Yuzu season has come to a close in recent weeks. It’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ occurrence that rolls around each year, with many missing out on the chance to secure fresh yuzu. There are just a handful of producers that grow the fruit here in Australia as well as a few other barriers. Yuzu requires a high level of labour, meaning it’s expensive to grow … of which it does slowly.

But bars are showcasing the fruit’s signature floral, tangy flavour profile year-round via yuzu products from sakes and vinegars to caramels, imported juice, and local whole fruit when the season permits it.

Hospitality speaks to Cho Cho San Co-Owner Sam Christie, Ototo Beverage Manager Desmond Louis, and Callao Bar Manager Kera Johnson about sourcing different yuzu products, which spirits complement the fruit, and why yuzu cocktails basically sell themselves.

The cultivation of yuzu in Japan commenced in the middle of the twentieth century. The Kochi Region is the largest producer of yuzu in the country, growing more than half of Japan’s yearly production, which sits around 27,000 tonnes. But the real clincher here is time — yuzu trees take between 15 and 20 years to bear fruit when planted from seed and reared according to the traditional Misho method. Even seedlings take upwards of seven years to mature into fruit-bearing trees, making the fruit a product of patience and dedication.

Australia’s commercial yuzu industry is incredibly small and consists of less than five growers, which means local fruit is limited and comes at a high cost. The workaround for those wanting yuzu? Imported products. Like its citrus siblings, yuzu lends itself perfectly to cocktail applications thanks to its floral, perfumed aroma which works well in everything from spritzes to Negronis.

At Sydney’s Cho Cho San, yuzu is the key ingredient in three of the eight cocktails available on the main drinks list. Co-Owner Sam Christie says yuzu is “expensive but worthwhile”, with the ingredient fitting into the venue’s Japanese culinary offering. “Yuzu is distinctively Japanese and versatile — our yuzu drinks are the most popular and people just love them.”

The restaurant uses local yuzu fruit when available and subs in imported products from Japan during the rest of the year. “We love zesting it as that’s where the most flavour comes from, but we utilise the whole fruit,” says Christie. The team produces yuzushu inhouse, which started with a bartender trialling the process before it became a regular fixture for the team. The bar is also stocked with spirits that have been infused with yuzu such as yuzu gin from Four Pillars and imported yuzushus from Japan.

Cho Cho San’s most popular cocktail is the spritz, which is made with two elements: yuzu-infused sake and sparkling wine. There’s also a yuzu Negroni — a collaboration with the Four Pillars bar team. “A few of our staff went to the Four Pillars Lab on Crown Street and developed it with them,” says Christie. The final yuzu cocktail is a layered martini, which features yuzu-infused caramel served with Brokers gin and elderflower. “Yuzu works with gin and vodka, and it really lends itself to tequila, too,” says Christie. “It’s more floral and distinctive than lemon or lime.”

Underground Melbourne bar Ototo has taken a classic approach when it comes to showcasing yuzu, presenting it in a margarita and a spritz. Owner Christine Chen created the cocktail menu, which features drinks that are designed for guests to enjoy at different stages of the evening. Bar Manager Desmond Louis says yuzu cocktails are some of the most ordered at the bar, comparing their selling power to a classic 2000s option. “It’s like how espresso martinis were back in the day — if someone on a table of eight orders one, everyone will have one at some stage of the night,” he says.

Importing yuzu products was a natural choice for the Japanese venue, which stocks Umenoyado yuzushu from Japan as well as yuzu vinegar. The yuzushu product is filtered (many yuzushus are unfiltered) and made from fruit that has been soaked in sake for 16–18 months. “Yuzushu has herbal, floral notes and balances out liquor such as tequila quite nicely,” says Louis. “I think neutral products such as gin and vodka work best in cocktails — the farthest you could go would be tequila.”

There’s arguably no better drink to start off a meal with than a spritz, which is the only cocktail featured in Ototo’s beverage pairing. “It’s very basic and has 30ml yuzushu, three parts Prosecco, a few drops of orange bitters, and a little bit of soda water,” says Louis. “It was designed for guests to have as an aperitif as soon as they come in and it pairs really well with our sashimi which we serve with truffle and ponzu dressing. It balances the dish out.”

Guests can also choose a yuzu margarita, which is made with tequila, yuzushu, a touch of lime, and Cointreau. Or go even simpler: “Sometimes we suggest vodka, yuzushu, and soda water — it’s very refreshing and drinkable and replaces a vodka, lime, soda,” says Louis.

Nikkei restaurant Callao opened its doors earlier this year in Sydney’s Barangaroo. The venue features food inspired by Japanese and Peruvian traditions, with the drinks program taking the same cues. Following the trend, yuzu cocktails are big business here with around 60 per cent of cocktails incorporating a yuzu element. “We encourage customers to try the yuzu cocktails and they always end up liking them,” says Beverage Manager Kera Johnson.

The Roku Samurai cocktail is the most popular among customers, and sees Japanese gin paired with Pavan Muscat grape liqueur, Unico Zelo’s yuzu vermouth, and sweetened green tea. “The vermouth works because it makes the drink a little bitter,” says Johnson.

Interestingly, Callao has teamed yuzu juice with dark liquor in the house Old Fashioned. Shinobu Daimyo-no whisky is combined with a mix of yuzu and lemon juice and carob syrup. “It’s not something I would have thought works well, but it does,” says Johnson. “We also have one with yuzu and Aperol, it being a refreshing, citrus-based liqueur.”

Customers can additionally customise a yuzu and fruit juice mocktail spritz with a shot of vodka or enjoy yuzu-infused Bellinis during the restaurant’s bottomless lunch that runs on Saturdays.

While local yuzu has a small seasonal window, imported ingredients have allowed bartenders to serve yuzu cocktails all-year round, much to the appreciation of customers who are big fans of the Japanese icon.