We are all familiar with that most famous of Japanese spirits, Sake, but I’ll bet there may only be a few of you outside of Japan who have heard of Shochu. Unlike Sake, which is fermented and brewed rice, Shochu is a distilled spirit made from a variety of base ingredients; typically sweet potato, brown sugar, barley or rice, but even chestnuts, sesame seed and would you believe it, carrots can be used?
Being distilled means that its alcohol content is a little higher than Sake and Shochu is typically around 25%. Be careful though, there are some variants that weigh in at a hefty 35-40% which is very much like vodka, to which is often compared.
The differing ingredients used in the production process offer a wide range of flavours that cater to many palates but I find the sweet potato Imojochu to be more suited to my taste over the many others with a very distinctive taste and aroma that reminds me of a smoky whisky.
What is most impressive about Shochu is the multitude of ways it can be enjoyed depending on taste and the season. For example, in the chillier months it is commonly mixed with hot water to create a warming drink known as Oyuwari. This has an effect of reducing what can be to some tastes the overwhelming flavours, making it easier for those tasting Shochu for the first time to be brought into the fold. It can also be blended with fruit teas to make a fine refreshing drink.
To really experience the flavours and aromas of this wonderful spirit you should really order your Shochu over ice (rokku de – literally, on the rocks). If you are lucky enough to be in a Japanese bar or restaurant that serves different types of Shochu then you will be able to set up a tasting session to really experience the wide range of mouth watering variations available.
Whilst we all will probably have tried Sake and can find it now on general sale Shochu can be a little more difficult to source. Asian supermarkets and specialist stores may have a bottle or two in stock and you may find it available in certain wine and beer merchants, but by far the easiest way to grab yourself a bottle is to order it online. The prices are not too bad either; an entry level bottle of Iicthiko Silhouette distilled from barley will cost around $25 / €27. You can also find it available on Amazon too. Their grocery department has a 900ml bottle of Kirishima Shochu from sweet potato for around the same price.
So if you fancy introducing you dinner guests to something that little bit different at your next soiree why not give them an authentic taste of Japan with a selection of Shochu and ask them for their opinions on what is Japan’s most popular spirit.
You can find Shochu and other great Japanese delicacies with delivery across Europe at www.japan-gourmet.com