Made in Japan: new directions for Midori

Manuel Terron with yubari melon pulp
The world has changed considerably since Midori was launched at legendary New York club Studio 54 in 1978, not least the world of bartending. For many years, all that mattered was that it tasted of melons, it was green and generally it made drinks that also looked green. Its owners closely guarded how it was made, which was fine as nobody seemed that interested. But that has all changed and, particularly on the UK bar scene, everyone now wants to know about provenance and ingredients.

Australian-based mixologist Manuel Terron took over as global brand ambassador for Midori over two years ago and has been travelling the world talking to bartenders about the iconic product. It is only recently that its Japanese owner Suntory has revealed details of the complex production process and ingredients, and he has been sharing this with bartenders.

Musk melon
Midori is made from two fresh melons, yubari and musk, which are sourced exclusively in Japan – the yubari come from Yubari City on the North Island, where the soil is rich in volcanic ash making it of high nutritional value, and the musk melons are sourced from Aichi and Shizuoka provinces, south of Tokyo, famous for producing high-quality melons that sell for $40 to $200 each. These are the same provinces where, for over 40 years, Suntory sourced the fruit for its Hermes Melon liqueur (pictured below), the predecessor to Midori.

In Yubari City they make a rich orange-coloured pulp from the yubari melons harvested in June and July. This pulp is frozen straightaway to harness the fresh flavour and it is then ordered in by Suntory when there is a Midori production run. The frozen pulp is left in bags on the factory floor until it is completely defrosted before they begin the two processes that are at the heart of Midori to create a yubari infusion and a yubari distillate.

Yubari melon pulp being added to the low-pressure still
A neutral high-grade spirit is used for both the processes, with no fermenting. They use an enzyme for the yubari infusion to help break down the more fibrous pulp and then add neutral spirit and some sugar.

The yubari distillate is made in a low-pressure still to harness the fresh yubari flavour. They put in the yubari pulp, high-grade spirit and water to produce a 59 per cent ABV rich-tasting smooth distillate. The yubari infusion and the yubari distillate are then mixed with a musk melon infusion, made in Shizouka, still at an ABV of 59 per cent.

The concentrate – which is by now a clear spirit with a slight orange hue – is kept refrigerated and sent to both Mexico and France where the production process is completed. The concentrate is blended with cane sugar and Louis Royer two-year-old brandy made in Cognac with local and Airén grapes, which is when the ABV is brought down to 20 per cent. At this stage, they also add the green food colouring to create the liqueur’s distinctive colour which matches the flesh of the musk melon. The surface of the fruit is also reflected in the textured bottle design. Mexico produces about 80 to 85 per cent of the world’s Midori while France produces the rest exclusively for the European market including the UK.

In October, Manuel was over in the UK running masterclasses for bartenders in London, Southampton, Glasgow and Manchester, including one for London Cocktail Week. They not only covered the production and ingredients of the liqueur but – under the banner of “Around the World in 80 Cocktails” – the masterclasses highlighted the variety of ways that Midori could be used in cocktails. Some of the drinks he presented were not driven by the melon flavour and not even green. “It’s not always about the melon flavour but how it works with the other ingredients,” Manuel explains. “By showing bartenders these kinds of drinks, they can look at it as a true cocktail ingredient, one of the building blocks.” A good example of this is the Maharaja Martini, inspired by ingredients from India:

Maharaja Martini
Maharaja Martini
7 fresh Curry leaves
3 fresh Coriander stems
½ small Chilli
10cm piece Cucumber
40ml Midori
30ml Gin
20ml Apple juice
10ml Lemon juice

Smash the curry leaves and coriander together then the cucumber. Add remaining ingredients and shake well with ice. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass then garnish with a sprinkle of turmeric and a rubbed curry leaf.

“Bartenders have known Midori for so long but it has lost its shine,” Manuel tells me during a demonstration of the new cocktails at London Cocktail Club in London’s Fitzrovia. “Suntory understands that the way to bring bartenders back is to bring knowledge. I want to excite bartenders and get them to think about Midori differently. But I’m not here to take the fun out of Midori. I want to add to it.”

Italian-inspired flavours can be seen in another of the new cocktails, the Mambo Italiano:

Mambo Italiano
Mambo Italiano
30ml Midori
20ml Cynar
10ml Balsamic vinegar
15ml Orange juice
Splash of Lemon juice
5 large Basil leaves

Lightly crush the basil in a shaker then add ice and the remaining ingredients. Shake well and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh sprig of basil.

These recipes join others that have been developed for the brand and promoted in the UK through its company Morrison Bowmore Distillers and the brand’s distributor Cellar Trends. Midori brand manager Nick Barker of Cellar Trends explains: “Our new cocktail-led strategy is designed to revitalise the brand and to re-engage consumers and bartenders alike. Our core consumer is self-assured and looking to enjoy distinctive drinks on nights out but also serves that are simple enough to make at home. Moving our focus to premium mainstream outlets means we can reach more of our target consumers and educate the on-trade about what a great cocktail ingredient Midori is.”

Shogun Assassin
Other cocktail recipes include the Shogun Assassin, inspired by Japanese ingredients:

Shogun Assassin
30ml Midori
30ml Sake
15ml Green Chartreuse or Bénédictine
15ml Lemon juice
1 Passion fruit

Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass then garnish with a passion fruit boat.

Through Manuel’s efforts, bartenders in the UK are starting to look at Midori in new ways and see it not just as a green liqueur from the days of disco but as an authentic product with provenance and greater versatility.

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