Shochu 101 – Part Four

Large ceramic pots for aging shochu

Large ceramic pots for aging shochu

Depending on how shochu is aged will be reflected on the palate. Shochu is often aged in tanks, ceramic pots, or barrels. Aged in stainless steel tanks the shochu will retain more of the base ingredient. As ceramic pots are allowed to breathe the shochu softens and rounds out on the palate. Naturally, aging in a wooden barrel will add tannins and color to the shochu similar to whiskey.

Finally, aging a shochu for a long period will let it meld and come together making it smoother and gives it a longer finish. Ku-su (クース) is aged awamori. It must be aged a minimum of three years, and be at least 50% or more to be labeled as ku-su, and is often aged in ceramic pots.

Shochu is made in every prefecture of Japan, which can’t be said about sake as it is not brewed in Kagoshima. Shochu is so prevalent on the southern island of Kyushu, that in many places when you walk into a restaurant and ask for sake, a generic term for alcohol, you may be given shochu. Similar to learning village names of Burgundy, it is good familiarize yourself with the names of the prefectures of Kyushu.

Kagoshima 鹿児島 – imo (sweet potato)
Miyazaki 宮崎 – soba (buckwheat)
Oita 大分 – mugi (barley)
Kumamoto 熊本 – kome (rice)
Fukuoka 福岡
Saga 佐賀
Nagasaki 長崎
Amami Oshima 奄美大島 – kokuto (brown sugar)
Okinawa 沖縄 – awamori

Shochu Authority 焼酎オーソリティ
Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station, Yaesu Kitchen Street, 1st Floor
10:00 – 21:00, no holidays (Japanese)

Shochu Authority has one of the best selection of shochu and awamori in the city. There is so much to choose from and the knowledgeable staff can help you find whatever you are looking for. It is conveniently located inside of Tokyo station. It is inside of the station building, but outside of the ticket gate.

Insider’s tips:
• The most important thing to remember when buying shochu, look for honkaku shochu 本格焼酎.
• Antenna Shops will have good selection of local shochu. Check out Kagoshima (antenna shop chapter) and Miyazaki (see Shinjuku).
• Depachika usually carry a selection of the popular brands.

Shochu 101 part one.

Shochu 101 part two.

Shochu 101 part three.

Shochu Basics


An article I wrote for Metropolis magazine on the basics of shochu: (text follows)

A women’s book series known as The Sweet Potato Queens may be all the rage in the US, but here in Japan men and women are falling over themselves for the liquid version: sweet-potato shochu (imo jochu). What was once considered the poor man’s drink is now the hottest alcoholic beverage in the country, overtaking sales of nihonshu. So if you haven’t given this traditional Japanese spirit a shot, now may be the time.

For one thing, shochu is locally produced, meaning you won’t pay the mark-ups of the importer, the distributor and finally the retail shop or restaurant. Being a distilled beverage, it can sit in your house for months (in a cool and dark space) and the flavor won’t change much. And as with all food-related trends in Japan, shochu is good for you.

But what’s really fueling the shochu boom? In short, Japanese believe it’s less likely to cause a hangover. And that it can help shed pounds – a hypothesis I’m still testing, with little success. Shochu is in fact low in calories, (35 calories per 2-ounce shot) and it encourages production of enzymes that break down blood clots (a preventative measure for heart attacks and strokes). One book encourages drinking shochu on Sunday evenings, claiming it will help you relax before starting a busy workweek. Oh, and my favorite reason: If you spill it, it won’t stain the tatami.

Shochu is produced throughout Japan, although much of it comes from Kyushu. Its alcohol content typically ranges from about 25 percent up to 45 percent, which is far higher than the averages for both wine (12-13 percent) and nihonshu (15-16 percent). If and when your tolerance is high enough, exploring shochu’s varied flavors becomes the fun part. Shochu is made with everything from the common sweet potato, rice and black sugar to the bizarre, such as konbu, milk, sesame seeds and green peppers. Sweet potato has a very heady bouquet. Rice can be simple and clean. Black sugar has a sweet amami to it, while awamori is a shochu from Okinawa made with Thai rice and a bit more aromatic than the typical rice shochu.

The authority on shochu, naturally, is Sho-Chu Authority, which has six stores, including one in Shiodome and another in Tokyo station near the Yaesu North Exit. Service is better at the Tokyo station branch, but for selection and variety, Shiodome may be the world’s best. You can also pick up pre-mixed chuhai drinks at your local conbini or supermarket, in the same section as the beer.

What should you eat with shochu? Much like food and wine pairing, if you like the shochu, it will go with almost anything you are having. The rice and barley varieties tend to be a bit more food-friendly than the aromatic sweet potato but all shochu lacks the acidity that both wine and nihonshu bring to the table.

Another benefit of drinking shochu is that it can be consumed in so many ways: straight, on the rocks, mixed with hot water or as a cocktail. The common chuhai in a can is shochu blended with a variety of mixers such as grapefruit juice or ume (plum). But plain shochu on the rocks is the best way to get a sense of aroma and taste.

When you’re ready to get on the shochu bandwagon, head straight to your local shochu bar and try a variety of flavors. Or if you want to get started at home, invite your friends and host a tasting party with any range of flavors or producers. As I wait for the Sweet Potato Queens to make their Japan debut, I for one will be bonding with the other sweet potato in my life, imo jochu.

Sho-Chu Authority
B2F Caretta Shiodome, 1-8-2 Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5537-2105. Open daily 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Shiodome.
1F Tokyo Station, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-5208-5157. Open daily 10pm-9pm. Nearest stn: Tokyo.

Shochu legend
芋 imo (sweet potato)
米 kome (rice)
眉 mugi (barley)
泡盛 awamori (Okinawan shochu)
度 do (percentage of alcohol)