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Sick of Sake? Do Shochu

Unlike its fermented relative sake, shochu (a.k.a. soju) is distilled and can be made from barley, sweet potatoes, or soba as well as rice. Its velvety smooth, slightly sweet, nutty flavor has made it outrageously popular in Japan and Korea. Stateside nightspots are gaining this drink plenty of local fans, too.

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Bozu
296 Grand St., between Roebling St. and Havemeyer St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-7770
Japanese bossa nova burbles from behind the wraparound bar as post-grads nibble plates of button-shaped "bomb" sushi. The extensive selection of shochu ranges from earthy and robust to light and sweet. You'll also find twenty types of homemade kajitsu-shu (shochu infused with everything from litchi to daikon radish). Sweetly aromatic without being perfumey, the ginger-infused version with hot green tea makes for an exotic (and sinus-clearing) hot toddy.


EN Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson St., at Leroy St.; 212-647-9196
At this brasserie's bar—which is cozier and more Zen than the showy main dining room—couples gather around tall communal tables adorned with little pots of immaculately manicured grass. The shochus range from a zingy Shiramami (made from sweet potato) to a smooth Jougo (distilled from sugarcane). For beginners, the most refreshing choice is the bar’s take on Chu Hai, a Japanese canned drink that's shochu mixed with soda and either grapefruit juice, lemon-lime juice, or green tea.


Friend House Sake Lounge
99 Third Ave., between 12th St. and 13th St.; 212-388-1838
This snug, pink-lit back bar, situated near the pretty glassed-in patio at Friend House, serves a variety of sake and shochu cocktails to its barely legal, NYU-tinged clientele. The smooth, shochu-based Green Apple Ice Tea has a gingery, puckery bite. But otherwise, as with the food menu here, it’s best to stick with straightforward offerings such as a tart blend of shochu and cranberry juice.


Hiro Ballroom
366 W. 17th St., at Ninth Ave.; 212-727-0212
Hiro’s ballroom space resembles a set for an over-the-top kung fu movie, and the crowd is as gorgeous as the chinoiserie booths, hanging lanterns, and vaulted ceiling. In addition to milder offerings, the shochu selection includes Zuisen awamori, a hearty spirit that's made exclusively in Okinawa—like single-malt scotch, it's best straight up or with a splash of water. For those who prefer their grains brewed, the signature Three Monks cocktail is an earthy, supersweet combination of sakes and amaretto.


Taku
116 Smith St., between Dean and Pacific Sts., Boerum Hill, Brooklyn; 718-488-6269
With the help of Japanese-style chicken wings and a squat glass of sparkling Junmai sake, it’s easy to appreciate the cute young crowd and the candlelit ambience of this perpetually packed spot. A three-part sake tasting—with daily rotating options—proves a potent bargain at $13. Or try the dryly delicious homemade shochu infused with yuzu, a sour Japanese citrus fruit.


Wonjo Korean Restaurant
23 W. 32nd St., between Broadway and Fifth Ave., 212-695-5815
Won Jo’s floor-to-ceiling windows offer a spectacular neon-rich view of 32nd Street’s flashy Korean strip. Here, DIY barbecued meat is washed down with soju—a Seoulful shochu counterpart that combines rice with wheat, barley, or sweet potatoes. Five varieties— including Jinro, the homeland's most popular—are available in a twelve-ounce bottle (accompanied by etched shot glasses). Nothing cools the burn of kimchee more smoothly.


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