Friday, February 4, 2011

An Introduction to Shochu

Kagoshima - the home of shochu
While Japan is commonly known for their saké, the popularity of shochu, Japan's other alcoholic beverage, is on the rise. Distilled in the warmer regions of Japan, shochu is commonly created from sweet potato, rice, soba (buckwheat) and barley, although a few adventurous distillers use brown sugar, chestnuts and other grains.

While shochu most likely has its roots in China, Korea or Thailand, the traditional home of shochu is Kagoshima, a city on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kagoshima is proud of their shochu heritage and is the only region of Japan that does not brew saké. They produce imo-joshu, a sweet, spicy shochu created from distilled sweet potatoes that offers a full palate and complex, earthy flavors. Satoh Shochu, a noted brand from Kagoshima, is a smooth, savory imo-joshu than can be enjoyed warm or on the rocks.

The final characteristics of any shochu are not only influenced by the raw ingredients, but also by the distillation method. There are currently two methods employed in Japan that produce radically different styles of shochu, and both have their place in the market.

The older method, otsu-rui (also known as honkaku), was first used in the 14th century and is the method typically utilized by small, artisan producers. The shochu is usually created from one ingredient and is only distilled once to preserve its flavor characteristics. Toyonaga "Land of Plenty" Shochu, made from premium Yamada Nishiki rice, is an excellent example of this distillation method. Enjoy straight, on the rocks, or add a splash of hot water to release the intricate flavors and aromas.

Kou-rui, the second method, has only been used since 1911, and didn't become a legal classification unil 1949. Kou-rui shochu is distilled multiple times from more than one of the common raw materials. This style of shochu is light and clean with more subtle flavors, and is typically used as a cocktail base or paired with meals. Yama No Mori "Mountain Guardian" Shochu, distilled from barley and rice, exemplifies the kou-rui method and also makes an excellent introduction to shochu.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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