How to Drink Shochu, the Japanese Spirit More Popular Than Sake

Allan I. Fleming

You have been pairing sake with your spicy tuna rolls for years and incorporating Japanese whisky to your rotation as of late considering the fact that its booming popularity, but there’s a single Japanese liquor that however continues to be typically undiscovered stateside: shochu. This spirit is so beloved in Japan that it is recognised as the country’s indigenous spirit and even trumps sake in popularity.

You could believe of shochu as a relative of vodka, albeit a distant a single. This hundreds of years-aged spirit offers a robust flavor profile, and some expressions, like Saiten from iichiko, a major maker of premium shochu with U.S. distribution, have a bit of a umami flavor that pairs nicely with savory, prosperous dishes and citrus cocktails, too.

In a nutshell, shochu is a apparent, white spirit that’s distilled from veggies and grains like barley, sweet potato, and rice, clarifies Tetsuro Miyazaki, the common manager of iichiko United states.

“It presents an incredibly prosperous flavor while also remaining incredibly gentle with a smooth complete,” Miyazaki says.

But it is funky, too: A fermentation procedure involves earthy and sweet koji, viewed as Japan’s nationwide mold. Here in the U.S., James Beard award-successful Chef Sean Brock has tapped into the culinary probable of koji, experimenting with it in warm sauces and beer.

Bartenders familiar with shochu take pleasure in its selection.

“It can be consumed neat, on the rocks, with a contact of warm drinking water to boost the aroma, in a basic highball, or as the backbone of a lower-alcohol cocktail,” says Branden Fugate, beverage director at Tender Mercy in Dayton, Ohio, who, a couple years again, was introduced to the environment of shochu at a tasting in the property of a Japanese consulate.

Here’s an introduction to shochu, the Japanese liquor that could incredibly perfectly start trending stateside—as perfectly as some bottles to insert to your bar cart and a cocktail recipe to experiment with as you are getting to know this intricate spirit.

How shochu is made—and how it differs from sake

The major variation when it comes to Japan’s common spirits is that shochu is distilled, whilst sake’s classified as a fermented beverage, Miyazaki says.

Since quite a few people confuse the two spirits, you can believe of it this way: Beer is to whisky what sake is to shochu, says Paul Nakayama, who, with his wife, Mai, owns Nankai Shochu, a premium spirit from the Japanese Island of Amam.

Real shochu is exceptional from all other spirits in the environment for the reason that it is one-distilled, all-natural, and fermented by koji, the Japanese mold varietal that’s also dependable for producing soy sauce and miso, Nakayama says.

“Its production approach effects in a spirit that tastes deliciously unlike anything else,” Nakayama says.

Most spirits clock in all over 40 per cent ABV. Shochu generally ranges involving twenty five to 43 per cent, this means some expressions provide as fewer boozy solutions. For an supplemental reference place, sake’s ABV is all over fifteen per cent.

What does shochu taste like?

For the reason that it is one distilled, shochu represents the flavors of the resource elements and has a correct feeling of terroir, Nakayama says. But, different ingredient styles will yield different profiles and spirits professionals have a numerous established of tasting notes.

For Nakayama, barley shochu will be mild and a little sweet sweet potato shochu can be prosperous, fruity, and earthy and black sugar (Kokuto) shochu from Amami is gentle with powerful tropical fruit notes.

In the meantime, James “KP” Sykes, co-owner of The Armory in Brooklyn, says sweet potato shochu can provide an powerful degree of herbal tones, caramel, and occasionally butterscotch on the very first sip and you might be able to choose up additional subtle notes of vanilla, chocolate and peanut brittle in barley-centered shochu.

Bottle of liquor next to glass with round, clear ice

With 43 per cent ABV, iichiko Saiten is on the powerful side for shochu.
Courtesy of iichiko

3 bottles of shochu to consider now

Shochu has plenty of mettle to maintain its very own in cocktails, Sykes says, but can also be sipped and loved by by itself. Hunting to imbibe? Here are a couple bottles that are a excellent introduction to the spirit.

one. iichiko Saiten

As the brand’s most modern expression, iichiko’s Saiten is filtered by one,000 toes of volcanic rock to develop a thoroughly clean flavor. With 43 per cent ABV, it is on the powerful side for shochu and has tasting notes of honeydew melon, white grapes, and white pepper. “Saiten is incredibly mixable, and has savory flavors and umami-like character in mixology,” Miyazaki says.


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two. Mizu Environmentally friendly Tea Shochu

Designed with a mixture of barley, koji rice, and green tea leaves, this green tea shochu is prosperous and decadent. “The green tea leaves are added in the secondary fermentation procedure, which lends a graceful, harmonious aroma amidst the barley, kelp, and peppercorn flavor profile,” Sykes says.

[$forty one]

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3. Nankai Gold

Artfully blended from a selection of oak-aged kokuto shochu, Nankai Gold has intricate, prosperous notes of green apple, chocolate, raisins, and honey with a smooth, extended complete, Nakayama says. “On its very own, it can contend from common Japanese whiskies but with a great deal additional umami,” he says. “As a nightcap, I enjoy it as an excellent aged fashioned.” (Continue to keep reading for the recipe.)

[$ninety seven]

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Old fashioned cocktail in rocks glasses with orange wedge

iichiko Koji Aged Fashioned
Courtesy of iichiko

A cocktail recipe to experiment with: Koji aged fashioned


  • two oz iichiko Saiten
  • .twenty five oz basic syrup (to make, incorporate one cup warm drinking water with one.five cups sugar and shake vigorously until eventually dissolved)
  • two-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Orange slice


  1. Blend all elements into a glass with ice.
  2. Stir and garnish with orange slice.

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