Cocktails in the sour family include the greats like margaritas, palomas, Tom Collins, and gimlets. But for riffs on these citrus classics, bartenders have found a new main squeeze. Yuzu, mainly cultivated in Japan, Korea and China, is teetering on trend status here in the United States. If you can get your hands on it, this elusive citrus can be used as a substitute for lemons, limes, or grapefruits. Cocktail enthusiasts love the knobby fruit because it’s tart, bright, and quite complex.
Taste-wise, bartenders describe it as being the love child of mandarin oranges and lemons, with characteristics of grapefruit.
“Yuzu is a wonderful ingredient in cocktails because of the citrus fruit’s incredible fragrance,” says Mark Stoddard, a world champion mixologist based in San Francisco. “Like lemon and lime, it provides robust tartness and acidity that helps balance cocktail recipes; however, yuzu has a unique perfume unlike any other fruit.”
While some describe yuzu’s scent as citrusy with an herbaceous note, Stoddard says he picks up an alluring, almost floral component that adds an intriguing layer of complexity in cocktails. In addition to using the fresh-squeezed juice in drink recipes, he peels the skin off to add incredible flavor to syrups, preserves, and tea.
Here’s what else you need to know about yuzu, the tangerine-sized fruit that landed on Whole Foods list of 2022 food trends and that bartenders across the country love experimenting with in craft cocktails.
Where to Find Yuzu
Yuzu can be a bit tough to track down, which just adds to the fruit’s mystique. Where are the best places to start looking? Denver-based mixologist Jordan Lyon suggests searching at the nearest Asian markets. Managing the bar at sushi and omakase hotspot Foraged, Lyon is a frequent yuzu user for Japanese twists on cocktails—including a mule concocted with gin, honey simple syrup, ginger beer, cucumber and shiso (an herb in the mint family).
Depending where you are in the country, you may actually be able to find locally grown fruit. Stoddard says you can find the rare fruit at farmers markets with citrus vendors—most commonly in California, Hawaii, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. If you’re not finding it at the local markets, Stoddard suggests trying your luck at online grocer Marx Foods.
Predominantly cultivated in Asia, most fresh yuzu is banned from U.S. importation partly because crop pests could affect local plants, Stoddard explains. As for the fruit produced in the United States, you can find it seasonally—November through February—in gourmet or Asian grocery stores.
Also, worth noting is that the juice yield is on the low side for citrus and the fruit is already expensive, Stoddard says. So if you’re looking to make batch cocktails, sudachi (a sour citrus from Japan) has a similar flavor and aroma, he says, while providing much more juice.
How to Use Yuzu in Cocktails
As yuzu becomes more popular stateside, you can find some damn good cocktail mixers and booze infused with the fruit. Yakami Orchards makes a pasteurized yuzu juice. Stoddard also recommends Kimino yuzu sparkling juice for fantastic two-ingredient cocktails.
The Perfect Purée also has Yuzu Luxe Sour with lemongrass and Kaffir lime complementing the tartness of the juice.
Yuzuri Liqueur is a Japanese citrus spirit with enough depth to sip on its own or it can be used for spins on palomas and whiskey sours. The liqueur delivers an authentic taste of the citrus because freshly picked fruit is squeezed, then the whole fruit, peel, and seeds are left to steep in a spirit made from local rice and pure mountain water.
Dan Oskey, the co-founder of Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis, likes using it in mixed drinks because it lends a combination of the familiar and the slightly unexpected.
“In citrus cocktails such as a French 75 or a Tom Collins it offers a complexity that can’t be attained with traditional lemon,” Oskey says.
Something to keep in mind when using yuzu in cocktails is that a “a little goes a long way,” says Natasha Velez, a shochu expert and iichiko’s master mixologist. She recommends mixing 0.25-0.5 ounces of yuzu with 0.5 ounces to 0.75 ounces of lemon or lime juice for a complex but well-balanced citrus mixer.
5 Yuzu Cocktails You Can Make at Home
Want to incorporate yuzu in your DIY cocktails? Bartenders have shared some of their favorite yuzu recipes. Here are five to try.
1. Yuzu Smash (above)
For this Yuzu Smash, bartenders at the Lounge at Intersect by Lexus make their own in-house lemon cordial with sugar, lemons and grapefruit juice that requires some advanced planning. To keep things simple, you can buy a bottle of lemon cordial. This lower-proof cocktail has some qualities of lime, grapefruit, and sweet orange and is both acidic and aromatic, says Nicholas Bennett, who developed the recipe.
- 2.5 oz riesling
- 0.5 oz Fino sherry
- 0.5 oz lemon cordial
- 2-3 wedges of yuzu
- In a shaker tin, muddle the yuzu to release the citrus and oils.
- Add remaining ingredients and shake over ice.
- Strain into a rocks glass with chipped ice and garnish.
2. Yuzu Gimlet
The Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto has reinvented a gin classic with yuzu. For the drink, Kyoto bartenders use local Ki No Bi Gin, but you can swap in your favorite herbaceous gin.
- 1.5 oz gin
- 1.5 oz yuzu liqueur like Yuzuri Liqueur
- 3 dashes of yuzu bitters (or orange bitters if unavailable)
- Yuzu or citrus wheel garnish if available
- Add the gin, yuzu liqueur, and bitters to a shaker and shake with ice until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
- Garnish with a yuzu or citrus wheel.
3. Japanese Highball
The bar team at Cooper Lounge, a cocktail bar in Denver’s historic Union Station, makes a bubbly, easy-to-sip cocktail with Japanese whisky.
- 2 oz Akashi Single Malt Whisky
- Bar spoon of yuzu juice
- Splash of club soda
- Fresh mint bouquet and lemon wheel
- Add ice to a highball glass and stir until the glass is frosted.
- After pouring out any excess water, the glass and ice is now ready for the whisky and juice. Once poured, stir with ice precisely 13 times before adding more ice and topping everything off with soda water.
- Add fresh mint bouquet and lemon wheel as garnish.
4. Yuzu Martini
Since it’s hard to find fresh yuzu and tough to produce enough juice from the fruit to use in cocktails, mixologist Alexa Delgado recommends buying juice or concentrate from an Asian market. Delgado, who is behind the mixology program at The Living Room Bar within Orlando’s new Lake Nona Wave Hotel (opening in Dec. 2021), created this vodka cocktail with yuzu concentrate that she says is slightly bitter with a touch of sweetness. “I prefer using the concentrate in my cocktails because I love for the flavor to really stand out and be complemented by the other ingredients,” Delgado says.
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz pomegranate juice
- 0.75 oz Lyre’s Orange Sec (zero-proof triple sec alternative so the cocktail is less strong)
- 0.25 oz yuzu concentrate
- 0.25 oz simple syrup
- Combine all ingredients into a mixing tin.
- Fill 3/4 of the tin with ice and shake well.
- Double strain into a coupe or martini glass using a mesh strainer.
- Express orange peel over the rim of the glass.
5. Yuzu Spritz
An expression of shochu, iichiko’s Saiten cocktail has an umami-like character. It pairs especially well with yuzu for a Japanese rendition of a spritz.
- 2 oz iichiko Saiten
- 0.75 oz lime juice
- 0.75 oz Simple Syrup
- 0.25 oz yuzu juice
- Splash club soda
- Mint sprigs
- Mix all ingredients except club soda into a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake, then strain into rocks glass with ice.
- Top with club soda and garnish with mint.
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