Photo by Sean Rapoza
The Sheng Long's Defeat cocktail made with Hendrick's Gin, house-made matcha cordial, sake and coconut cream is just one of Rapoza's new creations
If you’ve been looking for an alternative to the ultra-stiff, stirred drink darlings on most menus you'll find throughout town, look no further; celebrated Richmond bartender Sean Rapoza has taken the wheel. Shoryuken, the Fan’s new ramen bar as of April 13, tapped the Balliceaux beverage director to design its cocktail menu two weeks before they opened, resulting in all kinds of fruit-infused, Asian-inspired, magical flavor mayhem. Muddled kumquat? Toasted-curry syrup? Oh, yeah.
“I’m inspired by Japanese cocktail bars that serve a fruitier, sweeter style of drink. I’m moving away from the bitter trend,” says Rapoza, now also the beverage program director of Shoryuken. “Every cocktail on the list has at least one main Asian flavor profile: Sichuan peppercorn, lemongrass, fresh-juiced cucumber. I work closely with the chef to be sure that the flavors match the food and offer a nice complement.”
There’s a new fresh-fruit-infused sake every day — so far, green apple, mango and lemongrass have popped up — and if you look closely, you’ll decode that most of the cocktails are bold, bright riffs on classic drinks. The Yoga Fire, for example, is essentially a Bulleit old fashioned amped up with Laird’s Applejack and the curiosity-piquing toasted-curry syrup; the Dirty Ume is a salted plum martini laced with herb-infused Noilly Prat and house pickles; the Flash Kick is a Moscow Mule with added zing from spicy chili.
So, what to get? Sean recommends a few things: “I definitely think that any of the grilled, skewered foods will go well with the toasted-curry old fashioned. The spicy ramen will go with the fresh cucumber sour; it’s a good pairing, with the vermouth and egg white. And we do a fun Negroni with sake — that’s what I would drink. “
Potentially on deck, too, are monster-sized multi-user drinks. (Perhaps reviving the “I’m in Hawaii and it’s the 1960s, let’s do this” mindset? A girl can dream.)
“There are a couple of ideas I have that I’ll have to investigate the legality of, like shared cocktails in a teapot. I don’t know how large I can make a drink before the ABC deems it irresponsible,” he says. “I just want to bring in icons of traditional Japanese culture, in a fun way. But, while tea service is fun and all, a nice, strong cocktail in your teapot is more exciting to me.”
And to me, sir. Your bar is one to which I will belly up with a loud, clear, “Bartender’s choice.”