For the saké of it: five Japanese cocktails to try this spring (and where to have them)
You’ve tried saké and know all about the country’s love of aged whisky, but there are some exciting new alternatives out there
Tuesday 15 March 2022 By Jessica Kozuka
Japanese drinks are having a moment. The nation’s whiskies are so popular that distillers’ ageing cellars are literally being drunk dry, pushing major players off the shelf. And saké, far from being the firewater of popular myth, has gone from being an afterthought at nigiri bars to a wine list essential, with vocab such as daiginjo and nigori now as integral as Grand Cru and Prosecco for savvy drinks lovers.
Recently, though, adventurous mixologists are starting to explore the potential of some lesser-known offerings from the Japanese archipelago. Beverages such as awamori, a powerful rice-based spirit from the southern islands, and shōchū, a fermented and distilled spirit usually made from sweet potatoes, barley, or rice.
This boom in Japanese drinks is driven, in some part, by a broader interest in Japanese food and culture, but it also hints at a shift in the prevailing cocktail palate. The smoky, bitter notes prevalent in the current Prohibition-style trend won’t be going anywhere anytime soon (given demand), but an expanded repertoire of complex concoctions ranging into sweeter, umami-rich flavours can only be good news for the adventurous drinker.
Got a hankering? Try them here:
Angel’s Share, New York
At this venerable speakeasy in NYC, bartender Tsunetaka Imada transforms Aka Kirishima, a sweet potato shōchū from Japan’s largest distiller, into the Verre de Vin, a cocktail strangely reminiscent of Beaujolais in both taste and appearance.
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, Nashville
Ensconsced in lush Art Deco digs crafted with reclaimed wood and brass, you’ll find a globe-spanning menu of creative cocktails, including the M67, a fiery concoction combining a lemongrass shōchū with Suntory’s Roku gin, melon, lemon, and wasabi.
Shochu Lounge, London
As the name suggests, the menu at this trendy cellar bar leans heavily on shōchū, but also makes use of homey umeshu, a sweet liquor made by infusing spirits or saké with sour ume plums. The Tokyo Rose tempers that saccharine tone with rose petal-infused Tanqueray n.10, Aperol, and peach bitters for depth.
This buzzing social spot in the heart of the city is mixing aged Zuisen Seiryu awamori with lime, cucumber, basil, egg white, sea salt and cane sugar for a complex beachcation in a glass called Umi Kyuri.
Live Twice, Singapore
The latest bar from the Jigger & Pony team combines mid-century modern design with the complementary minimalism of Japanese mixology. Try the Quiet Inlet, a blend of white rum, green apples and Kayuki Ume, a unique spirit made by distilling umeshu.