The Rise of Shochu Cocktails: Kannoko Highball

Drinking habits have changed drastically in Japan over the past decade; although still integral to many social occasions, the way alcohol is depicted to the public has definitely shifted. Around five years ago, shochu (焼酎), officially outsold traditional Japanese rice wine, or sake (酒) and its popularity has far from dwindled since then. Although there are a myriad of reasons why this happened, some believe that it is due to shochu’s inexpensive cost, it being “healthier” having fewer calories than sake, and the fact that it is a diverse drink made from a range of different ingredients, so it has more chance of favoring somebody’s palate. But by far the most redeeming factor which has made shochu so popular is how versatile it is, whereas sake can be drunk warm or straight, it being mixed is a faux-pas that is all but unimaginable in Japan; like ordering a side of coke with your 18 year vintage scotch. But shochu is far less stuffy, and can be served with water, tea, fruit syrups and more commonly now, tonic water.

Alongside the rise of shochu, Japan has become increasingly fond of “Highballs” a simple cocktail of whisky, tonic water and a dash of lemon. Suntory and Tory’s whisky have been pushing their highball range over the past few years, not only encouraging people to make their own highball at home (normally with their base, inexpensive whisky), but also producing a pre-mixed highball in a can, which are normally cheaper than similarly sized cans of beer and also far stronger in regards to alcohol content, normally topping the 7% mark. Although beer is still the automatic-order for most office workers visiting their local izakaya, highballs are becoming more common; to such an extent that many restaurants have taps installed that pump out pre-mixed highballs in an identical fashion to someone pouring a glass of beer.

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Both shochu and highballs are cheap to manufacture, cater to a less “traditional” drinker who may not be interested in either sake or beer and are easy to market as an inexpensive, yet fashionable alternative; so it is no real surprise that these two markets have collided to produce a high-bred product, namely the shochu-highball, which simply sees the whisky being replaced with shucho (normally of the barley or “麦” variety). But whereas most of these drinks are sold in garish cans, promoting them as a dynamic alternative drink, often costing as little as 105yen, one brand has seemingly broken away and tried to produce a more mature and sophisticated product.

Satsuma Shuzo are a long running brewery, having been established in 1936. They are known for their sweet potato, rice and barley shochu, as well as great selection of craft beers. Although their widest range of products are their sweet potato shochu, many would see their best-selling barley shochu, Kannoko as their most successul product, as it is not only afforadable yet well respected in Japan, it is also one of just a handful of their products which is sold in America as well as domestically. The drink has a slight tan to it, coming from it bleeding color from the oak barrels it is left to age in for three years. It is made with all natural ingredient, no additives and both the name and the water that the drink is made from, comes from a small stream in southern Kagoshima; their official translation for Kannoko being “river protected by the gods.”

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With such a well respected brand, it is no surprise that Satsuma Shuzo would want a more refined version of the shochu highball, so they selected their most popular product and produced a smart looking 300ml aluminum bottle, akin in shape and color to the original Kannoko bottle. As far as taste goes, it is a refreshing drink, but if you are not accustomed to either “normal” highballs or shochu, it may take a little getting used to. The drink is 7%, so it packs a punch and as it is so easy to drink, getting drunk can creep up on you.

If you wanted to try a free sample of the Kannoko Highball, there is currently a campaign asking groups of friends to send in pictures of themselves enjoying some of Satsuma Shuzo’s products; if the picture is popular, you will be sent six free bottles! If you are up to the challenge, send your picture to: webmaster@satsuma.co.jp, or check out the details of the deal here.

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