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


You’ve been pairing sake together with your spicy tuna rolls for years and including Japanese whisky to your rotation as of late since its booming reputation, however there’s one Japanese liquor that also stays largely undiscovered stateside: shochu. This spirit is so beloved in Japan that it’s generally known as the nation’s native spirit and even trumps sake in reputation.

You might consider shochu as a relative of vodka, albeit a distant one. This centuries-old spirit boasts a strong taste profile, and a few expressions, like Saiten from iichiko, a number one maker of premium shochu with U.S. distribution, have a little bit of a umami taste that pairs properly with savory, wealthy dishes and citrus cocktails, too.

In a nutshell, shochu is a transparent, white spirit that’s distilled from greens and grains like barley, candy potato, and rice, explains Tetsuro Miyazaki, the overall supervisor of iichiko USA.

“It affords an extremely wealthy taste whereas additionally remaining very mild with a easy end,” Miyazaki says.

However it’s funky, too: A fermentation course of includes earthy and candy koji, thought of Japan’s national mold. Right here within the U.S., James Beard award-winning Chef Sean Brock has tapped into the culinary potential of koji, experimenting with it in scorching sauces and beer.

Bartenders conversant in shochu respect its vary.

“It may be consumed neat, on the rocks, with a contact of scorching water to reinforce the aroma, in a easy highball, or because the spine of a low-alcohol cocktail,” says Branden Fugate, beverage director at Tender Mercy in Dayton, Ohio, who, just a few years again, was launched to the world of shochu at a tasting within the residence of a Japanese consulate.

Right here’s an introduction to shochu, the Japanese liquor that would very properly begin trending stateside—in addition to some bottles so as to add to your bar cart and a cocktail recipe to experiment with as you’re attending to know this complicated spirit.

How shochu is made—and the way it differs from sake

The most important distinction on the subject of Japan’s fashionable spirits is that shochu is distilled, whereas sake’s categorised as a fermented beverage, Miyazaki says.

Since many individuals confuse the 2 spirits, you’ll be able to consider it this manner: Beer is to whisky what sake is to shochu, says Paul Nakayama, who, together with his spouse, Mai, owns Nankai Shochu, a premium spirit from the Japanese Island of Amam.

Real shochu is exclusive towards all different spirits on the planet as a result of it’s single-distilled, all-natural, and fermented by koji, the Japanese mould varietal that’s additionally answerable for making soy sauce and miso, Nakayama says.

“Its manufacturing methodology ends in a spirit that tastes deliciously not like the rest,” Nakayama says.

Most spirits clock in round 40 % ABV. Shochu usually ranges between 25 to 43 %, that means some expressions function much less boozy alternate options. For an extra reference level, sake’s ABV is round 15 %.

What does shochu style like?

As a result of it’s single distilled, shochu represents the flavors of the supply elements and has a real sense of terroir, Nakayama says. However, totally different ingredient varieties will yield totally different profiles and spirits specialists have a various set of tasting notes.

For Nakayama, barley shochu will probably be delicate and barely candy; candy potato shochu will be wealthy, fruity, and earthy; and black sugar (Kokuto) shochu from Amami is mild with robust tropical fruit notes.

In the meantime, James “KP” Sykes, co-owner of The Armory in Brooklyn, says candy potato shochu can ship an intense stage of natural tones, caramel, and typically butterscotch on the primary sip; and also you may be capable of choose up extra refined notes of vanilla, chocolate and peanut brittle in barley-based shochu.

With 43 % ABV, iichiko Saiten is on the robust facet for shochu.
Courtesy of iichiko

3 bottles of shochu to strive now

Shochu has sufficient mettle to carry its personal in cocktails, Sykes says, however may also be sipped and loved by itself. Trying to imbibe? Listed here are just a few bottles which are a fantastic introduction to the spirit.

1. iichiko Saiten

Because the model’s most up-to-date expression, iichiko’s Saiten is filtered by 1,000 toes of volcanic rock to supply a clear taste. With 43 % ABV, it’s on the robust facet for shochu and has tasting notes of honeydew melon, white grapes, and white pepper. “Saiten is extremely mixable, and has savory flavors and umami-like character in mixology,” Miyazaki says.


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2. Mizu Inexperienced Tea Shochu

Made with a combination of barley, koji rice, and inexperienced tea leaves, this inexperienced tea shochu is wealthy and decadent. “The inexperienced tea leaves are added within the secondary fermentation course of, which lends a swish, harmonious aroma amidst the barley, kelp, and peppercorn taste profile,” Sykes says.


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3. Nankai Gold

Artfully blended from a wide range of oak-aged kokuto shochu, Nankai Gold has complicated, wealthy notes of inexperienced apple, chocolate, raisins, and honey with a easy, lengthy end, Nakayama says. “By itself, it may well compete towards fashionable Japanese whiskies however with far more umami,” he says. “As a nightcap, I take pleasure in it as an distinctive quaint.” (Maintain studying for the recipe.)


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Old fashioned cocktail in rocks glasses with orange wedge

iichiko Koji Outdated Customary
Courtesy of iichiko

A cocktail recipe to experiment with: Koji quaint


  • 2 oz iichiko Saiten
  • 0.25 oz easy syrup (to make, mix 1 cup scorching water with 1.5 cups sugar and shake vigorously till dissolved)
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Orange slice


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

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