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.