SHOCHU: THE JAPANESE
DISTILLED VERSION OF SAKE

SHOCHU pronounced "show-chew", is a colorless Japanese sprit made from high starch grains and vegetables such as barley, buckwheat, rice, millet, molasses, corn and select potatoes. When scripted in Chinese characters, its literal translation is "fiery spirits", which indicates Shochu's high level of potency as an alcohol beverage. Shochu is a distilled spirit, unlike Sake. Shochu is to Sake, what Chinese Maotai is to Laochu, and what brandy is to wine.

Shochu is widely served in Japan, Korea and in China, and Shochu is the number one selling spirit in the world today! It may just be the most healthy alcohol beverage in the world. While Sake is the national alcohol beverage of Japan, Korea regards Shochu (or Soju as they refer to their version of this drink there) as their national beverage. Similarly, in southern Japan, Shochu is the drink of choice where "Sake" is synonymous with "Shochu", and a person ordering Sake will automatically be served a glass of Shochu.

In 1999 here in the U.S., signed into California State Legislation (SB1710), is a new law allowing foodservice establishments with on-premise beer & wine licenses to legally serve Soju. The definition of Soju is an alcoholic beverage containing no more that 24% alcohol by volume (48 proof), and is derived from agricultural products.

Sake & Shochu List

Sake List1 Sake List2 Sake List3 Shochu List

HISTORY

The origin of Japanese Shochu can be traced back to the 14th Century when Awamori, its primitive version, was produced in Okinawa using a recipe imported from Thailand. During the 17th and 18th Centuries, however, Shochu was primarily used as a disinfectant for medical purposes.

In more modern times, Shochu became known as the working man's booze, a downscale image attributed to its notoriety as a cheap and fast way of getting drunk. In postwar Japan, during the 1940's, when rice and barley became scarce and were only rationed for food, all production of beer and Sake came to a sudden stop. In order to meet the unceasing market demand for alcoholic beverages, inedible rice, barley, buckwheat and sweet potato were substituted as the main ingredients depending on the area and ingredient availability, however, with a compromise in flavor.

The history of Shochu closely correlates to the origin of Grappa in Italy. Long ago, while the well-to-do in Italy consumed fine wines made from grapes, the poor collected the remaining ingredients, mostly the outer skin, seeds, and stems, and used these to concoct a palatable distilled drink which we now know as Grappa, a fashionable and fine drink today.

The image of low quality of Shochu still prevails especially among the older generations. Conversely, among the younger generation of adults today, Shochu has risen in popularity to become one of the most favored drinks in Japan. Its appeal can be attributed greatly to manufactures' efforts in refining their brewing techniques to yield a product that is less expensive than whiskey, a great mixer product, and low calorie (around 35 to calories per 2 oz), along with a reputed hangover-free benefit for the over-indulger. Coupled with cool and hip images through savvy advertising, the very traditional Shochu has now repositioned itself as the most preferred alcoholic beverage of young, fashionable adults in Japan.

Shochu is a great mixer as what is called a "Chu-Hai", a Shochu highball. For example, IICHIKO SEIRIN, a popular brand of barley Shochu is best when served on the rocks so that the drinker may fully appreciate the delicate nuances of its flavor. Even today, we're only just beginning to discover the many regional Shochu brews, all featuring unique characteristics of their geographic region, as well as distinctive flavors from their signature base ingredients.