This Crisp Cocktail Shochu Goes Down as Easy as Vodka—and Is Easier to Mix With

Even true cocktail geeks may not have made the acquaintance of shochu. And that’s understandable; while wildly popular in its native Japan, even more so than sake, the spirit has yet to really establish itself in the States.

Shochu can be distilled from just about anything; sweet potato, rice, sugar, and barley are just a few of the more common ingredients. And each variety has its own nuance. Sweet potato shochus are earthy and robust, and take well to drinking with hot water; rice shochus are more delicate, in some ways similar to a sake—the list goes on.

The spirit is deeply complex; many are also, frankly, an acquired taste. That’s why we were so interested to discover Nankai Shochu. Vacuum-distilled from 80% black sugar and 20% rice, it’s simply as crisp and clean as any spirit we’ve ever tasted, smooth and just faintly fragrant. At 24% ABV, it’s much lighter than a vodka, but much easier to mix with—and, frankly, goes well with just about everything. Here are three cocktails we’ve devised.

Easy: Shiso Highball

When making cocktails with a gorgeous Japanese spirit, why not reach for other Japanese ingredients? Here, we’re oh-so-gently muddling a few shiso leaves and then simply topping it off with shochu and club soda. The fragrant aromatics of the shiso take center stage, with smooth shochu in the background.

Instructions: Add five large shiso leaves and ¼ ounce simple syrup to the bottom of a highball glass. Press gently with a muddler. Add ice, along with an ounce and a half of shochu and three ounces of club soda. Stir briefly, and garnish with a short shiso sprig and a straw.

Intermediate: Shochu Salty Dog

While smooth and fragrant, this shochu takes well to savory flavors, as well. So we went the Salty Dog route—salting the rim of a glass, and making a quick cocktail of grapefruit and shochu, with club soda to lighten it up, too. Low-ABV and as refreshing as it gets.

Instructions: Salt the rim of a Collins glass and set aside. In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine two ounces of shochu, two ounces of fresh grapefruit juice, and ½ ounce simple syrup. Shake until well-chilled, fill prepared glass with ice, then strain cocktail into the glass. Top with two ounces of club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a slice of grapefruit.

Advanced: Sencha Shochu

Okay, “Sencha Shochu” is probably a better tongue-twister than a cocktail name. But trust us, it’s a beautiful cocktail. We’re using loose Japanese sencha tea leaves and shaking them right into the drink—no tea-steeping required—to get their beautiful flavor, while egg white makes this drink soft and silky. Elegant and effortlessly complex.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine two ounces of shochu, ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice, ½ ounce simple syrup, one tablespoon of sencha leaves, and one egg white. Shake very hard without ice, open shaker, add ice, and shake again until very well-chilled. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, and garnish with a sprinkle of sencha leaves.

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