Sake Sangria at Mana Food Bar
Chef Jill Barron and her kitchen team at Mana think sake fits their fresh and inventive vegetarian cuisine to a T. The bartenders have answered with a roster of tasty sake cocktails, including the delightfully round and fruity Sake Sangria ($9). The basis of this newcomer to the cocktail menu is Hakutsuru junmai ginjo unfiltered sake, to which house-made lemon-lime sour mix, Rhone red wine, and a garnish of sliced apple are added. This is not your average syrupy, cloying sangria. It's bright, fruit-forward and mildly sweet, yet finishes clean and dry…thanks to our friend sake.
Shiso Crazy at Arami
A mini koi pond of Japanese aromas, Arami's Shiso Crazy ($13) combines Yuzushu yuzu liqueur, Azumaichi junmai ginjo sake and Ketel One, and arrives artfully garnished with a sprawling shiso leaf and impossibly thin strings of yuzu peel. After a few bracing first sips that announce this as a sturdy, no-nonsense cocktail, Shiso Crazy slowly betrays a softer side, layered with pleasing flavors. Yuzu, the fragrant Far Eastern citrus fruit, adds its unique signature, while the shiso, a member of the mint family, sounds a fresh, herbaceous note. Strong drink never seemed so gentle.
Sake Breeze at Murasaki
The cocktails at Murasaki—one of Chicago's preeminent destinations for quality sake—naturally rely heavily on Japanese spirits like shochu and sake. The Sake Breeze ($12) combines both to fine effect. After shaking and straining Dewazakura Dewasansan junmai ginjo sake, Sudachi shochu (an unusual variety made from lime and molasses) and Absolut Citron vodka, the bartenders at Murasaki pour a scant amount of Blue Curacao over the back of a barspoon, so it collects at the bottom of the martini glass. The presentation may seem a bit retro, but the flavor combination feels fresh and original: citrusy, slightly malty, and darn luscious on the palate.
Dragon's Milk at MörSo
The brand new restaurant by Chef Matt Maroni (of Gaztro-Wagon food-truck renown) has an ambitious cocktail program spearheaded by talented bartender Matt Lipskey. Choo, as he's known to friends, created an oh-so-easy-drinking nigori sake-based cocktail for MörSo's opening menu called Dragon's Milk ($10). Unlike other sakes, the rice sediment from the brewing process is not filtered out of nigori ("cloudy") sake, leaving it sweeter and thicker in texture—think coconut juice. The Dragon's Milk plays on this richness, balancing it against lemon, cucumber, mint and a hit of white pepper. The result is light yet full-bodied, cooling yet with a touch of spice.
Sake Cucumber Lime cocktail cupcake at More
Not all cocktails come in a glass! More, one of Chicago's boutique cupcake shops, is currently offering a Sake Cucumber Lime cupcake flavor ($3.50) as part of its inventive series of "cocktail cupcakes." Rihaku Dreamy Clouds nigori sake is baked into the cake itself, and turns up again in the sweet, jelly-like sake filling at the center. More whips up a cucumber-infused buttercream to ice this beauty, which is then garnished with a lime sugar. If you want to get your sake on in the most decadent way, this is surely it. (Call ahead for availability.)