Traditional Japanese shōchū has long been under-appreciated in the U.S. (though Japanese sake is well-known), but bars around the country have recently started to catch on. The spirit has started to appear on more and more drink menus, and this month, nine mixologists have crafted original, limited-edition shōchū cocktails for restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles.
Although its name sounds similar to the low-ABV Korean Soju, the Japanese drink known as shōchū is a completely different experience. The specific flavor profile of shōchū depends on its base ingredient, but it’s usually described as a mix between whiskey and a mild vodka. Authentic shōchū has been distilled in Japan since the 16th century and is typically made from a variety of ingredients including barley, sweet potatoes, or rice. As many as 50 other ingredients — including Koji mold, also found in miso and soy sauce — are used to break down the starches. Unique Japanese techniques of fermentation, brewing, and distillation give shōchū its clean, smooth, and rich aroma. Shōchū’s sophisticated taste comes from the richness of flavors not present in other spirits, making it easier to create new, never-been-made-before cocktails.
To try some shōchū creations for yourself, check out one of the spots below. (In addition to these options, there’ll also be a pop-up bar at NYC spot GONGO from Feb. 3rd through Feb. 13th, where you can enjoy several Japanese shōchū cocktails created by collaborative mixologists or enjoy shōchū with traditional Japanese drinking styles.)
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