Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit beverage which contains about 25% (some kinds can go up to 40% alcoholic content). Unlike sake which is a brewed alcohol made from rice only, shochu is made from many kinds of ingredients such as Japanese sweet potatoes, barley, rice, and buckwheat.
Its unique taste and high alcohol by volume content have been the reasons why Japanese drunkards have loved it for decades!
Shochu was originally made in the Kyushu region, but nowadays it is produced in all locations throughout Japan.
You can enjoy shochu just like whiskeys and any other kinds of spirit, for instance, on the rock, diluted with water, with soda, and it even is mixed with Japanese teas to make a true Japanese cocktail!
2: What is the difference between shochu and sake?
There are many major differences between shochu and sake. For one thing, while shochu is distilled like whiskey, sake is fermented like wines.
The ingredients are also different. Sake is made from rice and koji mold (fermented rice mold), but shochu can be made from many kinds of ingredients such as sweet potatoes, barley, and also rice. Some rare kinds of shochu are even made from sugarcane.
Generally speaking, shochu has a higher alcoholic content than sake. Sake has an alcoholic content of about 15% whereas shochu close to 25%.
The amount of calories per volume is also different. Sake has about 100 kcal/100 ml and shochu has from 140 to 200 kcal per 100 ml. The alcoholic content of shochu is much higher, and much of the caloric difference comes from that. Sake actually tastes sweeter.
3: How is shochu served?
There are so many ways you can enjoy your shochu that it's almost impossible to list them all! Here are the most popular styles.
In order to enjoy the real taste of distilled beverages, trying them straight is always your best choice. Shochu is no exception. Shochu doesn't need to be cooled before being drunk. Actually, you may try it at different temperatures to see how the taste changes.
On the rock
On the rock style is probably the most popular way to enjoy Japanese shochu. Fill the glass with ice and pour in your favorite shochu. As the ice melts, the unique sweet smell of shochu will flourish. Be careful not to let the ice melt too much since your shochu may become too watery for that real "on-the-rocks" sochu taste.
Mizuwari: Cut with water / Oyuwari: Cut with hot water
Shochu served oyuwari
Mizuwari and Oyuwari, can be made simply by adding some hot or cold water to your shochu. The amount of water you add is completely up to you, although the best ratio is 3:2 for shochu and water, generally speaking.
When you make a mizuwari drink, add in shochu first. This is because cold water is heavier than shochu and by pouring in the water after the shochu, the two will mix in the glass. On the other hand, when making oyuwari, since shochu is heavier than hot water, add the hot water first.
Soda-wari: Cut with mineral water
Enough of having your shochu mizuwari and oyuwari? Then why don't you give it a try soda-wari style? Soda-wari means cutting your shochu with mineral water. It completely changes the taste of shochu and is a very refreshing way to drink it. This style is particularly popular on hot summer days. For an even more refreshing taste, you can squeeze some citrus juice into it. In Japan, shochu soda-wari is often served with a slice of lemon.
4: What about shochu cocktails?
The most interesting feature of shochu is perhaps that it can be made in all sorts of cocktails. Generally speaking, light-tasting shochu is better for that than strong-tasting shochu. Also, the light-tasting ones are generally cheaper, so just use a cheap one!
There are no rules when making shochu cocktails and the cocktails can be based on any kind of beverage you like. You can mix in orange juice just like when you make a screw-driver cocktail, or coke or any other beverage.
Popular styles are fresh fruit chu-highs (adding some fruit juice or syrup) and tea-based chu-highs (cutting shochu with tea).
Shochu and soju are basically the same. The difference is where they are produced. Shochu is made in Japan and soju is made in South Korea.
In South Korea, people usually drink soju straight, whereas in Japan, shochu is consumed in all the ways mentioned above.
6: Is Umeshu a type of shochu?
Yes, umeshu is a type of shochu drink. Umeshu (plum wine) is made by adding Japanese plums and iced sugar into shochu. It takes almost a whole year for it to be ready. The recipe is very simple and surprisingly easy to make! All you need to do is just mix the basic ingredients and let it rest.
Iichiko is the name of the shochu produced by Sanwashurui (三和酒類). Sanwashurui used to be a sake maker, but from the late 60s, they started producing shochu beverages as a secondary undertaking. Sanwashurui has succeeded in making their original kind of shochu called iichiko which is known for its neutral aroma compared to the other common shochu brands. Iichiko has been the top-ranked shochu distillers for more than 30 years. They offer many brands of shochu and all of them are amazingly reasonably-priced. For your first shochu, iichiko is definitely a good choice.
The name "iichiko" is a word which means "sure why not!" in Oita dialect.