Once considered a working class drink, shochu is now trendy with Japanese youth. In 2003, shōchū sales spiked sharply in Japan surpassing sake for the first time. Shōchū bars sprouted up with premium brands using artisan ingredients and carefully guarded production methods. Shōchū is similar to sake in alcohol content at 25% making it weaker than whiskey or vodka but stronger than wine and beer. Multiple-distilled shōchū, often used in mixed drinks, contains up to 35% alcohol by volume. It also doesn’t hurt that due to the many varieties available, shochu pairs extremely well with many dishes. Although widely available throughout Japan, the main problem is finding it in a liquor store here in the U.S.. You may have a chance of sourcing it in major cities with Japanese districts but it’s far easier to purchase online at sites like beerliquors.com.

How Shochu is Made

Shochu is made from a diverse array of fermented ingredients such as barley, rice, brown sugar, sweet potatos, and even soba. It is then distilled in a patent still and then water is added. Even though a basic ingredient, the water’s source has a big impact on overall taste and palatability of the shōchū. Shōchū has a characteristic “nutty” or “earthy” flavor rather than the fruitiness of sake.

How To Drink Shochu

Methods vary depending on personal taste:

  • neat, i.e., on its own with nothing added
  • on the rocks, i.e., mixed with ice
  • mixed with a low-alcohol beer-flavored beverage known as hoppy
  • diluted with hot water
  • mixed with oolong tea or fruit juice

The most popular way to serve it is pouring hot water into a glass and then gently adding the shōchū. The liquids mix naturally and stirring is unnecessary. Typically the amount of shōchū exceeds the amount of hot water, creating a pleasant aroma and yielding only a mild buzz. Sometimes the shōchū and water is mixed, left to stand for a day, and then gently heated.

Health Benefits

And just in case you needed another excuse to try shochu, many see it as a healthier alternative to other liquors since it has fewer calories and is thought to prevent thrombosis, heart attacks, and diabetes. Shigechiyo Izumi, a Japanese citizen who lived for 120 years holding a title in the Guinness Book of World Records famously drank shōchū daily. So what are you waiting for? 

By Steve Mirsky