It takes a masterful preparation of an ingredient to make a person forget their aversions. Just ask any mom how they get their kids to eat Brussels sprouts or how a great chef can make a fearful diner order the calf’s brain ravioli and they’ll be sure to tell you the answer: technique.
Why individuals steer clear of specific ingredients are varied—some object to texture, flavor, scent, sense memories, allergies and sometimes even ethical issues come into play. As a voracious eater, there are few things I avoid. The smell of truffle oil makes my skin crawl. Sadly, I’m allergic to blue cheese. Say the word soju and my brain reflexively throbs with the memory of a two-day hangover that I almost didn’t recover from.
So when I tell you that I recently created a delicious cocktail for a delightful new artisan shochu (the Japanese version of soju), I offer positive proof that great technique really can reshape a culinary opinion.
How I came to try Haamonii Shochu
Had it not been for the fact that my husband came home with two free sample bottles of Haamonii Shochu (pronounced show-chew), I probably would have never tried the Japanese beverage. But thanks to Hans’ eager assurances that Haamonii Shochu was nothing like the cheap plonk that ruined me one night a long time ago, I got up the courage to ignore my aversion to soju and try something special.
Tasting Haamonii Shochu
I poured myself a tiny splash of the Haamonii Shochu and edged my nose over the glass. I was surprised by the delicate floral and citrus notes of the Haamonii. Based on my previous experience with soju, I never expected to smell fresh citrus blossoms and sweet rice. My curiosity was peaked enough to ignore my jaded past with shochu’s Korean cousin and take a taste.
Once past my hesitant lips, the Lemon Haamonii Shochu offered a hint of sweetness and a kiss of citrus. The shochu was sophisticated and clean and didn’t offer hard alcohol’s harsh heat. Within moments of enjoying the nuanced flavors of the shochu, I was dreaming up cocktails.
Crafted by San Francisco-based James Key Lim and his wife, the artisan shochu makers set out to create an ultra-premium shochu that was low in alcohol and smooth in taste. The result is America’s first award winning shochu, an elegant, 22 percent alcohol drink that is made with purified water and a blend of grains that can be enjoyed on its own or mixed. According to James Key Lim, Haamonii is “four column distilled” and triple filtered for extra purity.
Called soju in Korea and shochu in Japan, this clear spirit is one of the most popular distilled spirits in the world–enjoyed straight, on the rocks, mixed with hot or cold water, tea, or in mixed drinks. Shochu is traditionally made from grains (rice and barley) and starches (such as potatoes). In addition to its smooth flavor and versatility, shochu possesses another great virtue; it is low in calories.
I visited an event celebrating a Japanese shoe designer Hiromi Tatsuta that offered guests Haamonii Citrus mixed with green tea or apple juice and handmade sushi rolls from San Shi Go. Usually a fan of Japanese sake with my sushi, I was impressed by the delicate nature of the shochu and how it paired well with the raw fish and sweet sushi rice. Like sushi, the well-made shochu was refreshing and didn’t weigh down my palate with aggressive flavors. Unlike a mixed drink, the shochu didn’t deaden my tastebuds with numbing alcohol.
With my recent conversion to shochu at the forefront brain, I visited the Hollywood Farmers market. Spring citrus, cherries and stone fruits peaked my interest as possible ingredients for my home’s larder. But it was a bunch of lemon verbena and tart and crunchy sour plums that made me want to create a cocktail for the Lemon Haamonii shochu waiting for me back home.
The gentle acidity of the sour plums and refreshing perfume of the lemon verbena do not overpower the delicate sweetness and aromatics of the lemon shochu. The spicy salted rim on the glass is just the kick the drink needs to have you tapping your toes with happiness.
Salted Plum Shochu Cocktail
Makes one drink
Kosher salt and cayenne pepper mixture (4 tbsp kosher salt to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper)
2 lemon verbena leaves (one for muddling, one for garnish)
4 small sour plums (sliced and without seeds)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 lemon wedge
1 tsp simple syrup
3 oz lemon (or regular) Haamonii Shochu
Place the kosher salt/cayenne pepper mixture on a plate. Wipe the outer edge of the cocktail glass with the juicy side of the lemon wedge. Run the wet edge of the glass in the spicy salt to create an even rim.
Muddle a single verbena leaf in a clean cocktail shaker. Add the sliced sour plums and continue muddling until most of the fruit’s juice is released into the glass. Add simple syrup, shochu and fill shaker with ice. Shake well. Add mixed cocktail to salt-rimmed glass. Top with fresh verbena. Serve immediately.
Where to find Haamonii