What is Shochu?
Shochu is the most widely drunk spirit in Japan, an absolute national drink. Especially among the younger generation, shochu has been experiencing a real boom for years. Shochu is a spirit obtained by distillation, usually with an average alcohol content of around 25 to 30 percent, sometimes up to 45 percent - although this is the legal upper limit in Japan - and was first produced on the island of Kyushu in the south of Japan. Shochu has been produced in Japan for over 550 years.
Basically, shochu is divided into two classes: On the one hand, there are multi-distilled mass products such as "ko-rui" shochu, which are often used for mixed drinks such as long drinks or the very widespread chuhai's in Japan, where alcohol is mixed with a soft drink. Of higher quality, however, are the simply distilled fine spirits such as Honkaku Shochu (also called "otsu-rui") or Awamori (produced in Okinawa). The shochus in the Ginza Berlin shop are all Honkaku Shochus.
Shochu can be made from various natural ingredients, such as rice (Kome Shochu), sweet potato (Imo Shochu), buckwheat (Soba Shochu) brown sugar (Kokuto Shochu) or barley (Mugi Shochu), with barley being the most commonly used. Mugi Shochu is often aged in barrels after production, making it slightly reminiscent of whiskey. However, there are also more unusual representatives such as sesame, shiso, paprika, ginger or milk. There are currently 53 approved raw materials from which shochu can be made.
The production of Shochu
Koji (Aspergillus oryzae fungi) are used for the fermentation process. In the production process of shochu, mostly rice, in rare cases also barley, is inoculated with koji. This produces enzymes that break down the starch of the steamed rice or barley and allow the formation of the grape sugar necessary for the fermentation process. Three different types of koji exist for shochu production: white koji provide a light and delicate flavor; black koji provide an intense and strong umami flavor; yellow koji represent fruity notes. Yellow koji is also most commonly used in the production of sake. Koji rice takes about two days to produce, after which the rice koji is refrigerated to stop the mold from multiplying. Next, rice koji, yeast and water are placed in a vessel and the first fermentation (moromi) starts. Close monitoring of the temperature is necessary to control the multiplication of the yeast, which is responsible for the formation of alcohol.
The main component is added to the second mash after processing, in the case of barley after peeling and polishing, and provides the basic aroma. The mixture is then stirred until it is homogeneous. In traditional distilleries, this process is carried out by the master distiller with a paddle, as in the old days. During the main fermentation process, the koji mushrooms convert the main ingredients into sugar, from which the alcohol is then produced. It takes about eight days to produce a clear, homogeneous and slightly viscous liquid. The main broth now has an alcohol content of about 14 percent and is distilled.
Shochu is produced in the pot still process, the firing is discontinuous, so only one charge is distilled and after each firing process the still has to be completely cleaned. After distillation, the liquid has an alcohol content of about 40 percent. The shochu is then stored in barrels for one to two months. Water is then added to reduce the alcohol content, usually to 20 to 35 percent. Shochu consists of 70 to 80 percent water. As the water in Japan is generally very soft, this favours the production of shochu. The aromas of the main ingredient are thus clearly revealed. Depending on the variety and distillery, the shochu is either bottled and sold after distillation or it matures in barrels for several years.
In Japan Shochu is very often served as a companion to food. Because of the many different tastes and drinking patterns, Shochu is ideal for food pairing. This is not only the case for Japanese cuisine, shochu is also a great match for Western cuisine.
Here is an overview, which Shochu can be combined with which dishes:
What's the best way to drink shochu?
The right way to drink shochu does not really exist. It all depends on personal taste. The Japanese drink shochu differently:
1. Straight: Enjoy shochu straight. At hot temperatures the spirit should be slightly chilled.
2. on the rocks: With ice cubes or crushed ice shochu is a pleasure and the most classic way to drink.
3. extended with hot (oyuwari) or cold (mizuwari) water.
4. in the mix: shochu can also be mixed with juices, green tea or mineral water (highball). Shochu is also very suitable as a basis for cocktails.
Less hangover with shochu
Shochu contains no artificial additives and no residual sugar. Therefore this spirit has few calories (2 cl = 15 kcal). Moreover, shochu consists exclusively of natural ingredients. The risk of a hangover the next morning is lower than with other alcoholic drinks.