All You Need to Know About the Shochu of Japan

The Japanese culture is one that is based on trust. This notion is clearly seen in the world of business because of how Japanese businessmen usually like to bond with their business partners through drinking. They do this because they believe that you are your true self when you are intoxicated so it is a good way to judge a person’s true character. With drinking rooted like it is in the Japanese culture, it would be right to assume that they have some pretty sick variety of drinks and there is one particular beverage that has been growing in popularity in the past years. This beverage is the Japanese Shochu.


The History and Different Types of the Japanese Shochu as well as Other Interesting Facts about It

Shochu has been seen as a traditional Japanese hard liquor for centuries now but it actually first came from neighboring countries. According to historical documents, an alcoholic beverage as strong as shochu originated from Persia. People found it great so naturally, it would spread and when it did, it spread eastward to India and westward to Europe.

It spread from country to country rapidly but it wasn’t until the mid-16th century that this drink reached the shores of Japan. The technique used to make it first arrived in Kagoshima and this caused Kagoshima to be where Japanese shochu was born. This claim is backed up by records from Francis Xavier, who was a missionary in the 16th century.

His records stated that when he visited the Kagoshima Prefecture in 1549, he noticed that the Japanese drank arak that was made from rice. The term “arak” refers to the variety of distilled alcoholic drinks made around the world which they used commonly in that period in time. Another concrete proof that shochu came to Japan during that period in time is a graffiti on the wooden plank of the rook in the Koriyama Hachiman shrine. This graffiti was made by the two carpenters making the shrine then and they wrote “The high priest is so stingy. He never gave us shochu to drink” or something in that likeness and they dated it in the year of 1559.

Usually, shochu gets mixed up or confused with sake, which is another traditional alcoholic beverage in Japan, but these two are very different. Sake is a lot more like wine while shochu is a lot more like brandy and vodka. The relationship between each of these is the process of how they are made. Sake and wine come from fermented rice and grape, respectively. Shochu, on the other way, is a distilled spirit like vodka and brandy.

Because it is distilled, sake and shochu also vary tremendously in alcohol content. The average alcohol content of sake ranges from about 13% to 16% while the average alcohol content of shochu ranges from 25% to 37%. There is a type of shochu called the undiluted shochu that has even higher levels of alcohol content reaching about 45% alcohol content and this is due to its pureness. Undiluted shochu has not been mixed with water after distillation which is what is usually done for the other types of shochu. Sake and shochu also differ in the main ingredient used to make them. Sake, or nihonshu, is made with rice alone while Shochu can be made from several base ingredients though the most commonly used ingredients are rice, imo, buckwheat, sugar canes, and barley.

The way they are served is also a point of difference. Much like wine, nihonshu is served either chill or warmed. For shochu, it’s a different story because of its higher alcohol content. This higher alcohol content changes the way shochu can be served because it opens up the option of drinking it on the rocks or making a cocktail with it. Still, there are people who prefer having their shochu simply warmed because it brings out the natural sweetness and aroma of certain shochu like the imo shochu or the sweet potato shochu.

As mentioned above, there are several main ingredients that can be used to create a particular shochu. These main ingredients are also what determines the type of shochu made. The frequently made shochu flavors are rice shochu, barley shochu, sweet potato shochu, sugar shochu, and soba (buckwheat) shochu.

The rice shochu has a thick taste to be and is described to be a warmer sake. Regions that produce great rice shochu are areas like Niigata and Akita prefectures. The barley shochu is easy to drink because compared to the rice shochu, the taste that the barley shochu provides is a lot less overwhelming. The regions that have a great production of barley shochu are the prefectures of Oita, Miyazaki, and Nagasaki. As for the sweet potato shochu, it is known to have a very strong taste that comes along with a distinctive scent Because of this, the producers of this type of shochu have made new versions of this shochu that has a suppressed scent. One would expect the sugar shochu to be sweet but it is actually the opposite because the sugar shochu does not have any sugar in it. It is made it 25 breweries scatters over 5 islands in Japan. These islands are Kikajima, Amami Oshima, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabujima, and Yoronjima.

Aside from these types of shochu, there is also a type of shochu that is exclusive to Okinawa, which also happens to be the origin of this type of shochu. This shochu is called “Awamori” and it also uses rice as a base ingredient but not the usual short-grained Japonica or Japanese rice. Awamori makes use of Thai long-grained crushed rice to create the shochu. It used to be made outside Okinawa as well but since the Ryukyu Awamori protected the geographical indication of this shochu, the production of this type has been limited to Okinawa.

Shochu can either go under distillation once or multiple times. The shochu that undergoes distillation just once is referred to as “Honkaku Shochu” while the shochu that undergoes multiple distillations are referred to as “Kourui Shochu”. Whether it be a honkaku shochu or a kourui shochu that you are drinking, as long as you are drinking shochu, you are less likely to wake up with a hangover because it does not have the chemicals in beer and wine that trigger hangover headaches. Aside from saving you from a hangover, drinking shochu has also been proven to be healthy because it has 1.5 times more enzymes that prevent arterial blockages compared to red wine. With this being said, if you thought red wine was a good for the heart, shochu would be something you describe as great for the heart.

Recipes for Some Japanese Shochu Cocktails

Shochu may already be considered as pretty good if drank as is but the flavor is a growing particularity with people in these modern times so making cocktails with the shochu is becoming more common. This isn’t bad news at all because the cocktails are also quite delicious and very enjoyable. There are many things you can do with shochu to make a really good cocktail with it. If you’re a newbie with it though, here are 3 easy recipes you can try out on your own to see which flavors you’ll like more.

The proportions for these recipes can make 1 cocktail serving so if you are tending to a larger or smaller group, you can try to adjust the quantity of the ingredients if you wish. The first recipe you can try is what they call the “Shochuini”. You’ll need 3 ounces of shochu, 1 ½ ounces of vodka, 2 ounces of sake, 1 ounce worth of lime wedges, and 1.2 ounces of simple syrup. Once you have everything, just put it all into a bottle or a cocktail shaker then shake it up with ice so that it comes out cool and refreshing.

The next recipe you can try to make is the “Sweet and Sour Shochu”. As you may be able to tell from its name, this cocktail leans toward having a candy-like flavor to it. All you need are 2 ounces of shochu, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 4 ounces of club soda, 1 lime wedge, and 3 tablespoons of sweet and sour mix. Unlike the previous recipe, you will have to separate some ingredients before you toss it all into the mixer. For this case, the ingredients you leave out of the shaker are the club soda and the lime wedge. Aside from those ingredients, feel free to start shaking the rest of the ingredients together. Once it is all mixed well, pour the mixture into a glass and add the club soda to your preference. The lime wedge is used as a garnish to the drink but it is optional.

The last easy recipe you can try is the “Shochu Melon Citrus Cocktail”. You will need 3 ounces of shochu, 3 ounces of melon liqueur, 2 ounces of fresh lemon juice, and a slice of orange or cherry. From the list of ingredients, you can already tell that this cocktail is going to be very fruity. Just mix everything in the shaker and use the slice of either orange or cherry as the topping to this cocktail.

Japanese Shochu Brands like Iichiko and Review on Them

Since Shochu is a traditional drink in Japan, you can already expect numerous brands to come up with their own version of this delicious beverage. When talking about shochu, a brand you will usually hear people recommend is Iichiko. It is understandable that people recommend this because it truly is the best-selling shochu brand in Japan but there are also others that might surprise you.

As you all know by now, the base ingredient used to make the shochu is vital in creating a shochu that has the taste that you want. If you want shochu made from sweet potato or imo, you can try brands like the Satsuma Shiranami which is also a popular brand of shochu in Japan. Their products usually have 25% alcohol with bottle sizes ranging from 700 ml to 1800 ml. This shochu was a product of single distillation and is known to be a great drink to have when eating things like sushi, chicken teriyaki, and other grilled dishes.

If barley is the base ingredient you want to be used for the shochu, you can check out the brand called Kannoko. It is made is Kagoshima which is a good thing because that area is known to make great shochu. Kannoko’s products usually have 25% alcohol content and are available in sizes ranging from 300 ml to 750 ml. This shochu is also a product of single distillation and it also quite enjoyable when drank with food like sushi, sashimi, grilled fish or chicken, and other food that have the same taste as those mentioned.

If you want the base ingredient to be rice or buckwheat, you need not look further than the brand called Orraqua. This brand is known to age their shochu in oak barrels that give it its golden color. The shochu from this brand also contains about 25% alcohol content and it is only available in the 720 ml bottle size. Again, it is a product of single distillation and can also be enjoyed with several grilled foods.

Sake and shochu used to be interchangeable but in the past years, the popularity of shochu has grown a lot more because people are loving the fact that it doesn’t spoil so it lasts longer. Aside from lasting longer, it has also been proven that it is a healthy drink and since the people in today’s world focus a lot on health and wellness, it is understandable why the shochu is gaining fame and the favor of people rapidly. This drink is incredibly unique and drinking it allows you to understand the craftsmanship needed to make this traditional drink. With that being said, you should look for a shochu type that you’d want to try and let yourself experience this great and tasty beverage.