WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF DRINKING and Japan, three beverages spring to mind: sake, Sapporo, and plum wine. What many likely don’t know is that plum wine is not a wine at all, but rather a fruit-infused variety of shochu, a Japanese spirit similar to vodka but with a slightly lower alcohol content.
Plum is just one of many flavors on the menu at Bozu, a Grand Street bar and restaurant where shochu is the signature drink. Co-owners Makoto Suzuki and Shinji Mizutani are letting their hip Williamsburg clientele in on a hot Japanese trend. Until a few years ago, Mizutani said, shochu was considered “an old man’s drink,” distilled at home, imbibed for health. Now, he said, “even young ladies are drinking it at the bars.”
Shochu can be made from a variety of starches—including sweet potato, rice, soba, and cane sugar. Add to these variables one of the three types of koji mold and the finished beverage can range from light and crisp to earthy and pungent.
Japanese have been flavoring the rice and soba varieties of shochu for centuries. In Suzuki’s hometown of Saitama, near Tokyo, his mother would soak kiwis, apples, tomatoes, and the traditional ume plums in the local variety of shochu. Six months to a year later, the flavored shochus were ready to drink, a heady reminder of springs and summers past.
When Suzuki opened Bozu a year ago, he started making his own infusions. Bozu currently offers at least 10 shochu flavors, including strawberry, persimmon, ginger, grapefruit, lime, and even turnip. Next Suzuki is hoping to create a mixed shochu drink inspired by the Bloody Mary. Only in his version, in lieu of actual tomato juice, pepper, and lemon juice, the drink will be a mixture of shochus, each infused with one of these flavors. “The best thing,” Suzuki boasted, “no hangover!”
Bozu, 296 Grand St., Williamsburg (G to Metropolitan; L to Bedford or Lorimer; J,M, or Z to Marcy), 718-384-7770.
Kelly Kingman has written for The New York Sun and Metro.