What is Shochu

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

If you have spent any time in Japan, you have almost surely come across shochu, a very popular type of alcohol that accompanies everything from cultural celebrations to casual meals.

What is Shochu?

Shochu is a distilled alcohol that is made from a wide variety of base ingredients and is mainly produced in the Kyushu region of Japan, according to a research published by Professor Seki T., Kumamoto University, Japan. Sometimes known as ‘Japanese vodka’ or even ‘Japanese whiskey’, shochu is single distilled, which means that it will taste slightly like whatever ingredient it has been distilled from. This is a very popular beverage in Japan, where it is typically diluted with hot or cold water when served. The alcoholic content of this liquor is usually around 25%, but some varieties can be as high as 45%. A two-ounce serving of this potent drink has only 35 calories.

Shochu is made by the saccharification of starch through fermentation by koji and yeast. It is then followed by distillation.

A glass of shochu

Shochu is also known as Japanese vodka or whiskey. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Types of Shochu

There are many different types of this drink, including the following.

  • Kome: made from rice
  • Imo: made from sweet potato
  • Kokuto: made from brown sugar
  • Soba: made from buckwheat
  • Awamori: made from long-grained rice that is typically high ABV.
  • Chuhai: a cocktail made from shochu, soda, and fruit flavoring.

Shochu vs. Soju vs. Sake

Now let us take a look at how these three drinks are different from each other!

  • According to a report published by Nicholas Harkness, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, soju is a colorless distilled beverage from Korea that can range in ABV from 16-50%. It is traditionally made from wheat, barley, or rice.
  • Sake is a fermented rice wine from Japan and can range from 15-40% ABV.
  • Shochu is distilled, much like soju, but usually comes with slightly stronger alcohol content. It can also be distilled from many different ingredients.

How to Make Shochu?

  • This alcohol is distilled from a fermented mash that is made from the base ingredient and koji, a mold commonly used in Asian cuisine.
  • This type of alcohol can be either single distilled or multiple distilled.
  • Once bottled, this strong liquor is aged for anywhere from three months to three years, depending on the distiller. Traditionally, an important element in making this alcohol is where the bottles are aged; caves and tunnels are particularly common.
  • Shochu can be served either mixed with water or straight, chilled, or at room temperature.

Risks & Side Effects

The risks involved with drinking excessive alcohol can be short term side effects such as violence and injuries to long-term health risks such as chronic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who should not drink alcohol include women who are pregnant, individuals younger than 21 years of age, and people who are recovering from alcoholism or cannot control the amount they drink. Also, it should be avoided by people who are planning to drive or any other activity that required focus and skill. However, different countries have different rules on alcohol purchase and consumption.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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