Shochu sets itself apart from sake in a myriad of ways from how it is made to what it is made from and how it is enjoyed. Let’s dive into the various ingredients that can be used to make the distilled beverage and how they impact flavor.
Rice [Kome]. I think of sake as a more feminine refined alcohol and shochu as a more masculine option. While they both start with the same base ingredient – rice – it is a more nuanced comparison. Rice shochu appears to have originally developed in regions too warm for sake production [southern Japan]. The Kumamoto prefecture, on the southernmost island of Kyūshū, is especially known for its rice shochu and is produced with water from the Kuma River. Rice shochu has a fairly thick taste compared to sake.
Barley [Mugi]. Here is where shochu can take a distinct sharp turn from the sake world, and it’s almost a contradictory assessment. While barley shochu is less distinctive than rice shochu, thus easier to drink, barley shochu that is cask-aged can become quite sharp and veers fantastically close to a single-malt whisky. Aka Oni is a barely shochu from the Inoue Shuzo in the Oita prefecture of Kyūshū Island. The single distillation process for this shochu produces a beverage with 20% alcohol that is light-bodied with subtle aromas of celery and mizuna leaf [Japanese mustard seed] and a touch of white pepper. It is best enjoyed as a mixer in a Bloody Mary shochu or at room temperature for sipping. Fukiage Kura is a three-year barrel aged barley shochu that functions like a very light and delicate scotch.
Sweet Potato [imojōchū]. The sweet potatoes widely cultivated across southern Kyushu are the base ingredient for sweet potato shochu and known for their distinctive smokey taste and smell--evocative of some whiskeys. Hama no Imota is produced by the Chiyomusubi Sake Brewery Co. in the Tottori prefecture. This shochu is a beautiful combination of the Goriki rice, an ancient rice varietal that was nearly extinct until the mid 1980s, and spring water sourced from the nearby mountains. The result is a single-distilled, 24% alcohol shochu that showcases a wonderfully clear taste when served on the rocks and paired with heavier cuisines.
Sesame [goma]. It’s possible to take a good thing and make it positively better and more scrumptious. That is what happens when barley, rice, and toasted sesame seeds come together to create a uniquely flavored shochu. Beni Otome is produced with no additives and stored for three years resulting in an intensely nutty toasted flavor frequently enjoyed in Japan as a sweet digestif served warm, on the rocks, or mixed with milk.
Brown Sugar [kokuto]. While technically not brown sugar [the kanji translation is "black sugar" which gets reworded to "brown sugar" in English & might have you thinking molasses but is most similar in-kind to pure cane sugar...just think SWEET!], kokuto is the answer to the rum fan's shochu of choice. Lento is a popular shochu produced in the Amami Island archipelago and transports drinkers via flavor to a beachy paradise.
At Sake Social we encourage novice and expert drinkers to stay adventurous. Let your curiosity guide you through our full selection of shochus.