I was sold.
The cocktail was called “The Groovy.” It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted, a tantalizing combination of shiso-infused vodka, yuzu (an Asian citrus fruit), and shiso leaves, served in a tall glass over ice. It was compellingly subtle: tart, herbaceous, refreshing. A keeper.
Back at my home bar, I wanted to see what else shiso could do. I did a bit of Googling and found recipes using the leaves as a zinged-up alternative to mint in classic cocktails such as Mojitos and Mint Juleps. And while these both sounded delicious, I remembered the astringent, grapefruity-lime taste of the yuzu juice, and how naturally it played with the shiso. Somehow it seemed key. So I headed down to Katagiri, my local Japanese grocery store.
While no fresh yuzu fruits were to be had, bottled juice was available, and there were also intriguing-looking packets of zested rind in the freezer case. Always preferring fresh-squeezed citrus juice to bottled, I chose the pungent rind, reasoning that I could always supplement it with fresh lime juice.
I decided to make a kind of shiso-yuzu mojito. I had light rum on hand, but not the all-important Brazillian cane sugar liquor, Cachaca. However, I did have some Stoli Citros vodka leftover from making Cosmopolitans. Why not use that as a base? After a bit of experimentation in the cocktail lab, I was quite pleased with the results:
makes one drink
1 1/2 ounces Stoli Citros vodka
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 or 5 fresh shiso leaves
1 teaspoon of zested yuzu rind
juice of 1/4 lime
Tear the shiso leaves into large pieces (reserving one whole leaf for a garnish) and muddle with the brown sugar and yuzu rind in a mixing glass (“Muddling” is the simple technique of crushing and bruising herbs and fruits to release their essential oils and flavors. Use a cocktail muddler or large pestle if you have one - the back of a spoon will work too). Add the vodka, lime juice, and a few ice cubes and stir. Pour into an old-fashioned glass and top up with club soda and more ice as necessary. Garnish with a shiso leaf.
(Images: Nora Maynard)