The Best Shochu Cocktails & Guide to the Famous Japanese Spirit

August 10, 2023 by Anna-Bet Stemmet

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Shochu cocktails are trending hard right now, and The Mixer UK is here to teach you all about them. Step right up and discover the allure of Japan’s favourite spirit! Unlike its cousin, sake, which is brewed like beer, shochu is a true distilled gem made from diverse starches like buckwheat, rice, or sweet potatoes. 

The history of shochu

 Close up of a bottle of shochu styled with an ornate shot glass of the Japanese spirit in a bright outdoor environment with lots of bamboo and greenery

Shochu’s history dates back to ancient times in Japan. It is believed to have originated around the 16th century, during the Muromachi period. The spirit’s roots can be traced to distilled liquor brought from China and Southeast Asia. Over the centuries, shochu production methods evolved, and it became popular across Japan.  

Today, it remains a cherished part of Japan’s culture, celebrated at social gatherings and cherished ceremonies. The finest varieties are crafted with barley by renowned Japanese distillers, such as Iichiko and Mizu. Its distillation process is an art, beginning with grain selection. The more polished the grain, the smoother the shochu – just like sake. 

Shochu is also divided into subtypes, based on the components and region. The most common types are: 

  • Imo shochu (crafted from sweet potatoes) 
  • Mugi shochu (crafted from barley) 
  • Kome shochu (crafted from rice) 
  • Kokuto shochu (crafted from brown sugar) 
  • Soba shochu (crafted from buckwheat) 
  • Shiso shochu (crafted from the Shiso herb) 
  • Okinawan or Awamori shochu (crafted in Okinawa) 

TOP TIP! Although their names may sound alike and there are certain similarities, shochu, and soju are different things. Soju is a clear, distilled spirit that originated in Korea.  

How to use shochu in cocktails

How to make cocktails with shochu - Tools and decor for making cocktails with shochu.

The rich and versatile flavour profile of shochu makes it an excellent base for cocktails. Unlike traditional spirits like vodka, this true distilled spirit boasts a more intricate crafting process, resulting in a depth of flavours that add a delicious and tempting complexity to cocktails.  

Whether mixed with citrusy yuzu, elderflower liqueur, or refreshing mint, shochu effortlessly adapts to different ingredients, paving the way for delightfully harmonious drinks. Its centuries-old history in Japanese culture further adds an element of intrigue and cultural significance to any cocktail creation. 

Here are a few of our favourites to try at home:  

1. The Japanese Sidecar  

A pair of Japanese Sidecar cocktails in a light, bright indoor Japanese setting

Arguably one of the best shochu cocktails to try when you just start playing around with this intriguing spirit is the Japanese Sidecar. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 60ml of Shochu, 20ml of lemon juice, 15ml of Grand Marnier, 15ml of brown sugar syrup, and 2 dashes of orange bitters. Shake vigorously until well-chilled, then strain it into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. For an elegant touch, consider garnishing with a twist of lemon peel or a fresh orange slice. 

You might also like: Classic Sidecar | Vodka Sidecar 

2. Hana Hana Highball

A Hana Hana Highball cocktail in a light, bright indoor Japanese setting

The time-honoured Highball Cocktail has quite an interesting history. The trend, which ostensibly started in England, made its way to the USA and eventually became a major thing in Japan. You can read all about it here. To make the Hana Hana version, add 60ml of shochu and 120ml of soda water to a Collins glass over ice. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon straight into the glass, stir well, and serve. 

FUN FACT: Hana means ‘flower’ or ‘blossom’ in Japanese (花).  

3. Shochu Apple Sour Cocktail

A pair of Shochu Apple Sour Cocktails in gilded flower-print glasses in a light bright Japanese home setting

If you love sour cocktails, the Shochu Apple Sour Cocktail is bound to be right up your alley. Japanese shochu cocktails do not come any crisper and tangier than this. In Japan, the combination of apple and Shochu is so popular that it’s available as ready-to-drink beverages sold in cans. Of course, fresh is best, so here’s our DIY recipe.  

Add ice to a highball glass and pour in 90ml of shochu. Then add 80ml apple juice (freshly pressed if possible), 15ml honey syrup, and 15ml yuzu juice. Substitute lemon juice if you can’t find yuzu. Stir until everything is combined. Top off with 80ml chilled soda water and garnish with apple slices. 

Learn more: 6 Perfect Apple Cocktails to Make This Autumn

4. The Japanese Gimlet

A Japanese Gimlet in a light, bright indoor Japanese setting

The OG Gimlet had its heyday on the high seas and remains a classic clinker to this day. Naturally, the Eastern-inspired spinoff is also a complete vibe. This lemon shochu cocktail is very easy to make, and just as simple to enjoy. Add 60ml shochu, 30ml lime juice, and 20ml sugar syrup to a cocktail shaker with Ice. Shake, then strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lime wheel. 

5. Shochu and Tonic

A pair of Shochu and Tonic cocktails in a light, bright indoor Japanese setting

The Vodka Tonic has been a bar-side staple for decades, and with good reason – it’s a simple combination that works really well. If this is your go-to, you might like to shake things up with a Shochu and Tonic. Fill a tall glass with ice. Add 30ml shochu, 30ml of your favourite aperitif, and grapefruit slices. Top with 90ml tonic water and add a sprig of mint. 

6. Hanamizaké Martini

A pair of Hanamizaké Martini cocktails in a light bright Japanese indoor setting

Love experimenting with different types of Martinis? Try your hand at a Hanamizaké Martini. It calls for a few unusual ingredients, but we love it just the same. Add 45ml shochu, 15ml Bulldog Gin, 45ml sake, and 15ml Cinzano Vermouth Bianco to a mixing glass with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass over shiozakura (salted sakura blossoms). If you cannot find any shiozakura, you could use some caviar or good old green olives instead.   

7. Old Fashioned Samurai  

A pair of Old Fashioned Samurai cocktails in a modern Japanese bar setting

The Old Fashioned will never go out of style, and this take on the classic is quite spectacular. Add 1 tsp sugar, 3 dashes of bitters, and a splash of soda water to a rocks glass. Muddle and stir the mix until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add 60ml shochu and some ice. Stir the drink for 10 seconds. Twist an orange peel over the drink, drop it in, and serve. 

Check out next: Anejo Old Fashioned | Classic Old Fashioned | Apple Butter Old Fashioned 

8. Chili Mango Shochu Cocktail

A pair of Chili Mango Shochu Cocktails in a light bright Japanese indoor setting

No list of shochu cocktail recipes would be complete without the Chili Shochu Cocktail. Rim a glass with lime juice and tajin spice. Add 60ml shochu, 120ml mango juice, and a dash of tajin spice to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to combine, strain into your prepared serving glass over fresh ice, and add jalapeño slices as a garnish.  

More mango magic: 8 Deliciously Fresh Mango Cocktails You Must Try 

9. Yuzu Sour

A pair of Yuzu Sour cocktails in a light bright Japanese indoor setting

Keen to taste what happens to the classic Whiskey Sour when it travels to Japan? Oh, it’s so good! Add 60ml shochu, 30ml lemon juice, 30ml yuzu juice, 15ml sugar syrup, and one egg white to a cocktail shaker and dry shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Add ice and shake again until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled glass and enjoy. 

10. Shikoku Mule (Yuzu Moscow Mule)

A pair of Shikoku Mule cocktails in a light bright indoor Japanese setting

More marvellous Mule cocktails? We’ve got you. Try the Shikoku Mule next. Fill a glass with ice cubes. Add 30ml shochu and 30ml yuzu juice. Now fill the glass to the top with ginger beer. Gently stir, garnish with a lime wedge, and serve. Easy as pie! 

11. Shochu Margarita

A pair of Shochu Margarita cocktails in a light bright indoor Japanese setting

If you’ve been on the lookout for the best Margarita cocktail, you’ve got to shake up a Shochu Margarita. Add 60ml shochu, 30ml lime juice, 15ml simple syrup, and a pinch of sea salt to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well combined, strain into a serving glass over fresh ice, and serve. 


Shochu's subtle and complex flavours blend harmoniously with a wide range of ingredients, making it an excellent base for creating diverse and delicious drinks to suit any taste preference. Try mixing it with yuzu or lemon juice for a refreshing citrusy kick. Alternatively, experiment with different fruit juices like grapefruit or apple to create fruity sips. For a unique twist, combine it with other spirits like gin or vodka to craft exciting cocktails.

No, sake and shochu are not the same. Both are alcoholic beverages originating from Japan, but they differ in ingredients and production methods. Sake is a rice wine made through fermentation, while shochu is a distilled spirit that can be made from various raw materials like barley, sweet potatoes, or rice. Sake has a milder taste and lower alcohol content (typically around 15-20%), whereas shochu has a higher alcohol content (usually between 25-40%).

Shochu is a traditional alcoholic beverage from Japan, not Korea. It is a clear distilled spirit, typically made from various ingredients like barley, sweet potatoes, rice, or buckwheat. Shochu plays a significant role in Japanese culture and is enjoyed in various ways, either straight, on the rocks, or mixed with water or other beverages. On the other hand, Korea has its own traditional spirit called "soju," which is also a popular distilled beverage but distinct from shochu.

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