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Wine & Spirits

These drinks are all the rage

Juicy, light and inventive, shochu cocktails go perfectly with the small plates at izakaya everywhere.

November 09, 2005|David Lansing | Special to The Times

In Japan, premixed chu-hai cocktails, sold in single-serving cans that include flavors such as grapefruit and cucumber, are available at such places as street vending machines and subway kiosks.

Oki Doki carries nine types of shochu or soju, some made with rice, others with barley, and one with sweet potatoes.

I sampled one of each, straight on the rocks with a twist of lemon, and discovered dramatic differences in taste. The rice shochu was the most delicate tasting with almost no aroma. The barley version was slightly sweet, had more body than the rice shochu, but was still very clean and crisp. The sweet potato soju, from Korea, had a much more pronounced sweetness. Just one sip, which coated my mouth with a heavy, petroleum-like film, made me sense that this version would cause a major hangover.

Because so many different shochus are being imported, it's difficult to figure out which are the best, other than by tasting. But the bartenders and managers at an izakaya can point out bestsellers. Tori Kai, distilled from polished rice, is a favorite in Japan, as are Ginza No Suzume and Il Chiko Shochu, both made with barley. Han Soju, a popular Korean brand, is distilled from rice and barley.

After you've decided on a style of shochu, there are dozens of different ways to mix it. Kell Wimmer, sommelier at Geisha House, took a page out of the Japanese playbook to come up with a chu-hai made by muddling cucumber in the bottom of a cocktail glass, adding ice and topping with shochu. He says its low alcohol content makes it "more friendly than a martini or something like a cosmopolitan."

"It's a really good drink for people who want to go slow and not get drunk," says Hiroshi Ishikawa, manager of SaSaYa in West Los Angeles, an izakaya that carries 20 varieties of shochu and serves up a number of different shochu-based cocktails such as the sora (sky) martini, made with blue Curacao and plum wine.

Bartenders at Sake House Miro, which has 16 chu-hai cocktails on the menu, prefer Korean soju in cocktails for its sweetness.

"The alcohol content is just slightly higher than wine but when you mix it in a cocktail, it's pretty light and I think a lot of people like that," says manager Alan Young. Sake House Miro's most popular chu-hai cocktail, the aloha, is made with equal amounts of pineapple and cranberry juice mixed with Korean soju in a beer mug.

Personally, Katana's Cardenas still prefers sake. "It has more depth," he says. But he admits that shochu is more of a social drink. "It's a particularly good choice when you're eating izakaya-style Japanese food," he says. "It's lighter and doesn't dull your appetite. Besides, it's hip."

Which might just be the final word on the subject.

**

Sora (sky) martini

Total time: 3 minutes

Servings: 1

Note: From SaSaYa

2 ounces shochu

1/2 ounce blue Curacao

1/2 ounce plum wine

In a cocktail shaker half filled with cracked ice, combine shochu, Curacao and plum wine. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Each serving: 108 calories; 0 protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 1 mg. sodium.

**

Aloha

Total time: 3 minutes

Servings: 1

Note: From Sake House Miro

2 ounces shochu

1 ounce pineapple juice

1ounce cranberry juice

1 pineapple wedge for garnish

In a tall glass or beer mug filled with ice, pour the shochu, then the pineapple and cranberry juices. Stir. Garnish with pineapple wedge.

Each serving: 71 calories; 0 protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 1 mg. sodium.

**

Cherry blossom

Total time: 5 minutes

Servings: 1

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

2 ounces shochu

1ounce ginger ale

Splash of cherry syrup or grenadine

1 (3-inch) matchstick-thin

ginger stick for garnish

Place the minced ginger in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle, then add cracked ice to fill halfway. Add the shochu, ginger ale and cherry syrup or grenadine. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the ginger matchstick.

Each serving: 99 calories; 0 protein; 16 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 7 mg. sodium.

**

Geisha House shochu cocktail

Total time: 3 minutes

Servings: 1

4 ( 1/8 -inch) slices unpeeled Japanese cucumber

2 ounces shochu

Muddle one slice of cucumber in the bottom of a cocktail glass. Fill with cracked ice. Add shochu and stir. Garnish with the remaining 3 slices of cucumber.

Each serving: 39 calories; 0 protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 fiber;

0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 1 mg. sodium.

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