Sake anchors many sushi-bar drink menus, but sometimes its more mysterious cousin, shochu, makes an appearance.
While sake is a wine brewed from rice, shochu is a distilled spirit which can be derived not only from rice but bases such as sweet potatoes, barley or sugar cane. Lower in alcohol than spirits such as vodka — it’s 45 to 60 proof — shochu is also stronger and often crisper than shochu’s sweeter Korean sister, soju. Shochu is also often served chilled, sipped slowly and exudes the essence of its distillate.
“You taste the ingredients, because it’s a single distillation,” said Yuki Mori, chef and owner of Stirling Sake in Greenport. Before he opened Stirling, Mori managed Sake Bar Decibel in New York City’s East Village. While Stirling’s sake menu runs deep, there are also nine shochus on the menu, distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes and sugar cane. Mori said it can be a cleaner drinking experience. “You might not get hung-over as you would with sake.”
Shochu also folds beautifully into lower-proof cocktails. I used the rice-based Toki No Kokuin shochu for the drink below. On its own, this shochu is smooth and almost pearlike. But it also blends well with a cherry liqueur, such as American Fruits Sour Cherry Cordial made at the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in Warwick, N.Y. (You could also try this with kirsch).
SNOW-DAY CHERRY BLOSSOM
2 ounces rice-based shochu
1 ounce cherry cordial
3⁄4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1⁄2 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Cocktail cherry, such as maraschino
Dash of spring bitters (I used rhubarb)
Chill a martini or coupe glass. Combine first 6 ingredients in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with cherry, drizzling some maraschino juice (and bitters, if using) over the top.