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All about shochu
What is shochu?
Shochu is Japan’s original craft spirit. More complex than vodka and stronger than sake, shochu has actually outpaced sake in Japan. Part of the reason for this is the variety of possible ingredients, which can range from standards like rice, barley and sweet potatoes to spices, seaweed and green tea – there’s a Shochu for everyone. Once quite rare, shochu came roaring back to take its rightful seat at the table in Japan’s vibrant food culture.
How do they make shochu?
Similar to sake, shochu production usually starts with steamed, starchy rice. To break down the rice’s starch to sugar, a special mold called “koji” is added to the rice. This process also develops flavor. Afterwards, distillers add water and yeast. Right on cue, the yeast chews through the sugar and creates alcohol, carbon dioxide, and more flavor. At that point, distillers can add additional ingredients for secondary fermentation. Like we said, there are tons of options, but sweet potatoes are a particular favorite. The double fermentation adds another layer of flavor and increases the alcohol content. Then the whole shebang is gently distilled one time to help retain the flavor of the raw materials. Most shochu dilutes to around 25% alcohol.
How does shochu taste?
Depends on the ingredients! The advantage of a gentle, single distillation is that the final product will mimic its recipe much more than something like vodka, which often experiences several distillations. A sweet potato shochu will have the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and complex fruity/yeasty/umami flavors from the fermentation – but without any actual residual sugar. If you’re a beer fan, you might love a barley-based Shochu. Take a look at what went into your bottle so you know what you might get out of it!
Serving and pairing shochu
A good shochu (“Honkaku” means “top quality”) is great on the rocks or blended 50-50 with hot water. It pairs really well with sushi and fish dishes, but actually goes pretty darn well with more Western dishes like pizza and braised pork, too. Try swapping it out for whisky in your old fashioned!
The first written mention of shochu is actually graffiti on a 16th century shrine in Japan. The carpenters building it were complaining that the high priest wouldn’t share any with them. Nowadays there’s no need for vandalism; search our liquor store partners and taste what you’ve been missing! Shop Drizly by clicking on these links to search for Drizly in your city and look for liquor stores on Drizly near you.