Perhaps the most asked question I have is what is a good shochu to start with for those who are new to shochu. A rice based shochu is a good place to start as it is usually light, easy-drinking, and clean, much like rice. A good brand to start with is Hakutake Shiro, referred to simply as Shiro. It is made with shiro koji, a white koji, that produces delicate shochu.
Kumamoto prefecture is famous for its kome jochu (rice shochu).
Made in Kumamoto
Made by Takahashi Shuzo
Kome (rice) shochu
Shiro is great on the rocks, or in the winter I like it with hot water. It is also an excellent mixer for cocktails. Mix it with fresh juice.
Sweet potato farm in Miyazaki
There are two types of shochu:
Kourui 甲類 is made in a continuous still (renzoku shiki). It is very smooth on the palate and is under 36 degrees alcohol. Kourui shochu is typically used as a mixer for cocktails. On its own it does not have any notable aromas and is unimpressive on the palate. This is typically used as a cocktail mixer.
Otsurui 乙類, made in a pot still (tanshiki), are single distillation shochu. It retains the aroma of the base ingredient. The alcohol percentage is below 45 degrees. Otsurui shochu is good for drinking straight, on the rocks, or with hot water. It can also be used as a mixer for cocktails. Otsurui is also called honkaku shochu 本格焼酎. This is the top quality shochu that is worth exploring. If purchasing any shochu, be sure to ask if it is honkaku shochu.
Kojikin 麹菌 (aspergillus oryzae) is a mold that is used to break down the starches in the base ingredients into fermentable sugars. It is what makes shochu different from other distilled spirits. There are three basic types of koji that are used in creating shochu. The type of koji greatly affects the taste.
Shirokoji 白麹 (white koji) creates a very soft, gentle tasting shochu. These shochu are often light-body shochu.
Kikoji 黄麹 (yellow koji) is the same koji that is used for making sake. The resulting shochu is often aromatic with floral tones, and supple on the palate.
Kurokoji 黒麹 (black koji) is famous for making awamori (of Okinawa). Shochu made with kurokoji are often bold on the palate and full-bodied.
Another tip regarding shochu is to ask if it was distilled under high or low pressure. Genatsu 減圧 is distilled under low pressure, these shochu are often softer on the palate. Joatsu 常圧 is distilled under regular pressure creating more expressive shochu.
Shochu 101 part one.
Shochu 101 part two.
Shochu 101 part four.