Improved Shochu Cocktail Recipe

Improved Shochu Cocktail Recipe

Improved Shochu Cocktail Recipe

On our trip to New York a couple of months ago, our favorite drink was the Improved Shochu Cocktail, at the Japanese bar Bar Goto. It was utterly lovely and entirely smooth and like nothing we’ve ever tasted before. We asked for the recipe, and received an answer we’ve never gotten before: we were told that they don’t give out recipes, but they actively encourage people to try to duplicate their drinks. Most of the time when we ask for a recipe, even for posting publicly, a bartender will happily share it, as long as they’re not too busy; they like that you like the drink, and they want you to do it right. The rare bartender will protect his recipes like trade secrets. Never have we had someone refuse to share their recipe, but openly suggest we just try to do it ourselves. Challenge accepted.

Working from the ingredient list on the menu and the name (an allusion, we assume, to the classic Improved Holland Gin Cocktail) we went about our work.

First we had to collect the ingredients, none of which we typically carry in our bar–a rare occurrence. Our favorite liquor store (Hey there, Potomac) had two of the three, bison grass vodka and barley shochu. A special order to their distributor and a little hunting around got us our third: Douglas fir liqueur.

Barley shochu is a Japanese spirit which is distilled from, you guessed it, barley (there are also rice, sweet potato, buckwheat, and brown sugar versions). It’s rather low in alcohol for a spirit, at 25% abv. It has a silky, light, sweet flavor with just a tinge of bitterness in its finish.

Bison grass vodka, perhaps unsurprisingly, has something of a grassy flavor. More unexpected, it’s very smooth, a little floral, and has a sweet malty finish.

Douglas fir liqueur tastes like an entire Christmas tree infused into a bottle. Use this one sparingly.

It took us quite a bit of experimentation, and many failures, but we finally have something close enough to Bar Goto’s Improved Shochu that we’re willing to post it. It was clear from the beginning that the Douglas fir liqueur would be taking the place of the Improved Holland’s absinthe, but it wasn’t clear whether shochu or bison grass vodka should be the base. We eventually landed on a shochu base, but had to significantly amp up the bison grass vodka from the Improved Holland’s small amounts of curacao to get the flavor mix we were looking for. We still aren’t confident we completely nailed it, but we blame that on our lack of cedarwood sake boxes, which we guess significantly alter the texture of the drink.

Improved Shochu Cocktail Recipe


  • 2 oz barley shochu
  • 1 oz bison grass vodka
  • 2 tsp simple syrup
  • 1 dash Douglas fir liqueur


  • Combine all ingredients and stir with ice until the ice is well-melted.
  • Strain into a cocktail glass, or preferably a cedarwood sake box.

Roberts & June