If you’ve never heard of shochu (焼酎, pronounced shōchū), or are wondering if it’s something like soju, I don’t blame you. Despite all the headway that sake and Japanese whiskey has made on the global beverage scene, shochu is an undiscovered gem.
Involving two fermentations before a single distillation, shochu production is a craft that has been honed over its 500 year history in Japan. Perhaps the best thing about shochu has a vast array of flavor profiles depending on the base ingredient. Black sugar shochu tastes a bit like rum, rice shochu tastes mild and a little sweet, while sweet potato shochu has a pungent aroma with a sweet and smoky flavor.
This broad palette of flavors and aromas make shochu perfect for making cocktails. The problem is that most shochu is diluted down to 25% alcohol by volume (ABV). For people that are used to mixing drinks with more traditional spirits like vodka, gin or rum, which typically have an ABV of 40%, it can result in weak drinks.
The thing is, by simply rethinking your ratio of mixers to the base spirit, it’s easy to make a potent mixed drink that highlights the inherent flavors of the shochu, while elevating it with the addition of a few mixers.
For this Grape Escape, I’ve used sweet potato shochu (芋焼酎) as the base. It has a pungent aroma that can smell a bit like gasoline, but when you get past the smell, it has a wonderful sweet and smoky flavor that goes beautifully with grapes.
Instead of using a juice I like to go straight to the source and muddle in some Concord grapes. If you’ve never had them before Concord grapes are in season in late summer and taste like grape bubble gum (this is probably why they’re most commonly used for making grape juice and jelly).
By muddling the skins it not only releases some tannins that give the cocktail a nice tang, it also tints the tipple a stunning shade of pastel magenta. Some pink peppercorns crushed in at the beginning offers up some warmth while imbuing a floral aroma, and a touch of honey lends enough sweetness to balance out the tartness of the grapes.
Concord grapes (~8-10 large grapes)
honey (to taste)
sweet potato shochu
Crush the pink peppercorns in the bottom of a shaker with a muddler.
Add the grapes and honey and muddle them until there are no large chunks of grape left.
Add the sweet potato shochu and a few large ice cubes.
Shake until chilled.
Pour the grape escape into a chilled martini glass through a tea strainer and garnish with grapes.