Shochu, the distilled spirit native to Japan, is made from a variety of base ingredients including sweet potatoes and barley. Shochu has the misnomer of “Japanese vodka”. Vodka often is 45 degrees in alcohol but shochu is typically 25 degrees. It is made using koji kin (a mold) that gives it a unique aroma, and the different base ingredients create many different flavors. Shochu can be consumed straight, on the rocks, with hot water, or as a mixer. It is the base for a popular cocktail chuhai. Chuhai comes in a variety of flavors as it is mixed with fruit juices, is sold in cans like beer, at about half the price. Shochu can also be pronounced jochu when referred to as imojochu (sweet potato shochu) or komejochu (rice shochu).
The famed distilled spirit of Japan that has outsold nihonshu (sake) since 2003, is one of the beverages that is still not available much outside of the country, as it is only exported to a handful of countries. Shochu is often consumed mixed with water so the alcohol drops from 25 degrees to about 12-14 degrees, which is comparable to a glass of sake.
Shochu can be mixed with hot or cold water, both resulting in different profiles and impacts on the palate. On a cold winter’s day, nothing warms the body like a cup of hot shochu.
Perhaps the most interesting part of shochu is the variety of base ingredients that it can be made from. Sweet potatoes (imo) can be funky, chestnuts (kuri) may be aromatic like roasted chestnuts and there is even a Japanese basil (shiso) shochu that is easily recognizable by its minty aromas.
Okinawa is famous for its local version of shochu, awamori, which is made only from Thai rice and specifically with a black koji mold that gives it an earthy and heady aroma. There are three types of koji mold used in making shochu. Black gives it an earthiness, white creates a softer shochu and yellow brings on floral aromatics.