An introduction to Shochu ...
Shochu is Japan’s best kept drinking secret and the fastest growing alcoholic drink category in Japan.
Japanese consumption of shochu is 45% greater than sake and 1150% greater than whisky so why is it so little known in the west? Well look out because it is coming to a bar near you.
What the hell is shochu anyway?
Shochu is a distilled spirit that is unique to Japan. The very best styles of shochu are single distilled to retain the original character of the base material and are called Honkaku shochu (translates as authentic shochu). Multiple distilled versions exist but for the connoisseur there is only one choice - Honkaku.
To maintain the integrity of Honkaku shochu the Japanese government has limited the distillable materials to a strict list as well as placing restrictions on the way Honkaku shochu is made. This is to protect the characteristics of shochu and not to confuse it with rum, brandy, vodka and other spirits. For those who are nerdy enough see the bottom of the page for the full list of distillable ingredients.
So why shochu?
Shochu is one of the most intriguing drinks available in izakaya, tachinomiya, restaurants and clubs all over Japan. Those big bottles with colourful labels lining the shelves behind the bar that you thought were sake, are more than likely shochu. In terms of flavour it can be described as complex, yet subtle and flavours run the gambit from clean and racy to smoky and sweet. Line up 10 shochu at the bar and there will be clear differences in each and every glass.
At an average of 25% ABV it also makes a great drink to serve on the rocks without becoming too pear-shaped before dinner.
Don't think of shochu as just a man’s drink. Japanese women are crazy for the stuff, apparently because of its low calorific value. Yes alcoholic beverages contain calories but shochu allegedly doesn't cause blood sugar levels to rise and therefore doesn't add to the thighs. Is this scientific fact or urban myth? Better consult Japan Vogue for the facts.
OK enough of the BS about the WWWH, at the end of the day shochu is a drink, and a bloody good one at that. While it doesn't have the nose appeal of wine or the explosive affect of whisky it does have an addictive personality that has enslaved many a salaryman.
What makes shochu different from other spirits?
Shochu production must include the step of saccharification (i.e. process of turning complex starches into sugars) via the introduction of koji (a type of mould). From there base materials are fermented prior to distillation. Like sake the fermentation of sugars takes place at the same time as the starch conversion in the same tank hence it is a type of multiple parallel fermentation. Unlike vodka that boasts many multiples of distillation, Honkaku shochu is only distilled once to keep the flavours and aromas of the base material.
List of allowable shochu ingredients for the über nerds
Potato, ashitaba, red bean, gynostemma pentaphyllum, aloe, oolong tea, plum seeds, bamboo mushroom, otane carrots, pumpkin, milk, ginkgo, arrowroot, striped bamboo, chestnut, green peas, quercus nuts, sesame, saffron, cactus, mushrooms, basil, radish, nonfat dry milk, onion, chondrus, tomatoes, fruit of the date palm, carrots, green onions, seaweed, green peppers, fruit of sebum, sunflower seeds, butterbur, safflower, whey powder, water hyacinth, matatabi, green tea, fruit of lithocarpus edulis, lily, mugwort, peanut, green tea, lotus root, brown sugar and sake lees #