The Secrets Behind the Snap Pea-Infused Gin-Sake-Black Pepper Cocktail at OBON in Scottsdale

OBON Sushi + Bar + Ramen
The 'New Growth' at OBON is a tribute to the new Scottsdale Square location.
OBON Sushi + Bar + Ramen is now open at Scottsdale Quarter, and Matt Martinez, beverage director and head mixologist, has created a drink to celebrate. It’s called New Growth, and incorporates snap pea-infused gin, sake, and black pepper honey.

“This drink was an answer to how often we are asked for a saketini — which is an alarming amount — we just weren't that into it,” Martinez says. But like any good bartender, he wanted to find a way to make his guests happy, without compromising his standards. “I thought that having a saketini would be the perfect thing, as long as I believed in it.”

Hesitation about the saketini is nothing new in the beverage world. Most seem to agree that it was invented by chef Matsuda San in Queens in honor of the 1964 World’s Fair, only reappearing in the 1990s in the middle of a period craft bartenders refer to as "the dark ages.”

Even without those connotations, there is still controversy about using sake in cocktails. Purists are horrified, much like I would be if someone added my sipping rum to a cocktail — but for those who don’t enjoy sake on its own, it can be a nice way to get to know a new spirit. 

click to enlarge OBON Sushi Bar Ramen was one of the most highly anticipated openings of 2017. - COURTESY OF OBON SUSHI BAR RAMEN
OBON Sushi Bar Ramen was one of the most highly anticipated openings of 2017.
Courtesy of OBON Sushi Bar Ramen
Martinez has developed a version that he can be proud of — a match for the other creative craft cocktails on his menu. He starts with Manabito Ginjo sake. “I use this specific sake because it has a lot of really cool melon and stone fruit. It still finishes pretty dry, but it has a lot of body, so it adds really nice mouth feel to the cocktail,” he says. Plus, the brewery takes the details seriously. “They age in glass vessels underground at sub-zero temperatures for a year before they bottle it,” says Martinez.

Next comes the gin, he uses Gordon's London Dry. “It’s pretty dry, and the addition of the snap peas gives it a little bit of sweetness, but it still has that distinctly green sort of bitterness,” Martinez says.

This infusion was one of many he tried in his quest for perfection. “We have experimented with a few snap pea dishes in the restaurant and they seem to come up again and again in a lot of American-Chinese or American-Asian dishes,” he says. “We tried for a long time to use edamame and cucumber and different things, but a lot of them were kind of nondescript. Snap peas ended up being the coolest green vegetable infusion that we've played with, and it just worked really beautifully with gin.”

Courtesy of Matt Martinez/ Facebook
For those following along at home, a snap pea infusion is, well, a snap. Martinez and his team use a sous vide technique, but there’s no need to get quite that fancy. Rough chop fresh snap peas and add to a jar, filling with gin (you’ll want about equal parts gin and peas). Martinez has played around with leaving the peas in longer, but hasn’t noticed a difference — he recommends straining them out after two days or so. “That's about as much flavor as you're going to get from them, and it will be substantial,” he says.

While you’re waiting for your infusion, it’s time to make the black pepper honey. “We tried it a few different ways — the way we found worked best was to use fresh cracked black peppers — actually cracking it from the pepper grinder into the honey. I would just do it on the stove top. The honey is a ratio of three parts honey to one part water, then crack fresh black pepper into it. I would bring it up to a simmer, let it cool, and then strain it off through a metal strainer. You should get pretty good flavor from that.”

With all of the ingredients in place, you’re ready to make the New Growth (or head over to OBON and have the team there make it for you).

New Growth
Created by Matt Martinez

2 ounces Manabito Ginjo sake
2 ounces snap pea infused gin (see above)
0.5 ounces black pepper honey (see above)
Garnish: lemon zest (not expressed)

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir and strain into a martini or coupe glass. (This recipe makes enough for one small glass and a carafe which sits off to the side. Don’t leave the excess in the mixing glass with the ice or it will dilute.) Garnish with lemon zest.