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Thread: Shochu

  1. #1
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    Shochu

    We have discussed many drinks here but as far as I know, this classic Japanese spirit has not been explained, or not in any detail.

    Of course we have a number of members who reside in Japan including Koji and Ed.

    My questions (but feel free to answer in the way you prefer):

    - what exactly is shochu?

    - what is it made from (rice clearly is an ingredient, are there others?), and how is it distilled? Is there an indigenous Japanese (i.e., non-whisky) still?

    - what is the current market for shochu? Is it similar to the market for whisky?

    - what are some of the variant drinks, e.g., I understand there is a special type made only on Okinawa, what distinguishes that? Are there other local spirits?

    - how is shochu typically consumed? Diluted, straight, with ice? Is it taken in a long drink with ice and water like whisky often is?

    - What are some of the well-known brands? What do they taste like?

    Thanks.

    Gary

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    Re: Shochu

    GillmanWe have discussed many drinks here but as far as I know, this classic Japanese spirit has not been explained, or not in any detail.

    Of course we have a number of members who reside in Japan including Koji and Ed.

    My questions (but feel free to answer in the way you prefer):

    - what exactly is shochu?

    It is a distilled beverage bottled at between 20% and 35% abv. 20% to 25% being the commonest.

    - what is it made from (rice clearly is an ingredient, are there others?), and how is it distilled? Is there an indigenous Japanese (i.e., non-whisky) still?

    Rice is rarely an ingredient. The most popular is Sweet Potato shochu. Barley shochu is also a big seller. There is also a Buckwheat shochu. I think the cheap brands are distilled from sugar, but I could be wrong about that. It is sometimes aged, but I don't know much about how that is done or what wood is used. I asked someone in the beer industry and he said it comes off the still at around 80% though I think that varies depending on the distillery.

    - what is the current market for shochu? Is it similar to the market for whisky?

    The market is huge! It has edged out sake as the popular traditional drink. In fact, I have heard that many small sake breweries have had to close. It has gone from a cheapo working class drink to something that people can really get into.

    - what are some of the variant drinks, e.g., I understand there is a special type made only on Okinawa, what distinguishes that? Are there other local spirits?

    That is Awamori. I wrote about that somewhere else. Awamori is made of rice. It was the first distilled spirit in Japan, well Okinawa wasn't part of Japan at the time. The rice used is not the sticky short grain rice that the Japanese favor, but long grain rice from Thailand. Awamori is sold at a higher proof 35% to 45% is normal though it is sometimes sold at 60%. Awamori is aged, but, if I understand correctly, in stainless steel tanks. Traditionally it was aged in big ceramic pots. A family would have a row of these. It would be dipped from the oldest pot and then that would be topped up from the next oldest and so on till the youngest pot would be topped up with new spirit. There were some that were hundreds of years old, but they were all destroyed during the invasion of Okinawa.


    - how is shochu typically consumed? Diluted, straight, with ice? Is it taken in a long drink with ice and water like whisky often is?

    Long drink with ice and water. Usually a bottle, tub of ice and a pitcher of water are brought to your table along with however many glasses you ask for.

    A popular variant that is often consumed straight, though not always, is called Ume Shu. Ume is a Japanese plum. The fruit is quite tart. I think it is picked while a little green. The whole fruit is placed in a large glass jar along with big pieces of crystallized sugar, like rock candy. Then it is left in a dark place for a long time, years sometimes. I made some once years ago and it tasted good to me within weeks. A friend once told me that she had had some that was 20 years old.

    There are also cocktails made with it. One is called Chu Hi You can buy it in cans. Grapefruit, lemon, probably others. The abv varies, maybe as low as 2% to as high as 7% or 8%. My daughter's grandmother once gave her a little can of something similar, I think it was 2%, thinking it was just soda pop. I saw a mother giving her son one at a barbecue. I told her it was alcoholic. At first she didn't believe me, but I showed her the label on another can. I wonder how many cans of the stuff she had given him before that party?


    - What are some of the well-known brands? What do they taste like?


    Sapporo Soft is a well known cheap brand. The bottles come in several sizes. I think the largest is either five or six liters. I haven't drunk it in years, but when I did, I thought it tasted like low proof vodka. The good stuff is a nice, sweetish, subtly favored spirit.
    Thanks.

    Gary

    Ed
    Last edited by Edward_call_me_Ed; 06-18-2007 at 20:38. Reason: to do a spell check
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  3. #3
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    Re: Shochu

    Hello Gary ,in Holland we have a Korean drink called Soju and what i understand from your thread it is the same thing,between the 20% and 40% and made from rice,buckwheat,sugar,chestnuts and barley each giving their flavour to the drink.Overhere they are about 25% but i have tried some in Asian shops and restaurants that were 38%or 40% ,two i have tasted were matured on oak 10 yo and 18 yo and these are double the price of a standard drink but worth it.If you have a barley type Soju that is matured Matelau the brand was called here it taste a bit like a Speyside whisky.It is nice to drink the stuff but i prefer whiskeys instead.Eric.
    Netherlands

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    Re: Shochu

    Quote Originally Posted by mier View Post
    Hello Gary ,in Holland we have a Korean drink called Soju and what i understand from your thread it is the same thing,between the 20% and 40% and made from rice,buckwheat,sugar,chestnuts and barley each giving their flavour to the drink.Overhere they are about 25% but i have tried some in Asian shops and restaurants that were 38%or 40% ,two i have tasted were matured on oak 10 yo and 18 yo and these are double the price of a standard drink but worth it.If you have a barley type Soju that is matured Matelau the brand was called here it taste a bit like a Speyside whisky.It is nice to drink the stuff but i prefer whiskeys instead.Eric.
    I have heard of Korean Soju, but never had any. I am not sure which way it went, from Korea to Japan or Japan to Korea. Probably Korea to Japan, but it could have come up from Okinawa to Japan to Korea.


    Ed
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  5. #5
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    Re: Shochu

    Very interesting, thanks for this. I am sure one or two brands are available here (possibly), I'll get some and report some taste comments. There seems an analogy to some aspects of spirits production elsewhere, e.g., wood or other container aging where done (whisky used to be aged in ceramic-lined vats at one time), the solera-type practise described for the Okinawa spirit mentioned (a kind of blending of ages), and of course the mixing with fruit or other mixes in some cases.

    Gary

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    Re: Shochu

    For what i know Soju was introduced by monks from Japan in the 16th century but what the origin is i don`t know.The way to drink it is various,ice,mix,diluted with cold but also with warm(hot?)water,over here the better Asian restaurants serve it as a digestive together with jasmine or oolong tea.Eric.
    Netherlands

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    Re: Shochu

    I hope you can find some. Most likely it will be Korean Shochu. Servicemen became familiar with the drink during the Korean war and many Korean came to the States afterward. I read somewhere that if Japanese Shochu is exported to the States that it might not be able to call itself Shochu because the Korean product has laid claim to that name.

    Ed
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  8. #8
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    Re: Shochu

    Thanks Ed, I'll check it out. The LCBO prides itself on having a broad range and it tries to cater to the Asian community (now 25% of the population of Greater Toronto). I'll check and see. I did go shopping there today, but bought ... wait for it ... bourbon. Despite (or maybe because of) the relatively small bourbon selection, I bought some Blanton 80 proof, the only Blanton currently available. It is a lower proof than I like but still good and less earthy than the last one I bought, I like it.

    Gary

  9. #9
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    Re: Shochu

    I found a Shochu in our market. It is Yokaichi Mugi. Label states it is "distilled from barley".

    Quite a handsome label with Japanese writing and calligraphy of course I can't understand.

    On the back label, it states, "Ingredients: water, barley, koji, 25% alc./vol.". (Koji? What does this mean in this context I wonder?).

    It smells like a good sake. This is interesting since the taste I always associated with rice-fermented drinks is there - but no rice. Maybe this is the odour of a traditional Japanese yeast.

    Taste: nice, to me it is like a cross between a watered vodka and a good sake.

    This would be good cold in the summer with food, I like it.

    As a foil/companion (I wasn't sure which), I sampled also a genuine sake: this one is in a little blue-hued bottle, called Junmai Ginjo Superior, 14.5% alc./vol., made by Hakutsuru. On the back, it says "made from water, rice, and rice koji" (not just koji). Can koji be yeast again?

    This was one of a number of sakes on the shelf from the same company. Some seemed flavoured and I wanted one that wasn't, which this one is (i.e., it is not flavoured).

    This has a deeper, more complex taste than the barley shochu even though half its proof. It's kind of flowery, like the shelf talker said. Nice product.

    These drinks are definitely in the same family even though made from different starches and one is fermented and one distilled.

    I've had a taste of a Far East drink (alcoholic drink) which I've rarely sampled in the past (I only had sake about 5 times before, and never shochu). I've had Chinese and Japanese beers of course, which are excellent quality but otherwise similar to our lager styles. But this is completely different.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 06-20-2007 at 16:18.

  10. #10
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    Re: Shochu

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    On the back label, it states, "Ingredients: water, barley, koji, 25% alc./vol.". (Koji? What does this mean in this context I wonder?).

    It smells like a good sake. This is interesting since the taste I always associated with rice-fermented drinks is there - but no rice. Maybe this is the odour of a traditional Japanese yeast.


    As a foil/companion (I wasn't sure which), I sampled too a genuine sake: this one is in a little blue-hued bottled, called Junmai Ginjo Superior, 14.5% alc./vol., made by Hakutsuru. On the back, it says "made from water, rice, and rice koji" (not just koji). Can koji be yeast?


    Gary
    I had thought to write about rice koji, but I wasn't one hundred percent certain it was used in making Shochu and hadn't gotten around to checking yet.

    Koji is a rice fungus that is used in much the same way as malt in converting starches to ferment-able sugars. It probably goes some way in explaining the similarity between the Shochu and the Sake that you detected.

    Ed
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