For a brief period a few years ago, shiso could be found in craft cocktail bars across the country.
While its initial popularity was short-lived, the herb itself deserves far more attention, especially with the growing popularity of the highball.
As a relative of the mint family, shiso has a complex flavor palate with notes of anise, citrus, cinnamon, and cloves that give it a flavor a little like a cross between mint and Thai basil. It’s traditionally used in a range of food and drink across Japan, Korea, and in parts of Southeast Asia. When used in cocktails, it can pair with a wide range of spirits and be used either to flavor a drink by being included in the mix or to add a bright and refreshing aroma when used as a garnish.
While there are numerous species of shiso, only two varietals (red and green) are commonly used for consumption. Red shiso is used less frequently but can be used to create a natural food coloring. While harder to find in the US, red shiso is a unique way to add some color to your drinks. Green varietals are more common and more frequently used fresh in cocktails as an herb.
Why should shiso make it back to your cocktail menu? For one, it’s impossible to deny that the herb is still complex, dynamic, and refreshing and worth re-exploring. Additionally, with the boom of mezcal, Japanese-inspired spirits, and the Japanese Highball, shisho is the ideal compliment. Shiso’s unique flavor pairs well with a range of spirits, especially the bold and smoky flavors of mezcal. It’s also ideal for pairing with yuzu – one of this year’s favorite flavor trends. Likewise, the Japanese whiskey highball has been making its way to American drinkers. The refreshing whisky cocktail is amplified, and the notes of the whisky complimented when garnished with shiso.