One of the coolest parts about developing and writing about cocktails and spirits is when we discover a spirit that was totally unknown to us. Sometimes we find new spirits when we travel (does anyone else love visiting distilleries, breweries and vineyards?) and sometimes we are lucky enough to get a spirit delivered right to our door so we can explore! We dig getting booze mail, so when the folks at iichiko asked if we wanted to try some of their different expressions of shochu, we figured what better way to take a quick trip to Japan without leaving our kitchen?
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So if we were to ask you what you think is most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan, what would you say? If you are like us, you likely answered that question with either sake or one of the many varieties of Japanese whiskey, but you would be wrong! The most popular spirit in Japan is shochu, which is a true distilled spirit that is made from a variety of starches, from buckwheat, rice or even sweet potatoes, but the top quality shochu varieties are made with barley, and the best distiller of barley based shochu is famed Japanese distiller iichiko.
Shochu is often compared to sake, but unlike sake which is brewed like beer, shochu is a distilled spirit like vodka. Unlike vodka, shochu has a much more complex distillation process that starts with the selection of the grain. Like its slightly more famous cousin sake, there are different grades of shochu that are dependent on the amount of polished grain used in the distillation. Like sake, the more the grain is polished, the smoother the the resulting shochu.
For this drink, we used iichiko’s Silhouette, a 100% barley shochu that is produced by polishing the barley down until 60% of the grain remains. The barlely is then mixed with yeast, koji (a special type of bacteria that causes fermentation, which equals alcohol!) and pure spring water and allowed to ferment until there is a mash that can be distilled. The use of the koji results in that unique funky umami flavor that is a characteristic of Japanese food and drinks (think that tangy flavor in sake!)
Iichiko Silhouette is a single distillation, which results in a relatively low alcohol content of only 25%. Unlike vodka which is relatively flavorless, iichiko Silhouette has a wonderful aroma and flavor of peach, citrus and toasted nutty barley which reminded us of an unaged rye whiskey, but with out the sharp burn as a result of the lower alcohol content. Silhouette is wonderful when served neat, as its low proof level makes it an easy sipper, but is a real star when mixed in a cocktail!
We liked the hint of citrus iichiko Silhouette shochu had, so we decided that we should make a variation of one of the classic citrus cocktails, the Sidecar. The sidecar is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur and fresh squeezed lemon juice, which results in a tart, refreshing citrus cocktail.
For our Japanese Sidecar, we used the iichiko Silhouette shochu in place of the cognac, which really allowed the flavors of the shochu to really shine! The sweetness of the orange liqueur worked really well with the nutty toasty flavors of the shochu which makes this a delightful sipping cocktail!
- 1.75 oz iichiko Silhouette Shochu
- 0.75 oz triple sec
- 0.5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 4 dashes orange bitters
- brown sugar for rimming glass
- Wet the rim of a coupe glass with lemon juice.
- Dip the rim of the glass into brown sugar to rim the glass.
- Add the iichiko Shochu, triple sec, bitters and lemon juice to a shaker.
- Add ice.
- Shake and strain into your rimmed glass.
- Garnish with a lemon wheel.