Shochu - a taste of the east
a new experience with a type of alcohol so vital to the modern day
night life of Japan? If so why not give "shochu" a try - a traditional
alcohol locally produced in Kyushu, southern Japan.
Rice, malt, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, chestnuts are all used as
raw materials in the production of shochu! Unlike other forms of
alcoholic drink such as beer (hops), wine (grapes) and sake (rice),
shochu is not limited or dependent upon just one material for use in
Essentially a strong spirit (containing 25% alcohol on average)
produced in a distillery*, it could potentially be viewed as a member
of the same 'alcohol family' as whisky (Scotch) / whiskey (Irish and
American) which is made using a similar, if longer process as well as
whisk(e)y production requiring the presence of processed malt while
shochu uses steamed grains known as "koji."
(*distilleries 'distill' liquids by heating the original fluid until it
turns into a steam prior to cooling the same steam to produce liquid
again - a process often repeated in whisk(e)y production)
Shochu is generally transparent and can be divided into two main types;
Kou and Otsu. The Kou type is often used in the production of Chu-hai
(a mixture of shochu and other soft drinks) and fruit wines including
Ume-shu (a Japanese apricot based liquor); neither so strong in terms
of the scent they emit.
The Otsu type is termed, basically, Shochu or Honkaku (full-dress)
Shochu today and the formula for developing this spirit originated in
Thailand. The method made its way to Japan in the 14th century and was
adapted to suit local conditions, the results much loved in the Kyushu
area of Japan. Around this time it was given the name of "shochu" - the
burnt or distilled alcohol, and later became popular throughout the
country. Since its introduction and through the seven centuries since,
shochu has been popular with the working man due to a combination of
(low) price and scent.
Why so popular?
Today, Japanese of both sexes and all ages like to drink and one of the
most popular drinks is shochu - an alcohol once regarded as 'for the
oldies' but now hugely popular with the younger generations - ladies in
particular. Why would this be?
One of the prime reasons behind this appeal to the nation's youth
centers on the number of brands potential drinkers can align to and
select from; coming in several price ranges - from the more
sophisticated and thus more expensive types of shochu to the more
economical forms targeting the younger drinker with cool-cum-cute
packages and commensurate price labels. Compared with other types of
readily available alcohol shochu is relatively cheap when considering
quality; Japanese-style bars known as izakaya selling the drink by the
glass for around 500 yen per shot. Another added plus, for those
watching calories are the relatively low numbers that come in a glass
Effects on the body
Shochu, say its fans when comparing the after effects with those of
beer or sake, claim lower levels of headache or heartburn although this
hypothesis is not scientifically proven. Some experts have insisted
limited quantities of shochu can even have a beneficial effect in a
manner similar to the limited intake of wine and / or beer, by
lessening the likelihood of arteriosclerosis or blood clots and thus
heart attacks or strokes.
When all is said and done though, it is the tastes and fragrances of
shochu that attract the most fans! The variety of materials that can be
used to produce the drink are so vast with kome shochu and its mellow
taste of rice, imo shochu tasting of fresh sweet potatoes, mugi shochu
carrying the savory smell of barley but three examples. Using the
blessings and materials provided by Mother Nature, the boundaries of
shochu expansion are limitless!
How to drink shochu
So, explanations done with - down to the nitty gritty - the tasting.
- with hot water
After first pouring hot water into a glass, add about the same amount
of shochu and mix in. (this method is ideal for warming chilled bodies)
- with cold water
Prepare several pieces of ice then add to shochu. After the ice and shochu start to interact add water to taste.
- on the rocks (rokku in Japanese)
Pour shochu onto several pieces of ice to enjoy the taste almost straight.
If the smell of shochu doesn't appeal, and it doesn't to everyone,
try adding a little juice of citrus fruits such as oranges or citron
Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan are home to a particularly
famous shochu known as "Awamori." Made predominantly from Thai rice it
is a stronger drink than many other types of shochu coming in with an
average alcohol level of about 30% but with some varieties as strong as
60 percent! Awamori, especially older, more mature brands are popular
as souvenirs of the islands but are available around the country today
- in shops or bars.
More recently, with the popularity of shochu on the rise, more
freedom of expression has been included in selecting the raw materials
of shochu to help catch the eye of female drinkers. Lettuce shochu,
pumpkin shochu, tomato shochu and even milk shochu are all now
available so why not try a dram or two and let us know what you think.
Alongside the working men mentioned above, shochu has long been a
favorite of the 'keepers of language' - poets. The following haiku
evidence in 5,7,5 format:
Natsu no yowa Shochu uri no hitokoe ni --- Natsume Seibi
(Hear the shout of (the) shochu-seller, and realize the night of summer)
Still spring now? Worried that summer is still months away? Fear not
as shochu is available anytime, anyplace so go on out and experience
the world of shochu!
My own favorites:
Perhaps the most famous shochu in Japan - the one made from barley
(mugi-shochu). Iichiko lovers have given it the nickname of (the)
"Napoleon of Shitamachi."
Made from sweet potatoes (imo-shochu), a mild and aged taste produces and carries well a noble flavor - one for 'better times.'
Produced in Shiranuka-cho, Hokkaido using shiso leaves (perilla) and
date palm, Tantakatan is a refreshing shochu - ideal year round.
Shōchū nấu từ gạo japonica giống như nihonshu, nhưng độ cồn cao hơn. Loại này được nấu tại nhiều địa phương ở Nhật Bản, nhưng nổi tiếng hơn cả là ở kumamoto,Akiata và niiquata Thứ shōchū gọi là Kumashōchū của các địa phương đông nam Kumamoto rất nổi tiếng, được chính quyền đăng ký bảo hộ thương hiệu.
Shōchū lúa mạch
Shōchū nấu từ lúa mạch vốn ra đời từ đảo Iki ở Naquasaki, nhưng hiện được sản xuất nhiều nhất tại obita.
Trước thập niên 1960, loại này không phổ biến. Nhưng từ khi công nghệ
trao đổi ion được ứng dụng vào sản xuất shōchū lúa mạch thì loại này
trở nên phổ biến. Shōchū lúa mạch Oita là một thương hiệu đã được bảo hộ.
Là thứ shōchū có từ thời ky edo, xuất phát từ phía Nam Kyushu. Thời đó, nguyên liệu nấu thứ shōchū khoai là Khoai lang. Hiện loại này vẫn được tiêu thụ rộng rãi tại Kaqoshima.
Shōchū khoai có đặc trưng là mùi thơm nổi rõ. Nói là làm từ khoai lang,
nhưng trước đây hiếm có shōchū làm từ khoai lang hoàn toàn. Mãi tới năm
1997, loại làm từ khoai lang 100% mới bắt đầu được sản xuất.
Thứ Satsumashōchū của Kagoshima có tiếng là thơm ngon và đã được đăng ký bảo hộ thương hiệu.
Là thứ shōchū mà nguyên liệu chính để nấu là soba.Loại này xuất hiện lần đầu vào năm 1973, hiện chỉ được sản xuất chủ yếu tại vùng núi ở Miyazaki, nơi có đặc sản soba nổi tiếng.