Biwa's Perfect Summer Drink Is Powered by Shochu

Mix it up this summer with chuhais, Japanese shochu cocktails.

By Kelly Clarke July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Michael Novak

Tequila-fueled margaritas might be a summer classic, but Biwa’s Gabe Rosen has a better base for sun-soaked marathon sipping: shochu*, a slightly sweet, low-proof Japanese spirit that tastes a bit like sake or vodka with a fruity, toasty kick.

At the chef’s laid-back ramen and juice bar, Noraneko, Rosen features nearly a dozen “chuhai” (shochu highballs), mixing the mellow spirit with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, fragrant oolong tea, cucumber, and other bright flavors to make seriously “sessionable” cocktails you can sip all day long. (They’re also a classy upgrade from the syrupy hard lemonades certain friends demand that you include in your home cooler.) “Shochu adds an X factor to casual drinks,” Rosen says. “And you can have four of them and still stumble home.”


At Noraneko, Rosen leans on Jinro 24, shochu’s Korean, sugar- and citric acid–spiked cousin, for chuhai. “It’s a truly magical beverage, the Bacardi of East Asia.” Swap Jinro out for higher-end Japanese shochu brands (see “Five to Try,” below) for more nuanced cocktails.


Combine 2 oz Jinro soju, 1½ oz fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, ½ oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and ½ oz simple syrup with ice in a 10 oz glass, and top with soda water or Fresca.


Pour 2 oz Jinro soju or Iichiko or Kakushigura shochu over ice in a 10 oz glass, and top with iced oolong tea.


Combine 2 oz Jinro soju, ½ oz Starvation Alley cranberry juice, and ½ oz simple syrup with ice in a 10 oz glass, and top with soda water.

*SHOCHU 101: This low-alcohol spirit (around 50 proof) is fermented with koji mold and distilled from a wide variety of foodstuffs, from rice, sweet potatoes, and barley to sesame seeds and carrots.

FIVE SHOCHUS TO TRY: Hakutake Like sake, this approachable brand’s base is rice—think crisp, clean, and slightly sweet. $32.85 // Kurokame Made from sweet potato and black koji, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it sip with tones of acetone up front, followed by a toasty, fruit-leather finish. $34.30 // Iichiko Smoother than Hakutake, this barley spirit “just screams strawberry and banana,” says Rosen. $29.90 // Kakushigura A rich, blonde, barley outlier that’s aged in oak barrels for a “round, tutti-frutti” sweetness. $31.15 // Jinro 24 Soju Shochu’s Korean “mixed grain” counterpart is one of the best-selling liquors in the world, thanks to South Korea’s inexhaustible thirst for the bright, punchy booze. $11. These brands are sold at many local liquor stores.

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