Shōchū is a Japanese alcohol that has been distilled from either rice, sweet potatoes, barley or other ingredients, from chestnuts to carrots. Shōchū contains 25% ABV, making it stronger than Sake, another famous Japanese beverage, however weaker than whiskey or vodka. shōchū can be distilled once, or multiple times, in order to bring the alcohol percentage up to 35% per volume.
How it's drunk:
- Neat: By itself, at room temperature.
- On the rocks: with ice.
- Diluted with room temperature or warm water
- Mixed with oolong tea or fruit juice
- As Chuhai: mixed with soda water and plum, lemon or grapefruit flavouring.
How are sake and shōchū different?
Both sake and shōchū are the most famous beverages to come out of Japan, and are sometimes confused for each other. Sake is a brewed rice wine, and usually takes slightly fruity, in contrast to shōchū, which is dependent on its starch ingredient, making it taste usually very nutty. The base ingredient of shōchū is most commonly sweet potato, making it taste a lot stronger
History of Shōchū
Shōchū originates in 16th century Japan, on the island of Kyushu. Originally, it was made using a single distillation method, now called the “old-method”, the introduction of heavy machinery by the British allowed the Japanese to produce industrial quantities of shōchū, creating the market that we know today! This newer method is done through a process of multiple distillations.
In the 20th century, a fungus known as Koji that was usually used in sake production, began to make its way into the production process of shōchū, after researchers began to develop a multi-fermentation method.
Koji is a fungus used to alter taste and has been used in the production of sake for centuries. There are three types of koji: yellow koji, which is used in sake, and black and white sake, which is used in shōchū. In the original shōchū production method, koji was added in small quantities to the main ingredients in a single fermentation process. This process was revolutionised by researchers who isolated black koji and developed a multi stage fermentation process. Koji gives shōchū a refreshing, fruity flavour, and requires great skill. The use of koji in shōchū production is one of the reasons behind an increase in popularity for shōchū, as it gives it a sweeter flavour compared to the bitter flavour it had before koji was introduced.
Modern popularity of shōchū
Shōchū, a drink that used to only be available in Japan, is now a very popular drink in the US, with over 100 brands in production. On the island of Kyushu, where shōchū originates, shōchū is much more common than sake. shōchū used to be seen as an old-fashioned drink, only dranken by older men, but in recent years, it has become extremely trendy among younger drinkers, particularly women. The increase in popularity of shōchū in the early 21st century actually caused a shortage in sweet potatoes!
Shōchū has been promoted for its many health benefits, with claims that it prevents heart attacks and diabetes. A Japanese man who lived to be 105 actually credited shōchū, which he drank everyday, for his long life. Shōchū is said to be a lot healthier than other alcohols such as brandy, whiskey or sake.
There are two different shōchū production methods: the Multiply distilled method, and Singly distilled method. The multiply distilled shōchū is distilled multiple times with machinery made specifically for this method. Multiply distilled shōchū is diluted for basic consumption, and has an ABV of less than 36%. Singly distilled shōchū has an ABV of more than 45%, making it a higher alcohol content than vodka! This style of shōchū is distilled only once.
After distillation, shōchū is matured. The method of maturation differs from company to company, which characterises the shōchū, making its flavours more unique. However, the most common methods of maturation are in stainless steel tanks, clay pots or wooden barrels. This stage helps the flavours of the shōchū settle, giving it a consistent, delicious taste. This process takes anywhere from one to three months! The longer the period of maturation, the more mellow the flavours become.
Types of shōchū: