With its latest menu, Roka’s Shochu Lounge continues to showcase its eponymous spirit; this time around, the list is a study in the versatility of shochu and other Japanese ingredients.
‘You can have shochu made from something like rice which is more delicate, but then you have grains like buckwheat and barley which do something completely different [to the spirit],’ Simon Freeth, Roka’s global director of bars, told Imbibe.
‘Then you have sweet potato, one of the most popular shochus in Japan, and there’s also a sugarcane [that shochu makers] use, so those are a bit more of an agricole rhum style. You have a spirit that has so many different flavours, and our bartenders really play around with that.’
To explore the many uses of different shochus and classic Japanese flavour profiles, Freeth and the Shochu Lounge team divided the list into four sections – Clear, Sour, Fruit and Fizz – with three cocktails in each.
[Shochu is] a spirit that has so many different flavours, and our bartenders really play around with that
In the Clear section, the Kuma Martini is the star. It’s a clever mix of Toyonaga Rice Shochu, Haku Vodka, fino sherry, Italicus liqueur and shiso-infused olive oil, which sounds like it has the potential to knock you out before you glimpse the bottom of the glass. However, the team’s shochu of choice here clocks in at just 20% abv, keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground. Imbibe found it to be light and delicate, with lovely umami notes from the shochu’s rice base and the shiso oil.
Shochu shines in other drinks, as well. The Negroni San marries a buckwheat shochu with Campari, Cocchi Torino and cedarwood for a broody twist on the classic; meanwhile in the Sour section, the Okinawa Breeze combines Shekwasar Shochu with Ocho Tequila, lime, honey and Suze.
The list isn’t limited to shochu-based cocktails, and inventive uses of other Japanese ingredients abound. The Nigori Colada, for instance, is sweetened with an orgeat-like syrup made from kasu paste, the lees leftover from sake production, to craft an umami-rich riff on the tropical favourite. The Hibiscus Fizz also gets a punch of umami, this time from a soy reduction.
But the true highlight of Imbibe’s visit to Shochu Lounge was a cheeky drink that’s not on the new list. Rather, it was an off-the-cuff mix created by head bartender Alessandro Parmegiani built around Okukuma Sherry Cask-Aged Shochu, an exceptional spirit from the aforementioned Toyonaga distillery. Parmegiani combined the toasty, luxurious shochu with maraschino liqueur, Cocchi Torino and a lemon twist for a smooth, nutty and utterly moreish drink that demonstrated his deep understanding of the shochu’s flavours.
And we’re confident that there are even more good things to come for Roka’s Shochu Lounge. On Imbibe’s visit, the bar team snuck us samples of two delicious homemade infused shochus, chestnut and melon, set to make their debut on a future menu. We’ll be back to try them in their final forms…