 Island for Midori at their venue. The answer: “Absolutely not”. A sometimes-Udaberri-employee replied to my enquiry as to whether they stock it with dry amusement: “Definitely no Midori ahaha”.
Hamish Tregeagle of Smokelovers, though a Midori fan himself, shares the same bewilderment at my enthusiasm for the good green drink: “We’ve been open since the 23rd of December, so about a month now, and so far, only one person has asked about it … and that is you,” he says.
We all want to forget about the acne and braces of yesteryear, but why have we turned our backs on Midori?
Midori is an artificially coloured melon liqueur, or melon wine, made from a blend of Japanese Yubari and Musk melons, sourced from Yubari and Shizuoka respectively. It is royalty among its imitators, containing only premium melon juice – harvested in June/July then snap frozen like peas until the Suntory production line is in session – neutral spirit, water, Cognac and sugar.
There are other melon liqueurs, but none that capture the essence of unadulterated fun quite like Midori: an ‘80s spandex green, punishingly sweet melon nectar, all wrapped up in a silly squiggly bottle. No one is sad when they’re drinking Midori.
Vini Wang of Bar Peripheral agrees. “People don’t understand Midori, so they say they hate it,” he says. “But there’s no way you can hate something you don’t understand.”
He’s sensibly been stocking Midori since day one at his Pulteney Street bar, despite only having gone through about six bottles in two years.
“You know what people are like,” he continues. “When they don’t know a lot about something, they tend to hate it. When you look at someone that hates something very passionately, they probably don’t know it.”
To know Midori is to know unbridled joy – to be Homer Simpson feverishly guarding his stolen sugar pile, or Grandpa Joe at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It is a fleshy, late summer feast, indifferent to mainstream popularity and ripe to be paired with any number of eligible bachelors.
The taste is as complex to grasp as that of a fine Chablis, or wrinkled truffle, explains Vini.
“People taste Midori and find it’s an almost candy-like melon… but that is from a western point of view,” he says. “From an eastern flavour perspective, Midori is the natural taste of melon. Musk melon in Japan and melons that grow here are very different.”
He confirms what I’ve long known: to balk at the delightfully cloying mouthfeel of Midori, is to possess an undignified palate.
But just as you can’t serve brisket as you would fillet mignon, Midori does not belong in every cocktail. Underneath its gossamer jacket, this viscous melon syrup confirms that balance is the hallmark of any good cocktail. You wouldn’t shake sugar cubes with maple syrup and call it a drink, yet so many of us pour Midori into pineapple juice only to be left 500 calories fuller and only a fraction as satisfied.
“I think it’s fair for people to be at least neutral to Midori, so they can start approaching it like they would any other spirit,” Vini says.
Hamish concurs. “I think it’s known as a sugary drink that’s traditionally mixed with lemonade or pineapple juice. The classic introduction to alcohol,” he says. “But [Suntory] don’t really help themselves, because that’s the recipe on the back of the bottle… Also, the colour is unnaturally green, which makes it even more mysterious.”
But there is a glimmer of hope for the drink that everyone loves to hate. Just as Ugg boots have found their place amongst the fashion set, some of Adelaide’s best bars are bringing Midori back – the Japanese Slipper was an Australian invention after all.
Just this week, I sipped a great green drink and gazed down at the Rundle Street riffraff from Two Pot Screamer’s lovely balcony. Africola has Midori plastered all over its Instagram. And, of course, Vini Wang continues to precisely mix Midori with other delicious things at his moody midtown bar.
I don’t know about you, but if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
Midori three ways
Vini Wang, Bar Peripheral
Fun, fresh, light and balanced, this drink is one for true Midori lovers.
—25ml fresh lime
—30ml Joseph Carton Mango Liqueur
—25ml Saint James Rhum Blanc Agricole
—Spritz of radish essence
1. Pour the first four ingredients into a Boston shaker.
2. Stir and taste for balance.
3. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously to aerate and mix your drink.
4. Spray your glass with radish essence (omit this step if you must).
5. Strain drink into glass.
Vini Wang, Bar Peripheral
A surprisingly complex and boozy sipper that’s both herbaceous and highbrow.
—30ml No. 3 London Dry Gin (fully flavoured gin; it’s very mixable, not too oily)
—15ml Green Chartreuse
—Dash Regan orange bitters
—Lemon peel garnish
1. Pour all ingredients into a stirring glass.
2. Add one very large cube of ice (or a handful of regular ice if that’s all you have).
3. Stir slowly in the glass to dilute and mix the drink.
4. Strain into a rocks glass over one very large ice cube.
Wendy’s Lemon Melon
Hamish Tregeagle, Smokelovers
Inspired by a favourite Wendy’s sorbet from his youth, Hamish’s lemon melon drink is a sweet-sour-sherbety good time.
—30ml Lillet Blanc
—20ml Tanqueray 10 gin
—15ml lemon juice
—15ml simple syrup
—4 drops Wonderfoam (a vegan foamer, like any good sorbet should be)
1. Add all your ingredients to a Boston shaker.
2. Fill with ice.
3. Shake vigorously to foam and mix your cocktail.
4. Double strain into a rocks glass over ice.