How The Midori Sour Cocktail Defined The 1980s

You probably already realize that the 80s decade — known for both its optimism and opulence, has been enjoying something of a "moment" since at least as far back as the early 2020s. We've been seeing the "extra" vibe in fashion and pop music. At restaurants, it's there in all the caviar bumps and edible gold. And lately, it's become almost impossible to ignore the resurgence of interest in that 1980s cocktail that bartenders love to hate, the Long Island iced tea. But how about that other 80s cocktail stalwart, the Midori sour?

The Midori sour, popularized in the 1980s, is a sweet and tangy cocktail whose non-negotiable principal ingredient is Midori, a Japanese brand of emerald-green, enticingly sweet, melon-flavored liqueur. The Japanese have been quaffing it since 1964, and it was first introduced to the U.S. in 1978. 

In the cocktail's truest form, which is to say in the form of the recipe authorized by Midori Liqueur, the Midori is stirred over ice with sour mix and garnished with a citrus wedge and a maraschino cherry, if not a splash of soda. Boomers and many Gen Xers (particularly those who carried fake IDs during the Reagen years) will, no doubt, recall seeing its fluorescent green screaming across many a crowded bar, if not sipping it from an oversized glass (as one did in the '80s). Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the Midori sour is the cocktail that defined the 1980s.

The Midori sour was both a movement and a metaphor

The first bottles of Midori Liqueur were imported into the U.S. from Japan in 1978, and within less than a year, the first Midori-branded cocktail, the Universe, earned top honors at the annual United States Bartenders' Guild. Combining Midori with vodka, pineapple juice, lime, and pistachio-flavored liqueur, the Universe opened the door for the invention of the Midori sour and other crowd-captivating Midori-based cocktails. While the Midori melon ball was stronger and sweeter thanks to the addition of vodka and orange juice, no cocktail captures the 1980s zeitgeist quite so much as the Midori sour.

First, there's its fluorescent green hue. Fluorescent colors were an unmistakable hallmark of the 80s, during which optimism was notably high thanks to an economy in glorious growth mode. Then there's the fact that sour tang aside, the Midori sour is unabashedly fruity. Having one in hand screams, "I like fruity drinks," which, in contrast to today, was completely acceptable throughout the 80s.

Then there's the cocktail's association with Japan (not only is Midori liqueur imported from there, but it's flavored with two varieties of muskmelon that grow solely in Japan). And back in the 1980s, Americans couldn't seem to get enough of Japanese imports. Finally, there's the fact that the classic Midori sour is made with sour mix, which was a staple of 80s bartending, even if it's scoffed at by craft mixologists today.

Sour mix was everywhere in the 80s

Sour mix, which gets its sweetness from corn syrup and its tang from citric acid, was one of 1980s cocktail culture's defining elements, along with fruity mixers and cocktail names dripping with innuendo (think: Sex and the Beach and the Slow Comfortable Screw, which was a screwdriver enhanced with Southern Comfort and sloe gin). Indeed, Difford's Guide considers the 80s to be the literal age of "powdered sour mix," although bottled, pre-mixed versions were also popular.

Powdered and pre-made sour mixes are still in pretty wide use today, but not without significant backlash coming from craft bartenders who would never dream of tainting any of their carefully curated sweet and sour cocktails, let alone a Midori sour, with any form of pre-made sour mix. Indeed, some regard sour mix's place in the 1980s iteration of the Midori sour as something of a joke. They prefer, instead, to go with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices, sweetened only with a splash of agave or simple syrup. 

Accordingly, the Midori sour's comeback has been teased for years now, but primarily by whimsical craft mixologists itching to shake it with freshly squeezed lemon and lime and topped off, perhaps, with a frothy head of frothy egg whites. No, it isn't the true Midori sour cocktail recipe that both personified and was ubiquitous throughout the 1980s. But if it's wrong to elevate an 80s classic with a literal fresh twist, who even wants to be right?