25 May 2023
Discover the Rich Charm of Shochu: Japan's Unique Spirit
Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit made from a variety of ingredients, including rice, barley, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, buckwheat, and chestnuts, depending on the region. Kyushu, in particular, is known for its shochu production, and brands like "iichiko" made from barley and "Kurokirishima" made from sweet potatoes are commonly found in Japanese izakayas and can also be spotted in Japanese restaurants overseas.
Founder of MUSUBI KILN.
He is passionate about collecting unique tableware for daily use from various countries. His favorite weekend activities are outdoor activities such as fishing and camping, and cooking.
- My Shochu Story
- Exploring Shochu
- Shochu: A Guide to Drinking
- Pairing Shochu
- My Favorite Shochu
My Shochu Story
I vividly recall my father drinking shochu at the dinner table when I was young. He would pour it into his favorite glass and enjoy it on the rocks with cold water in the summer or with hot water in the winter. Sometimes, he would even mix it with oolong tea from a kettle. It looked so delicious that I was curious to take a sniff from his glass, but the strong alcohol and grainy scent didn't appeal to me at the time.
However, as I grew older and developed my palate for beer, sake, and other delicacies, I gained a deeper appreciation for the complexity of flavors and the variety of ways to enjoy shochu. Whether it's a popular or premium brand or one that reflects the unique characteristics of a particular region, shochu offers a wide range of tastes and enjoyment. In this article, we'll explore the charm of shochu.
With a history of around 500 years, shochu is a distilled liquor made from a variety of ingredients including sweet potato, barley, buckwheat, rice, and brown sugar. Originating in the southern Kyushu region and the surrounding islands of Japan, shochu was initially created as a substitute for sake due to the scarcity of rice. However, its unique flavor profile and versatility have made it a beloved drink in its own right.
Shochu falls under the spirits category, and it is divided into two main types: single distilled shochu (shochu Otsu-rui) and multiply distilled shochu (shochu Ko-rui). Single distilled shochu is made by distilling the "Moromi (fermentation mash)" just once, resulting in an alcohol content of 45% or less. This type of shochu is considered as authentic shochu and enjoyed for its distinct flavor and aroma, often served diluted with water or hot water. Multiply distilled shochu, on the other hand, is made by distilling the Moromi repeatedly, resulting in a high-purity alcohol that is often diluted with water to reduce its alcohol content. While this type of shochu lacks the distinctive flavors of its single-distilled counterpart, it is a popular choice for mixed drinks, especially canned Chu-Hi drinks mixed with carbonated water and lemon, etc., is very popular as an alcoholic beverage to drink at home.
Shochu: A Guide to Drinking
As touched upon earlier, shochu offers a special kind of freedom to its drinkers. With such a wide range of ingredients available, the ways in which you can drink this beverage are only limited by your own imagination! Here are some popular approaches to enjoying shochu.
On the rocks
You can savor the unique flavor and aroma of shochu. As the ice melts, you can enjoy a milder taste.
You can enjoy a soft and mellow flavor. Experiment with the best ratio of shochu to water for your taste. For those who are not used to drinking shochu, a good starting point may be a ratio of 4:6.
This is a refreshing way to drink shochu, and adding lemon or citrus juice can enhance the taste. It's a popular way to enjoy shochu across generations.
With hot water
When mixed with hot water, you can enjoy the original aroma and richness of shochu even more. My recommended way to drink is to add a pickled plum and crush it with a muddler or chopsticks while drinking.
Shochu comes in many varieties and, like beer, is consumed in a wide range of places, making it not easy to talk about specific food pairings. However, if there's one thing we can confidently recommend, it's that if you have the chance to travel to Japan, be sure to try the local cuisine and the most popular shochu in that region. For example, what surprises travelers who come to Kagoshima Prefecture, known as Japan's top shochu-producing region, is the sweet taste of the food. Soy sauce and the local specialty, "satsuma-age" (deep-fried fish cake), are also sweetened. And these sweet dishes complement the flavors of sweet potato shochu and brown sugar shochu, which are known to be particularly sweet.
The pairing of foods and drinks is a part of the culture that has been nurtured by the climate and scenery of a particular region. By exploring this aspect of a region while traveling, you can have a special experience that appeals to all five senses.
My Favorite Shochu
Finally, I'd like to introduce you to my personal favorite shochu that I've ever tasted. It's called "Kawagoe," a sweet potato shochu made by a small brewery called Kawagoe Shuzo in Miyazaki Prefecture. Brewed in a Bizen ware clay pot, Kawagoe exudes a rich, subtle sweetness and a fragrant aroma of sweet potatoes that instantly fills your senses upon taking a sip. The recommended way to drink it is to mix it with water in a 6:4 ratio and add ice.
The downside is that due to their philosophy of quality over quantity in sake making, production is low. Furthermore, since it became popular when it was sold on ANA's international first-class flights, it has become even more difficult to obtain. However, if you are lucky, you may be able to find it in a Japanese restaurant that is particular about its shochu procurement. If so, please give it a try!