The Bitter Cocktail with a Sawa Twist


WordsManon Baeza

While the aperitif is considered an almost sacred ritual in continental Europe, things are no different in Japan. It is customary to serve guests beer or chilled saké as a welcome. More recently wine and sugary cocktails have become more popular, especially among young women.

This evolution can mainly be observed in izakayas, Japanese taverns where you can grab an early evening drink or something quick to eat. In these small bars, you’ll find a number of fruit-based cocktails, including the famous Sawa, from the English sour, made with soda, shochu (an alcohol made from rice or barley) and fruit liqueur.

Thanks to the sweet flavour and fizzy texture, the incredibly strong flavour of shochu is masked. The most popular Sawa is generally the Ume Sour made from green plum liqueur, with other popular drinks including the Lemon Sour, Lime Sour, Grapefruit Sour as well as the Sudachi Sour made from small citrus fruits, bringing out the bitterness of the drink.

These delicious cocktails are often accompanied by otsumami, a sort of Japanese appetiser. They often take the form of mini versions of dishes that are found on a main menu and include potato salads, pickled vegetables, edamame or fish carpaccio. They’re the perfect accompaniment to something strong, while just whetting one’s appetite.

One of the best spots in the entire country to try out these tasty cocktails is undoubtedly Sour in Kyoto. This standing-only bar is found in the back streets of Shinkyogoku, one of the busiest shopping districts of the city. Once a vintage clothing store, this recently renovated space has quickly become the place to be for cocktail drinkers.

Behind the bar you’ll find a large display unit filled with fresh fruit, just like at the supermarket, ready to be carefully prepared to quench the thirst of impatient clients. What is unique at Sour, is the way they use the entire fruit to prepare the drink.

At Sour everything is tailor made, so you can add whatever ingredients you desire such as Okinawa turmeric or Korean carrots. In any case, there is enough on offer to ensure you’ll never tire of Sawa!