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The Japanese Alcohol; 5 Basics Divas Want to Know About Shochu

5 basics divas want to know about shochu Food & Recipes

I often use the term, “Shochu”, when I talk about Japanese drinking culture,

do you know Shochu?

“Shochu”(焼酎) is one of the representative alcohol in Japan, “shochu” is the second consumed alcohol following Japanese sake.

You can purchase “shochu” in the US or your country, the most popular is “Iichiko.”

Like other liquor, Shochu has also several types depends on raw materials and production areas.

When you know more about Shuchu, it is easy to find your favorite than you don’t know its character.

So, I am going to explain what shochu is, and how you can enjoy it.

The Overview Of Japanese Shochu

“Shochu”(焼酎) is a representative “Distilled liquor” in Japan.
You may have heard its nicknames such as “Japanese vodka” or “Japanese distilled spirits.”

It has several kinds of flavor depends on its raw materials includes potatoes, rice, barley that I am going to explain later.

“Shochu” is categorized by two types by Japanese Liquor Tax Low; one with an alcohol content of less than 36% made by continuous distillation (Korui;甲類) and another is one with an alcohol content of 45% or less made by pot stills (Otsurui; 乙類.)

Generally, Kourui Shochu has a colorless, transparent, and pure taste, and can be produced more efficiently than pot stills, so it is more reasonably priced than Otsurui Shochu.

Besides, the top-quality of Otsuruishochu is called “Honkaku shochu” (本格焼酎) is, genuine shochu, single-distilled, allowing it to use only carefully selected ingredients.

You can see often “soju” at a local liquor shop, it is from Korea and different from Japanese Shochu.

What’s Differences Between Shochu and Sake

Japanmcconnell tips, the difference between sake & shochu

Simply the big difference between sake and shochu- sake is a “brewed liquor” made by fermenting rice. Shochu is a “distilled liquor” that has undergone a process called “distillation” based on brewed liquor made by fermenting various ingredients.

Japanese Sake Is The Same Category As Wine And Beer

Japanese Sake is a brewed liquor fermented by adding yeast to grains and fruits that is the same as liquor included in wine and beer.

It is often called “Seishu” in Japan. Both are used with almost the same meaning, but to be precise, “Seishu” is a general term for ancient Japanese alcohol, including sake (made of 100% rice and pure water, and a clear colored) and mirin. In other words, one of the genres of sake is “Seishu.”
Also, only sake with an alcohol content of less than 22% can be sold as “Seishu.”

Most sake has an alcohol content of around 15%, and you basically drink it straight.

Shochu Is Distilled Liquor Like Gin And Vodka

Shochu is the same distilled liquor as the four major spirits, gin, vodka, rum, and tequila.

Shochu is made by adding koji and pure water to the raw materials such as grains and potatoes, alcoholic fermentation, and distilling them.

“Koji”(麹) is cooked rice that has been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a mold, which is the essential ingredient to make sake, miso, soy sauce, AND SHOCYU.

Moreover, Instead of popular materials, there are Shochu that unique materials are used such as sakekau, sugar cane, tea, milk, chestnuts, and sesame seeds are used.

The alcohol content of shochu is mainly 20 or 25 % for shochu as I mentioned.

There are many ways to taste Shochu depends on the type.

As the unique way to enjoy Shochu, “maewari shochu” is popular among Shochu connoisseur, which is let shochu divided with pure water rest from overnight for several days.

Commonly, Korui Shochu is enjoyed with green tea, Chinese tea, club soda, fruit juice. Also, “Chu-Hi” is a popular drink at Izakaya and home.

Five Major Shochu In Japan

Interestingly, the “Shochu” flavor differs dramatically depending on its raw materials, quality, and process.

Its much different flavor makes us doubtful it is the same kind of liquor.

I will explain major Shochu in Japan.

  1. Barley
  2. Potatoes
  3. Rice
  4. Kokutou
  5. Awamori

Barley (Mugi, 麦)

Shochu made from barley is called “Mugi Jochu”(麦焼酎).

“Mugi Jochu” has a clear, dry taste and light aroma compared with other Shochu, so it’s perfect for a “Shochu” beginner. (It’s my favorite Shochu too. )

“Shochu”??? “Jochu”???

The proper word is “Shochu” but in Japanese grammar, it sometimes changes sounds in certain uses. 

The Brief History Of Mugi Jochu


Looking at the history, the produce of Barley shochu began from Iki Island, Nagasaki Prefecture in the 16th century. Iki Island was an important base for maritime transportation that connects Japan and Asian countries, so it has an impact on shochu brewing. Since barley and rice were mainly produced, the island’s unique manufacturing technology and shochu culture established. Still now, barley shochu made by the traditional method on Iki Island is known worldwide as ​​”Iki shochu”.

Later, in the Showa era (1926-1989,) the Sake brewery, Nikaido Shuzo in Oita Prefecture, developed barley koji-malt and released 100% barley shochu. A few years later, Sanwa Shurui Co. produced “Iichiko”. “Oita Barley Shochu” has been valued, so Oita Prefecture production of shochu is the third-largest in Japan.

There are various types of barley shochu, and it is also a good idea to select Shochu by koji-malt in raw material.

If you want to enjoy the sweet aroma, Iki shochu is one made from rice koji-malt, and if you like a clear taste, Oita shochu which made from barley koji-malt.

Barley shochu has less habit than other kinds of shochu, so it doesn’t choose any dishes. Especially, it goes well with simple vegetable dishes or fresh seafood appetizers such as carpaccio.

Potatoes (Imo, 芋)

mojochu, kagoshima

Shochu made from potatoes (generally used sweet potatoes) is called “Imo Jochu”(芋焼酎).

Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in southern Kyushu are famous for “Imo shochu” production. There are many variations, from those with sweetness and flavor like potatoes to those with a fruity aroma, but the most appealing of Imo Jochu is its strong unique flavor.

If you ever tasted authentic homemade “potato vodka,” you will get a hint of its taste, yet, Imo Jochu maybe more uniquely flavorful.

The raw material of Imo Jochu is sweet potato which has over 40 varieties of sweet potato.

Therefore, greatly affects the taste of Imo Jhochu depends on potatoes from specialty sweet potatoes developed for Shochu and rare varieties.

If you like to enjoy Imo Jochu with the meal, rich dishes go well with its unique, sweet, strong taste.

As a topping tip, top cinnamon powder or with cinnamon stick. The cinnamon flavor enhance the sweetness of Imo Jochu.

Kagoshima Prefecture Is The Kingdom Of Imo Jochu

Kagoshima, Shochu brewery, Sakurajima, Japan

© K.P.V.B

It is said that shochu brewing began in Kagoshima around the 16th century and was transmitted from West Asia to Kagoshima via Okinawa. At that time, rice shochu was generally brewed. But, it was difficult to become popular in Kagoshima compared to other areas because the land was not suitable for rice cultivation.
There was not good enough rice to produce Shochu, however, Kagoshima had much sweet potatoes cultivation. Indeed, Kagoshima has the highest production of sweet potatoes in Japan which accounts for more than a quarter of the gross domestic product.

Therefore, Imo jochu had naturally developed in Kagoshima, and researching sweet potatoes for brewing Imo jochu has been active still now.

Kagoshima has been promoting Imo jochu as a local product and has encouraged its production and quality improvement. Many shochu breweries have refined their techniques, and more than 100 shochu breweries continue to further.
Currently, there are more than 2,000 brands of Imo Jochu in Kagoshima, but there is no single brand with the same taste, and only self-confident works with individuality are on the market.

When visiting Kagoshima, look for gems such as Premium Imo Shochu 3M- “Maou”, “Murao”, “Mori Izo”.

Authentic shochu that uses sweet potatoes produced in Kagoshima prefecture and has undergone the entire process from distillation to bottling in the prefecture can be called “Satsuma shochu”.
Like the wines “Bordeaux” and “Champagne”, the whiskeys “Scotch” and “Bourbon”, and the brandy “Cognac”, they have been “designated by the World Trade Organization” by the WTO.

The Keys for Choosing Kagoshima Imo Jochu For Beginners

There is a wide range of Imo jochu that many people may be confused about which one to begin with.The taste of Imo Jpchu is defined by the intertwining of various factors such as the type of sweet potato and koji types, the distillation method, storage/aging period, and split water.

Here are the key points for the direction of taste.

White Koji “Shiro Koji”

A mild and light taste among Imo Jochu.

  • Kawagoe
  • Sekitoba
Black Koji “Kuro Koji”

A distinctive and strong taste. Dry and sharp.

Originally, shochu brewing was used “Kuro Koji” (black malt)
which is rich in citric acid, and has the ability to prevent the growth of various germs.

  • Kiroku
  • Kiccho Houzan
  • Sato
Yellow Koji “Ki Koji”

A rich-fruity scent and a clean and neat taste.

Yellow koji has been used in sake brewing, and it had believed not suitable for making Imo Jochu especially in Kagoshima (the warm climate) because its resistance to various germs is weaker than that of black koji and white koji.

On the other hand of Kuro Koji Shochu, Yellow koji shochu doesn’t have unique habits so it’s easy to drink.

  • Mao
  • Umi
Vacuum Distillation

A refreshing and easy-to-drink taste that suppressed several habits. It’s best to start to drink Imo Jochu.

  • Mao
  • Umi
Atmospheric distillation

Many breweries retain the strong flavor and umami of the raw materials using the traditional distillation method. Because of the traditional method, you can taste genuine raw material taste directly.

  • Murao
  • Kirishima
  • Sekitoba
Aging Imo Jochu

By aging for a long period of time, the aroma and umami will become richer and mellower taste. Some brands have a unique scent depending on the storage method. After aging for 3 years and more, a unique aroma is created. Some of them are 5 years old, 8 years old, and even rare ones that are aged for over 15 years. Since it is taken over a long period of time, it is more valued compared with ordinal ones. Moreover, the quantity is limited so it should be the special “cheers” rather than a daily drink.

  • Tenshi no yuwaku
  • Sato Kuro
  • Kuranoshikon Yorokobi

Imo Jochu is made from sweet potatoes as raw material and has slightly a sweet flavor and a unique habit depending on the brewery. Recently, due to the improvement of the sweet potato variety, the more clear, mild, and fruity Imo Jochu are easy to get.

Rice (Kome, 米)

kome, shochu, mirin

Shochu made from rice is called “Kome Jochu”(米焼酎).

“Kome jochu” is smooth, and slightly milky, and also smooth to drink as well as Mugi Jochu for Shochu beginners.

The appeal of Kome Shochu is the umami and aroma of rice, which is most familiar to Japanese people. Among various types of shochu, it is popular as a shochu that goes well with meals.

The subtle sweetness of rice even gives you a fruity flavor like “Japanese Sake”.

Rice Jochu enhances the taste of any dish. When visiting Japan or your local Japanese restaurant, please try it once.

*Kome is rice in Japanese.
*In Japanese culture, we prefer to enjoy alcoholic drinks with meals and delicacies.

What’s Difference Between Japanese Sake And Kome Jochu

There is a shochu that the raw material is rice as same as Sake, but of course, they have big differences.

First, the rice for making Shochu is regular edible rice as we see all the time, but one used for sake is the special rice for making Sake only.

Second, the alcohol contents are different, Sake has 15% ABV and Shochu have 20% to 40% AVB.

Third, Sake is generally enjoyable with straight only.

On the other hand, Shochu has several ways to enjoy such as straight, on the rock, and cocktails.

Hakutake Shiro

Among the rice shochu, the perfect one for beginners is “Hakutake Shiro”, which has an elegant aroma and a light clear taste. Its manufacturer is Takahashi Shuzo, which has been making rice shochu since its establishment in 1900.

The company is known for the Hakutake series of “Kuma Shochu”- a rice jochu produced in Kuma-gun and Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture. It is known as a representative of rice shochu.

The appeal of the “Hakuake” series is the umami of rice pulled out by a traditional method that uses only carefully selected rice and high-quality pure water. The “vacuum distillation method” is also used to create a very smooth shochu with reduced habits and unpleasant taste.

The clear and smooth taste is perfect for casually enjoying rice shochu.

Support The Reconstruction Of Kumamoto

The 2016 Kumamoto earthquake tremendously damaged many breweries and historic buildings. which threatened the survival of Kumamoto Shochu culture.

Takahashi Shuzo has been active in the reconstruction of Kumamoto Prefecture and Kumamoto shochu brewing such as engaged in information dissemination through the Kumamoto Shochu Museum.In order for the tradition of Kumamoto Shochu brewing to be passed down to the next generation, enjoy Kumamoto shochu and support the reconstruction if you have a chance.

Brown Sugar (Kokutou, 黒糖)

The Shochu known for its sweet aroma is “Kokutou shochu”(黒糖焼酎) made of brown sugar from the Amami Islands in the South Sea of ​​Kagoshima Prefecture.

The sweet and fruity aroma from sugarcane and its soft texture is attractive.

It is called “Japanese rum” and features a unique Southern island’s sweet breeze in the liquor that is not found in other shochu. Yet, it’s a totally different liquor from “rum” both made from the same sugarcane. “Kokuto shochu” uses “Koji” in the fermented process while The rum is used as a naturally fermented sugar.

amamioshima, Kagoshima, Japan

Moreover, the production area of Kokutou shochu is not permitted outside the Amami Islands. Currently, only about 30 shochu breweries produce bottles of Kokuto Shochu.

The mellow sweetness of Kokutou shochu is created by the combination of various flavor components and alcohol and the rich sweet habit comes from the rice koji used for fermentation.

It is also good for beginners as the start point for Shochu life, it’s relatively easy to drink compared with Awamori and Imo Jochu because of the fruity and sweetness derived from sugar cane.

To enhance its uniquely rich, mellow, round sweetness, it is recommended to drink divided with hot water.
For those who are not good at strong alcohol, it can be divide with milk and add a little syrup. The habit is removed and the taste becomes milder.

  • Asahi
  • Amami
  • Takakura
  • Rento
  • Ryugu
  • Satonoakebono

Awamori (泡盛)

awamori, okinawa, shochu

Awamori is a traditional liquor from Okinawa Prefecture and must be made only from Kuro rice Koji. Those that have been aged for more than 3 years are called Kusu.

“Ryukyu Awamori” is one of the Japanese liquors, that “geographical indication/production area designation” is recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trips Agreement as well as the Honkaku shochu, “Iki shochu”, “Kuma shochu”, “Satsuma shochu.”

The history of awamori is older than Shochu.

It is said that Ryukyu (Old Okinawa Kingdom) Awamori was developed around the 15th century introduced from Siam (Thailand). Its production was thoroughly controlled by the Ryukyu royal government, and in the latter half of the 15th century, the technology was refined enough to be added to exports. Its quality was recognized as the royal gift to the Edo Shogunate and the Chinese dynasty.

Awamori is very rich in flavor components and has a rich taste. Among them, the long-term aged sake “Kusu”, which is made by storing and aging for more than 3 years, is popular with many people because of its mellow taste.

The flavor ranges widely, and the characteristics differ depending on not only the regions in the main island of Okinawa but also on the islands such as Kumejima, Miyakojima, and Haterumajima.

The alcohol content of awamori is mainly around 30%, but also some Kusu (aged Awamori) has 43%. Therefore, it is preferred to drink with pure water, hot water, or club soda than straight or on the rock. Locals in Okinawa often enjoy Awamori with shikuwasa juice, coffee, or milk. For young people, the Awamori cocktail is also popular.

Yet, it is recommended to drink Kusu straight to enjoy the aged mellow aroma and taste.

As the definition of Ryukyu Awamori, It must be made from long-grain rice from Thailand and Okinawa prefecture, and black rice Koji.

popular Awamori From Okinawa
  • Kumesen-The sweet and refreshing aroma and fruity taste.
  • ZanpaRefreshing Clear taste
  • Zuisen
  • ShirayuriA mellow, but the refreshing sweetness from Ishigakijima-island
  • Donan– Awamori made by the traditional method inherited from the Ryukyu Dynasty, characterized by its strong flavor and unique taste from Yonagunijima.

Shochu And Weight Loss

It is an endless dilemma for us about the relationship between drinking alcohol and diet.

It’s kind of a famous desired theory for weight loss, “there is no sugar in distilled liquor.”

Is shochu a “fat liquor”?

(kcal)/100 ml
RED Wine852.610.07
White Wine832.60.07

If you’re counting the carb (sugar) intake, distilled liquor such as Shochu and whiskey won’t bother you. That’s because they contain 0 or little carbohydrates and no added sugar.

But you can’t be relieved yet. If you’re on diet, you also need to be concerned with the number of calories per drink.

Surely beer on the table seems low in calories but pay attention to the calorie per amount-calories on the table shows 100 grams (100 ml.) In the United States, standard bottle sizes range between 325 and 385 ml (11 and 13 US fl oz), the standard can size is about 350 ml (12 fl oz.) Roughly, 1 can or bottle of beer would be around 150 kcal. So, how many cans or bottles of beer do you usually drink?

Basically, high alcohol contains higher calories. Even calories in Shochu and whiskey enough to slap my face. But, I have a point. You can keep those calories low while choosing “High balls” with “Shochu” or just divided with water.

Besides, Shochu alcohol content is lower than other high alcohol such as Gin, Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila, Rum, Brandy, which means fewer calories than those.

When making “Shochu High Balls”, fizzy water makes you easily filled.

Usually, the amount of 1 shot served at bars is 30ml (in Japan), 1.25–1.5 US fl oz (In the US), so you can make approximately 3 glasses of Shochu High ball with 100g (100ml) Shochu. It can be lower in calories than only 1 can or bottle of beer (12oz.)

*a calories of your favorite beer (External Link)

How The Japanese Enjoy Shochu

chuhai, convenience store in Japan


“Shocyu” (焼酎) is one of the representatives and essential distilled liquor to talk about Japanese drinking culture.

If you want to experience Japanese culture, try some at home! The good news is about purchasing Shochu, it is easy on the pocket compared with Japanese Whiskey.

In my area, “Yokaichi” is available at the local liquor shop.

“Yokaichi” is popular “Mugi shochu”, very clear and smooth, perfect for “Shochu” beginners.

“Imo Jochu”, “Awamori”, “Kokutoujochu” may need some time to get used to its unique aroma and flavor,

try once when you visit Izakaya, in Japan!!!

‘Koji” is the essential ingredient for making Japanese Sake and Shochu and other traditional condiment.

What is the KOJI exactly???

Actually, Shiokoji made of Koji is a great condiment for tenderize meat!

If you are planning to ravel Kyushu island in the winter season, here are things what you should know.

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