Category Archives: Shochu 焼酎

Shochu on the Rocks (Shochu Rokku) with Yuzu

shochuyuzupj

If it wasn’t for the presence of the extraordinary yuzu, I would have never mentioned this simple – though excellent – drink I usually have with lime. Yuzu is an Asian citrus (shaped like a small grapefruit and either green or yellow depending on its ripeness) very popular in Japan, but quite difficult to get in Europe, apart from the bottled juice. It was one of the few food items I brought from my recent trip to Japan and also the one I was going to taste for the first time in my life. Since I had only two fruits, I promised myself to use them wisely. I knew that yuzu’s acid juice is often used as a seasoning in salads, but spicing up my weekend glasses of shochu (see below) with slices of this marvellous fruit seemed the wisest – and a more amusing – option.

I will not exaggerate if I tell you I was spellbound by the compelling aroma of yuzu’s zest. Instead of finishing my drink, I kept on inhaling its magnificent scent which has transformed my good old glass of shochu into a mysterious, sophisticated drink. I thought that this simple but elegant drink was a good excuse to share with you my discovery of fresh yuzu, but most of all to write once again about shochu, my favourite and most frequently drunk Japanese alcohol. (I have talked about it here, here and here)

I still consider shochu the most surprising alcohol discovery of my life because, honestly, I didn’t expect anything special. I have simply fallen in love with the first sip. I don’t know why it took me so many months to finally notice it in my favourite Japanese grocery, but the day I asked about shochu (I had read about it somewhere) I realised that its different brand and varieties filled at least a third of the alcohol shelves in my grocery shop. This is how my adventure began.

Shochu (焼酎) means “burning sake” (sake meaning generally alcohol) and has been produced in Japan since the XIVth century. It is distilled from different ingredients, such as barley, sweet potato, buckwheat, rice… Some shochu are also flavoured (my favourite are flavoured with shiso and… yuzu of course!). Its alcoholic content is usually between 20 – 25 %, but it can be stronger too. Apparently, the consumption of shochu has tripled since the 80s and is rising every year. It is no longer considered cheap alcohol for manual workers, it is produced with more care and some bottles reach very high prices. More and more Japanese women choose it because shochu has very few calories (35 kcal in 50 ml, which is almost 3 x less than vodka for example). Oh, and I would have forgotten to add it doesn’t end up with a hangover the following day, even drunk in big quantities! (This information was checked more than once…).

I think I love all the shochu types I have tasted: the often amber-coloured barley shochu, the nutty soba one (distilled from buckwheat), the subtle rice one or sweet potato shochu which is not sweet and which seems to be the most popular in Japan. Some shochu types (like barley for example) are reminiscent of good quality, single malt whisky, but in a subtler version. Luckily my two Japanese grocers vary the brands all the time, so I keep on discovering new bottles.

Shochu can be drunk alone, warm or cold. When it’s cold, it’s served on the rocks (“shochu rokku”) or in a “sour” (pronounced “sawa”): a weak cocktail with sparkling water and fruit juice or with sweet soda. My favourite way to drink it is on the rocks, especially in Japan where ice cubes are huuuuge and shochu stays cold for eternity without being diluted. At home I often add one or two slices of lime and sometimes just a bit of sparkling water. Of course, the better the bottle, the less you want to dilute it…

During my recent trip to Tokyo, among the glasses of shochu I had practically every night, one has left particularly vivid memories. It was an exceptionally strong barley schochu (40%) called Hundred Years of Solitude 百年の孤独 (Hyakunen no kodoku) and aged in wooden barrels. I will never forget the izakaya (pub) where with my Japanese friend we both enjoyed a glass of this fiery piece of art which seemed a subtler, mellower version of single malt whisky.

TIPS: There are two main types of shochu: produced with continuous distillation (kourui 甲類) and single distillation (otsurui 乙類) (thank you, Hiroyuki!). The latter is considered superior and above a certain price all the shochus are produced this way. The useful word to remember (and ask in a shop) is “honkaku” 本格. Apparently it means “genuine, classical method” and marks a good quality product (but not all the shochu bottles are marked this way, alas).

If you prefer a lighter cocktail with yuzu and shochu, check Nami’s (Just One Cookbook) Yuzu Sour cocktail recipe .

If you don’t have yuzu, you can of course prepare the same drink with lime.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

a generous splash of a more delicate, not aged shochu variety (I have had rice shochu here, but sweet potato shochu is a good option too)

two slices of yuzu

lots of ice

Put everything in a glass and enjoy.

(You can slightly squash the yuzu slices if you want).

 

 

 

Soba Shochu そば焼酎, or Buckwheat Shochu

It has been ages since I wrote about shochu, so it is high time I related my further adventures with this incredible Japanese product. First of all, I owe a small explanation to those who still don’t know it. Shochu (焼酎) is a Japanese alcohol distilled with different ingredients (sweet potatoes, rice and barley are the most popular) and usually has a 20-25% alcoholic content. It is becoming more and more popular in Japan, especially among women, who, apart from enjoying the taste, must be happy to discover it has very few calories (35 kcal in 50ml, e.i. 1/2 of standard vodka’s calories). Shochu also allegedly reduces heart attacks and strokes risk and it is practically hangover free.

Anyway, this lack of shochu-related posts doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying it, discovering its new varieties, brands, thinking about the difficult moments the Japanese go through, drinking to their good health and wishing them all the best. After the sweet potato shochu, the barley “IIchiko” shochu and the barley shochu with shiso, I would like to present and praise the qualities of Shochu “Towari”, my first buckwheat, or soba shochu (そば焼酎).

Shochu “Towari” comes from Miyazaki prefecture (the distiller’s website), has 25% alcohol content and is distilled from buckwheat, called soba in Japanese, used to produce soba noodles. Those, who have tasted soba noodles, buckwheat grains or anything made with buckwheat flour, know that this grain has a strong and slightly nutty flavour. Consequently, Shochu Towari has a strong, nutty, somewhat sweetish aroma and taste. While potato or barley shochu is sometimes too delicate to keep up with very spicy or hot dishes, Shochu Towari can handle very strong ingredients and high levels of capsaicin. In spite of that, like all the shochu varieties I have experienced, this one has a sophisticated, smooth and clear taste, impressing especially when compared to all the stronger Western alcohols. Moreover, according to this website, soba shochu contains fibers that remove the bad cholesterol from the body, “making it extremely beneficial to human health”.

In short, buckwheat shochu is a nice change from more delicate varieties I have tasted until now, but if bought with the “honkaku 本格” (unique distillation) mention, it guarantees a good quality but distinctive taste. Even though different shochu cocktails recipes exist, a slice or two of lime, sparkling water and ice is the maximum alteration I can appreciate. Anything more and even this strong buckwheat shochu loses its straight and elegant flavour. My shochu adventures are still continued…

Iichiko

Not only healthier breakfasts, but alcohol can also be a part of  New Year’s food related resolutions. At least it is one of mine! No, I haven’t vowed to stop drinking alcohol, since I have never believed all the dubious studies suggesting it is always unhealthy or carcinogenic and carried out with groups of alcoholics. I have simply decided to limit seriously the quantity of “ordinary” wines and opt either for shochu, a recent Japanese low-calorie delicious revelation, or for only really good wines instead. The second option is unfortunately difficult to practice on a daily basis, given the cost and other complications  (cooling the wine, finding a company to drink the whole bottle or leaving it partially drunk overnight and risking a loss of its flavour…). My staple alcoholic drink will be shochu based then.

Apart from sweet potato shochu and shochu with shiso I discovered practically at the same time, my newest discovery is Iichiko shochu. Iichiko is produced from barley, is rather a brand name than a specific kind of shochu and has different versions, all with 25-30% alcohol (see here the Iichiko producer’s website). “Iichiko” is a word the producer took from Oita dialect meaning “fine” or “good” and it certainly is good! In the shop I was a bit put off by the modern design, more commercial and Western customers – oriented, but at home the first sip made me realise the “less risky” tiny 300 ml Iichiko “Person” will not last for a very long time…

Even though the alcohol percentage of the Iichiko I have bought is similar to the sweet potato and shiso flavoured shochu I already know, this one has an even lighter, mellower, straighter, “crystal clear” taste as claims the producer. Iichiko “Person” is so sophisticated and pure, that in my opinion adding anything apart from water and ice would be unforgivable (even though the producer suggests several drinks with juice). Even a thinnest slice of lime hasn’t come to my mind! Iichiko (at least the version I have) is simply best either with ice or with the same amount of sparkling water and ice. I am impatient to see what other Iichiko versions taste like and most of all if they are available here…

Shochu (焼酎)

I don’t know how to start talking about shochu… It’s the most surprising alcohol discovery of my life. I have simply fallen in love with it. I don’t know why I have never noticed it while I spent hours in my favourite Japanese grocery. I suppose even though I was sure there are myriads of Japanese food products to discover, I always assumed the Japan produces only sake, umeshu (plum wine) and beer (oh and they produce whisky too, but I am not a whisky fan…). I am ashamed of admitting it, but even though I have always admired the Japanese way of handling food, I never liked sake and never thought them capable of producing any exciting or sophisticated alcohol….

And then, last week I heard for the first time about shochu. I was intrigued and went to ask if this intriguing alcohol is imported to Switzerland. To my surprise at least 30% of the alcohol shelves were lined up with shochu! How could I have missed them for so many years?

Shochu (焼酎) means “burning sake” (sake meaning generally alcohol) and has been produced in Japan since the XIVth century. It is distilled from different ingredients, such as barley, sweet potato, buckwheat, rice… There are also many types of shochu, depending on the way they were distilled. Its alcoholic content is usually between 20 – 25 %, but it can be stronger too. Apparently, the consumption of shochu has tripled since the 80s and it is rising every year. It is no longer considered as a cheap alcohol for manual workers, and more and more Japanese diet watching women choose it! And no wonder, since shochu has very few calories (35 kcal in 50 ml, which is about 3 x less than vodka for example). Oh, and I would have forgotten to add it doesn’t end up with a hangover the following day, even drunk in big quantities! (This information was checked…).

Shochu can be drunk alone, warm or cold. When it’s cold it’s served with ice or with sparkling water and ice. I find it irresistible with one or two lime slices.

I have tested two kinds of shochu: sweet potato and shiso (a Japanese herb). Both are transparent, have a silken texture, are very delicate and very difficult to stop drinking. Since apparently shochu is good for your health, reducing strokes and heart attack risks, I shouldn’t worry too much!

Sweet potato shochu is very soft on the palate, but of course it is not sweet! The one I have bought is “honkaku” (本格) shochu, in other words “genuine, or classical method” shochu, produced with a single distillation process, which means my first shochu ever is a good quality one (the multiply distilled, cheapest ones, are to be avoided). I will not pretend I have decrypted it on the bottle  on my own. I read it on a very helpful blog Nonjatta-shochu. Thanks to Chris Bunting I realise I have a new magic world opening before me!

Shiso shochu (tantakatan) is a bit more lively, but also very delicate, and when you close your eyes you can smell the freshly cut  green grass… This one, I managed to “read”, thanks to Chris again,  is “otsurui” (乙類) shochu, meaning “second rank”, but apparently not “second quality”, and being made also with the classical method. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to decrypt the shiso shochu cocktails recipes attached to the bottle (the photos look interesting though!). I will have to come back and ask at my grocery, and maybe buy a new bottle… There are so many different kinds of shochu, not to mention different brands….