Chotto Ippai: Let's Have a Quick Drink!

Image: Zentan cocktails

Chotto Ippai cocktails take flight, letting guests unwind one small sip at a time.

What do you get when you cross Spanish tapas with French aperitif cocktails? The Japanese custom of Chotto Ippai. Literally translating as “let’s have a quick drink,” it’s traditionally a way for friends and coworkers to relax over drinks and small bites and have a light-hearted discussion after the work day - necessary in a culture known for its killer work ethic.

“It’s basically the happy hour of the Japanese culture,” explains Matt Allred, beverage director for the modern Japanese restaurant Zentan in Washington, D.C. “We took the definition a bit literally and made it our own by way of a cocktail flight.”

At Zentan, Allred and his team serve flights of three two-ounce classic cocktails with Japanese influences and garnishes, served in unique stemware. Each flight costs $30 and rotates frequently, driven not by seasonal whims and availability but by Allred’s desire to offer drinks that have fallen out of favor. One week it might be a Gibson, a Bamboo and a Japanese, followed the next by an Aviation, a Stinger and a Bellini. “All with slight tweaks from the original recipe,” he explains, “be it shochu instead of gin, or sparkling sake in lieu of Champagne.”

Generally, guests at Zentan enjoy one of these flights at the bar before dinner, but Allred has also seen some sipping them with dinner, or as or with dessert. “Any time is a good time for a cocktail flight!”

Everyone has been receptive so far, though Allred admits it takes a little bit of willingness on the part of the guest to trust the bar staff to give you three different cocktails, even if their size makes them small on commitment. Still, the flights provide value and experimentation. “People like to try new things, share with their friends, and compare likes and dislikes,” he says. “The social aspect really brings it back home to the Japanese custom of winding down after your work day with your team.” Kanpai!

Recipe courtesy of Matt Allred, Beverage Director, Zentan

  • ½ oz. passionfruit and white peach puree
  • 1 ½ oz. chilled sparkling sake
  • Combier Pamplemousse Liqueur
  • Miniature lemon twist

Place puree in the bottom of a miniature flute or coupe. Add the sparkling wine, stir gently, and float a little bit of the pamplemousse liqueur on top. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,, or on  Twitter  and  Instagram  @kmagyarics.

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