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When famed bartender Shingo Gokan, founder of bar company SG Group, moved back to Tokyo to launch The SG Club in 2018, he embarked on a project to introduce shōchū, Japan’s original craft spirit, into the lexicon of global cocktail culture.

In February, SG Group launched The SG Shochu, a collaboration with three of Japan’s top producers — Takahashi Shuzo, Satsuma Shuzo and Sanwa Shurui. To fine tune the flavor profile, the companies “created the brand together, developing each spirit from scratch,” says brand manager Joshin Atone. While shōchū typically contains around 25 percent alcohol, The SG Shochu’s higher alcohol content of roughly 40 percent makes it a versatile base for cocktails.

The debut line features three varieties: smooth and elegant rice-based Kome (from Takahashi Shuzo); aromatic and fruity sweet potato-based Imo (from Satsuma Shuzo), made with eimurasaki, a rare variety of purple potato; and barley-based Mugi (from Sanwa Shurui), which displays complex whisky-like notes from barrel aging.

To celebrate the release, SG Group held a virtual cocktail competition, where participants submitted recipes using The SG Shochu via Instagram. Here, the company shares the grand prize-winning cocktail, created by Yusuke Sakabe of restaurant Lurra in Kyoto, along with three other recipes Gokan designed for summer shōchū sipping.

Kanpai: Yusuke Sakabe of restaurant Lurra won SG Group’s home cocktail competition with his drink, The Sonic Generator. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP
Kanpai: Yusuke Sakabe of restaurant Lurra won SG Group’s home cocktail competition with his drink, The Sonic Generator. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP

Cocktail 1: The Sonic Generator

Created by Yusuke Sakabe (Lurra, Kyoto)

  • 30 milliliters of The SG Shochu Mugi
  • 15 milliliters water
  • 7 milliliters hon-mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • 1 drop koikuchi shoyu (dark soy sauce)
  • Orange peel

Method: Combine water and shōchū 24 hours prior to using, maewari-style (see SG Notes below). After allowing the mixture to rest for one day, combine ingredients in a short tumbler, such as an Old-Fashioned glass, and stir with a large ice cube. Garnish with orange peel.

SG Notes: Maewari is a style of drinking shōchū where the shōchū is cut with water at least one day ahead of time, allowing the liquids to mix thoroughly; the result is a gentle mouthfeel. Usually people make a larger batch (for example, to fill a bottle) and serve it heated or over ice. Sweet, caramel-toned hon-mirin is made by fermenting short-grain rice with kōji (an enzymatic catalyst made from rice and the fungus Aspergillus Oryzae), and then mixing it with shōchū and leaving the mash to mature for 40 to 60 days.


Classic with a twist: Certain spirits can be added to The SG Shochu to complement and enhance the drink’s flavors. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP
Classic with a twist: Certain spirits can be added to The SG Shochu to complement and enhance the drink’s flavors. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP

Cocktail 2: Hybrid Highballs

Mugi Hybrid Highball:

  • 20 milliliters of The SG Shochu Mugi
  • 10 milliliters mezcal
  • Approximately 90 milliliters soda
  • Orange peel

Kome Hybrid Highball:

  • 20 milliliters of The SG Shochu Kome
  • 10 milliliters Calvados
  • Approximately 90 milliliters soda
  • Lemon peel

Imo Hybrid Highball:

  • 20 milliliters of The SG Shochu Imo
  • 10 milliliters pisco
  • Approximately 90 milliliters soda
  • Grapefruit peel

Method: Fill a highball glass with ice. Add the spirits and stir to chill. Gently add the soda without hitting the ice. Lightly lift the ice to mix.

SG Notes: Certain spirits can be added to The SG Shochu to complement and enhance the flavors. With a simple recipe based on a 2-1 ratio of shōchū to secondary liquor (the standard Japanese highball is usually made with 30 milliliters of spirit), the three spirits in The SG Shochu collection form the base of our Hybrid Highballs. These are SG’s “classic” hybrid highballs, but you can experiment with many more combinations.


Shop local: For home bartenders, SG Group recommends buying organic honey and fresh herbs from your local farmers market. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP
Shop local: For home bartenders, SG Group recommends buying organic honey and fresh herbs from your local farmers market. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP

Cocktail 3: Farmer’s Mojito

  • 30 milliliters of The SG Shochu Kome
  • 10 milliliters Ome Farm raw honey
  • 15 milliliters lemon or lime juice
  • One handful of organic herbs from Kajiya Farm
  • Approximately 90 milliliters soda

Method: Take a handful of fresh herbs and slap them in your hands to release their aroma, then place in a highball glass. Add the Kome, raw honey and citrus, followed by a small splash of soda, and then muddle lightly. Add ice, and top with soda.

SG Notes: The key to making great cocktails is using quality ingredients, and developing relationships with farmers is the best way to understand where your food comes from and how it was made. At The SG Club, we work directly with growers to source the best ingredients whenever possible. Ome Farm is known for 100 percent pesticide- and chemical-free farming, and the honey it produces is exceptionally flavorful. We make our Farmer’s Mojito with a blend of fresh spearmint, apple mint, Japanese black mint, lemongrass and anise hyssop from Kajiya Farm, which is known for delicious organic microgreens. For home bartenders, we recommend buying organic honey and fresh herbs from your local farmers market and getting to know the producers in your region.


As you like it: The Watermelon Spritz recipe can be easily tweaked to suit your taste. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP
As you like it: The Watermelon Spritz recipe can be easily tweaked to suit your taste. | COURTESY OF SG GROUP

Cocktail 4: Watermelon Spritz

For the Watermelon Spritz:

  • 15 milliliters of The SG Shochu Imo
  • 30 milliliters Aperol
  • 50 milliliters watermelon juice
  • 10 milliliters raspberry shrub syrup
  • 30 milliliters prosecco

For the shrub syrup:

  • 100 grams raspberries
  • 100 grams sugar
  • 100 grams white wine vinegar

Method: To make the raspberry shrub, combine equal parts raspberries and sugar in a blender until smooth, and let rest in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Strain out the pulp, weigh and add half its weight in white wine vinegar to start, adding more vinegar to taste as necessary. Mix well before using. Next, juice watermelon (or use store-bought watermelon juice) and remove pulp. Combine the shōchū with the Aperol, watermelon juice and shrub in a wine glass, add ice and mix well. Top with prosecco.

SG Notes: Pair the Watermelon Spritz with Japan’s quintessential summer fruit — watermelon. The recipe can be easily tweaked: Reduce the amount of shōchū for a lighter style, or use less Aperol if you want a drier version. Likewise, the sweetness and acidity of the shrub can be adjusted to suit your taste.


SG Group tips for making cocktails at home:

1. Use clean glassware. Glassware in home cupboards can have water stains, dust or an unpleasant smell. Using well-washed and thoroughly dried glassware is the first step to making a great drink. Investing in a microfiber glass towel is a good idea.

2. Use quality ice — clear ice made with purified water. In Japan, you can find high-quality ice even at the convenience store. It makes a big difference in the flavor and the time it takes for a drink to become diluted.

3. Chill highball ingredients. If your spirit of choice is at room temperature, make sure to give it a good stir when you add it to the ice in order to chill the liquid evenly. This dilutes the spirit just a little bit and brings the temperature down, making it easier to mix with the soda. And definitely chill the soda: It not only affects the temperature of the drink, but you can get more fizziness out of a chilled bottle of soda.

4. Pour soda with care. Avoid hitting the ice directly, which over-activates the carbonation and releases the gas before you can enjoy it.

5. Be consistent, but flexible with recipes. Consistency means knowing your measurements. If you are pouring 30 milliliters, make sure it’s the same 30 milliliters each time, so you know that’s how much you put in. Flexibility means using your palate to adjust the taste to your preferences. If you have good consistency, it makes it easier to be flexible.

For more information about The SG Shochu lineup, visit thesgshochu.com.

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