In the spirit of wellness, a premium shochu is born.
A collection of colorful and stylish water bottles from the Mujen brand. The bottles are arranged on a white background. The design of the bottles is sleek and minimalist, with a focus on functionality and aesthetic appeal.

It’s more popular with the Japanese than vodka, whisky, or gin. It smells like sake, but tastes smoother, lighter. And its better-for-you attributes make it lower in calories, gluten free, sugar free, and carb free. What more could you ask for in a spirit?

“Shochu on the rocks with fresh lemon juice, muddled mint, club soda. Done, Tokyo lemonade! A big straw, and you’re so happy,” says Sondra Baker, co-founder of Mujen Spirits. Baker, along with her business partner, Bruce Bozzi, a well-known restaurateur of famed American steakhouse The Palm and most recently the podcast Table for Two, created Mujen shochu to embrace their fitness-focused lifestyle.

The duo traveled to Japan to find a distiller who shared their values and could help them produce a light, crisp, pure spirit to bring to the United States after Baker discovered shochu on one of her trips there.

“After a whole life in hospitality,” says Bozzi, “we’d never heard of shochu, and it’s over 500 years old!” Like Bozzi, Baker worked in the food industry, having founded Why Cook?, Los Angeles’ first high-end restaurant delivery service, some 30 years ago. Out of 800 distilleries throughout the country, they found a family-run operation that’s been producing shochu for more than four generations. “Our criteria when we were looking at distilleries was for a light taste, clean finish, and a happy buzz,” says Baker. “We tasted a lot of shochu in Japan and we loved this one the best.”

The distillery they partnered with was established in 1921 and is now being run by the great-granddaughter. “She really is our true partner,” says Baker, who with Bozzi spent four years doing extensive research and worked with the distillery to create their own formulations. “We didn’t just go and slap a label on it. We created Mujen from A to Z. Even the percentages are ours; no one else has them.” Mujen Ai Lite has the lowest alcohol by volume (ABV) of 23 percent; Mujen Original is 35 percent ABV; and Mujen X—the 10-year, oak-barrel-aged reserve that is enjoyed like a fine single-malt Scotch, aged whisky, or añejo tequila—is 42 percent ABV.

The exterior of a traditional Japanese shochu distillery.

As Japan’s No. 1 spirit category, shochu is mass produced from either sweet potatoes, barley, or rice with a sugarcane molasses blend. “The most popular one is sweet potato, but rice-based is the crème de la crème,” says Baker, “and Mujen is single distillation as opposed to continuous distillation like the mass-produced versions. It also has a beautiful aroma as opposed to a pungent odor. We went around and tasted all the different ingredients; rice was the one we wanted. We knew that very quickly because it’s so smooth. There’s no burn or bite.” The three ingredients are just water, rice, and koji, a substance used to make fermented foods and drinks.

For centuries, shochu was consumed mostly by older men because studies showed it contained an enzyme that acted as an anticoagulant against blood clots and helped prevent heart attacks and strokes. “Then in the early 2000s,” says Baker, “there was a television series, like the Dynasty or Falcon Crest of Japan, that was about a family that had a shochu distillery. It became part of pop culture and all the young twentysomething women were drinking it because they didn’t want to get fat and they didn’t want a hangover. And it just took off.”

Drink it neat or on the rocks, or in your favorite cocktail. “It makes a great martini,” says Baker. “We’ve created signature cocktails like the spicy Thai basil gimlet, the lychee martini, and the skinny margarita, which our mixologist makes with stevia instead of agave.” It’s easy to sip and enjoy, and is kind of dangerous because you don’t realize the buzz you’re getting. “It sneaks up on you!” says Baker. And if you’re a fan of tequila, which is known for no hangovers, “this is gonna replace your tequila.” mujen.com