Why are people adding rice to cocktails? Sushi rice explained in negronis and boulevardiers - and where to try in Scotland

Social media has become a hotbed of food and drink trends in the last few years, with things such as dalgona coffee, whole baked feta and cloud bread making headlines.

Published 5th May 2023
Updated 8 th Aug 2023

This year there have been a few strange additions to cocktails, such as sushi rice. But why is this being used to create some classics such as the negroni?

The trend for using uncooked rice, specifically sushi rice, in stirred drinks was first brought to the internet's attention via an article on Punch Drink.

They spoke to some bartenders in America about this technique, which prompted many to try it at home, with varied results.

Why are people using uncooked rice in cocktails?

Rice, particularly sushi rice, which is being used in stirred cocktails, has a sticky texture that can bind and stand up to strong flavours.

In the Punch article, Leanne Favre of Brooklyn restaurant Winona's said: "It (rice) softens the heat of the spirit and makes the flavours more cohesive."

Mike Aikman, owner of award-winning cocktail bar Bramble in Edinburgh, as well as Mothership and Lucky Liquor, agrees, saying: "It makes sense to me because it will add starch from the rice which would help with mouthfeel in the Negroni but I haven’t actually tried it myself yet."

Where to try rice cocktails in Scotland

rice in cocktails Negroni Sbagliato
Picture: Shutterstock

Despite this, Mike's bars have had some rice drinks on menu over the years (and you may see one in Bramble soon), including The 212, Spruce Moose, Mango No. 5 and Trinidad & Tobago.

He added: "We also had a genmaicha tea drink at Lucky Liquor a while back which contains brown rice."

Zachary Sapato, who recently started as bar director at Mikaku in Glasgow explained that this technique of using rice in cocktails is one he's using in some drinks at the bar.

He said: "We are using the sushi rice technique - popularised by the absolute legend of a bartender Leanne Favre - in several cocktails on our new menu at Mikaku.

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"The most underrated element of cocktails is texture. Texture takes cocktails from good to incredible, from yummy to memorable.

"During the stirring process, adding just a tablespoon of sushi rice to our mixing glass allows the alcohol to pull silky starches and a creamy texture off the sushi rice to give the most decadent flavour to our house Negroni, and both our house Scottish and Japanese Old Fashioneds.

"I'm not saying adding sushi rice to your mixing glass will make your cocktails taste as amazing as Mikaku's new menu, but you'll get close enough to enjoy a fantastic textured cocktail in the house until you come see us next."

Glasgow's award-winning speakeasy, Absent Ear, is another bar in which to try these concoctions.

The team there said: "Our 'Who-zu Yuzu' cocktail features Genmaicha Tea which is a tea that uses a blend of green tea and toasted brown rice.

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"This blend was originally created in Japan to reduce to cost of green tea in order to make it more available to the poorer groups of society but is now appreciated as a delicious tea in and of itself.

"We brew it two ways. A long cold infusion allows the light, floral flavours of the green tea to shine and a short hot infusion brings the nuttiness and cereal forward nature of the rice to the fore.

"Once the infusions are finished we combine them and batch with the remaining ingredients of the drink.

"In the cocktail it takes the form of a toasty, subtle backdrop to the other more dominant flavours and lingers on the tongue with memories of your favourite childhood cereal."

If you want to try this technique at home, just add a tablespoon of sushi rice to a negroni, stir down and then strain.

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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