Shochu on the Rocks (Shochu Rokku) with Yuzu


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).




51 Replies to “Shochu on the Rocks (Shochu Rokku) with Yuzu”

  1. Regrettably neither yuzu nor shochu are available locally so I’ll have to ask you to raise a glass in my memory the next time you enjoy your drink. 🙂

    1. I’m sorry you cannot get shochu where you live (I saw yuzu here only once in my life…), but I hope one day an Asian shop will carry it. In the meantime of course I will drink at least one glass to your good health this weekend (by the way, how are you? you haven’t written anything on your blog, but i read somewhere that you have had the surgery finally; I hope you feel better now).

      1. I made a version of Nami’s Shochu sour using Soju which was very tasty. Never DID find yuzu in town … even the Japanese grocery store did not carry the extract, only a pre-prepared salad dressing with oil etc using yuzu.

        I’m doing ok. Going to London tomorrow to have my surgical incision checked. A long way to go (2 1/2 hrs drive each way) for a 5 minute examination and as I can’t drive for 6 weeks post op, I had to prevail on my nephew to take me there…again. And then again in another 4 weeks. It’s all very exhausting. I’m on crutches and my ‘cooking’ is limited to toast and hard boiled eggs. Even though I could probably post something, I really don’t have the inspiration to do it these days. I’m barely reading some of my blogs. 🙁

        Take care.

        1. I have heard that soju is very similar to shochu, but have never tasted it.
          You are so lucky with your nephew! He seems to take excellent care of you. I am not surprised you don’t cook or post or visit blogs. You are right to take a break and take care of yourself. I hope you will feel better soon. Take care!

  2. Thanks for the very interesting and useful info on shochu. Until very recently I didn’t know there was shochu in Japan. I should have guessed considering many similarities between Korean and Japanese food/drinks. Very very curious to try that ‘whisky shochu’. Not sure if I can find it here. As an alternative I might add some vodka to whisky to dilute the whisky taste:)
    When you say one shochu left vivid memories – does it mean the rest left no memories because you have one too many glasses:)

    1. Thank you so much, Mr. Three-Cookies. I’m glad you didn’t find it boring. It’s true that from my trip to Tokyo only this shochu left vivid memories. All the other shochus were very good, but this one was a pure miracle (accidentally I have read today that it costs really a lot of money). The funny thing is that it was the only night when we really drank a lot with my friend, so this shochu must really have been impressing if I remember the taste and emotions and not only dizziness 😉
      Otherwise there are some shochus I bought in my city (like Iichiko I wrote about) which are also very special and which I will always remember.
      I have never tasted the Korean similar alcohol, although they sell it in my grocery shop (only one variety). I must test it one day.

  3. 750 ml Hykunen no kodoku shochu 139$. It has to be good, no?! Once again, I would like to visit an izakaya and have this too together with some snacks. Concerning Yuzu, wonder why they don’t grow it in spain.

    1. Kiki, I had no idea it was sooo expensive! This shochu was more expensive than the others we have ordered, but the difference was rather small, so I have never suspected how much a bottle would cost (especially since shochu is really very affordable in izakayas…).
      I wonder even why they don’t grow it in Italy or south of France because apparently it’s very resistant comparing to other citrus fruits (maybe it could even grow in milder regions of Germany???).

  4. What an interesting drink and again you have enticed me with your descriptive and compelling words. I shall check our LCBO for this lovely libation.

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. I hope you can find some shochu. It’s so delicate and good (but I would advise sweet potato or rice shochu to start with, they are usually milder and less risky than for example buckwheat ones).

    1. Hi, Jed. I would love every single bar in the world to serve shochu. After my trip to Japan I wonder why they never serve huge ice cubes in Europe (I suppose they don’t do in the US either… it was such a visual pleasure and the drinks stay cold without being diluted).

  5. Unfortunately we are unable to bring fresh fruit (veg and meat) into Australia, but I have seen 100% natural yuzu juice at a trade show recently and really liked the face-wrenching sourness of the juice. Sounds like a nice cooler for hotter days.

    1. I think we are allowed as long as it’s not from certain regions of the world. Fresh yuzu juice is also excellent.

  6. “Burning sake” – I love the description and you make it sound so enticing Sissi… I’ve never had a drink with these elements. I’ll have to keep an eye out to see if our LCBO carries shochu – I’m curious now!

    1. Thank you very much, Kelly. I hope you can buy shochu one day. As I said it’s perfect: delicate, subtle taste, low-calorie, doesn’t provoke hangover… I don’t want to generalise, but women seem to love it (although my husband likes it too).

  7. I saw the words “burning sake” and “drunk” … ha. Kidding.
    Very interesting post about yuzu and shochu. I’ve always thought yuzu was used when ripe (yellow) since I’ve never actually seen a fruit and have always seen the marmalade or pickle. I’ve recently done a review and one of the beverages used yuzu and it was also yellow. I’d love to actually taste the real fruit one day.
    Now you’ve also got me all interested in shochu. No prizes for guessing what I’m gonna do next ….. no, not get drunk, tsk.

    1. Haha! There is a proverb saying that the hungry one thinks about bread 😉 The weekend approaches and you need a glass of something strong.
      Thanks a lot, Ping. Maybe it was my bad luck but in two shops where I checked yuzus were only green like limes. I hope you taste shochu one day. I’m sure you would love it!

  8. Sissi, I wonder whether shochu is what I tend to order at Japanese and Korean restaurants? On the menu it’s just listed as hot sake, and I enjoy how fast it gives me a buzz, I can certainly imagine having the yuzu would give it the kick and taste most cheap sake I’ve ordered throughout the years. Haha!

    Have a great weekend, this week flew by! Kitchen tile construction is starting tomorrow and I am excited!

    1. Jeno, I have no idea because sake means in Japanese both “alcohol” and “sake”… Moreover shochu can also be served with warm water. In Japan I always ordered saying “shochu”. You should ask next time, but if you drink it in small ceramic cups and warm I’m almost sure it’s sake not shochu. Good luck with the kitchen renovation! Have a lovely weekend too!

  9. Mm, I think they have a plum shochu at my local Japanese store in Paris – it’s so good, and really addictive when it’s all icy cold! I’m not a big alcohol drinker as you know, but I’m feeling really thirsty right now and the picture of that frosty glass is really making me want to drink it, haha 😀

    1. Thanks a lot, Charles. You mean “umeshu” (there is no plum shochu from what I know), which is Japanese plum liqueur (they call it wine, but it’s produced like liqueurs and not wines, actually home-made umeshu is made according to the method we both used in our fruit alcohols).
      Shochu is a distilled alcohol, closer to vodka, but usually half as strong and much more mellow in taste (so mellow that women love it), but it’s never sweet. I even had shochu distilled from sugar and it wasn’t sweet. I’m sure your Japanese shop sells it too, so I hope you can try it one day.

      1. Hi Sissi – perhaps you’re right… I’m sure it was called shochu because the name seems really familiar, although I was drinking it with a Korean friend, not a Japanese one, so maybe they got the name wrong (or my memory fails me).

        1. Haha! Maybe you had a bit too much of it 😉 There is another possibility: you had a shochu cocktail with plum but it would be a very weak cocktail, not just alcohol on the rocks. This salty plum and shochu cocktail is quite popular in Japan (but I didn’t like it, I couldn’t feel anything apart from the salty plum). It might be called “Plum Shochu Cocktail” in Europe.

  10. I’m closing my eyes and imagining what this drink might taste like, as I’m not sure when I’ll find shochu or yuku ….and finding both together, well that would be cause to by a lottery ticket! Your night with One Hundred Years of Sollitude sounds like a memorable evening — especially since it was shared with a good friend. Have a good weekend Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, Barb. I think you have much more chances to find shochu than yuzu fruit (especially if it’s difficult to import fresh fruit to Canada… In Switzerland laws are not that strict and yet I have seen yuzu only once in my life.). This special shochu was very… special indeed and as you say the company counted of course a lot. The place also did, because everything tasted better in Japan 😉

  11. Sissi how will you use the remaining yuzu? Your vivid description of the fragrance makes me want to experience it even if I cannot enjoy the shochu.

    1. Thank you so much, Zsuzsa! Today is Friday… Beginning of the weekend… I have a second yuzu, lots of ice and shochu 😉 (You know now how I will use it).
      If one day you have a chance to find yuzu, I’m sure you would love it with sparkling water too if you don’t drink alcohol.

  12. And you say that I introduce YOU to a strange assortment of things, well – sister – what the heck is yuzu and shochu? 🙂 Actually, thank you for telling us what they are! I’ve never heard of either, but looking at this drink, I would LOVE a sip of that! Sweet potato shochu? Interesting? Great post!!!

    1. MJ, this is what I love in blogging. One’s ordinary meal might be an extraordinary discovery for someone else (not that yuzu is my daily fare alas, but shochu has become two years ago my default drink if I don’t feel like opening a bottle of wine). I hope you can taste shochu one day. It’s extraordinary but so friendly at the same time 😉

  13. I hope you make good use of your yuzu zest! You can cut it into strips and freeze them for future use, as a suikuchi 吸い口 or 吸口 (fragrant garnish for soup) and on top of chawanmushi, for example.

    Other useful words to remember about shochu include kourui 甲類 (category of shochu made with continuous distillation) and otsurui 乙類 (category of shochu made with single distillation). My favorite is the former, because it’s much cheaper and can be used in a variety of ways. I’m quite sure that yuzu sour is usually made with kourui shochu.

    1. Thank you very much, Hiroyuki. I knew about the single distillation (I have mentioned it above) but I had no idea how it’s called so thank you very much for the correct terms. I will update the post. I never buy the cheaper one because it’s not cheap at all here (the difference is small and the quality I suppose much worse). On the other hand I never made sours the Japanese way, i.e. with a small amount of alcohol. I like to feel the taste of shochu quite distinct, so the only thing I do apart from “rokku” is adding a bit of sparkling water but never more than 1:1.
      I tasted in Tokyo several sours and only in one okonomiyaki place there was a big amount of shochu there. Otherwise they were very good, but not enough alcohol to my taste.

    2. Oh, and thank you so much for the yuzu use ideas. I will try it in chawanmushi. It must taste great!

  14. What a simple and delightful cocktail! I’m not sure I could find both (or either!) ingredients here, but maybe someday I can try it in Japan 🙂

    1. Thank you, Liz. You are lucky to have yuzu fruits in your area! It certainly will taste better in Japan 😉 Although I have never seen shochu served on the rocks and with yuzu (only either on the rocks or with yuzu in a low-alcohol cocktail).

  15. Hi Sissi, I think this is the second post I missed on your blog; now catching up. I did a little googleing after I read you post about the Shochu, and the Yuzu. Such a coincidence, because last evening we had some ‘custom made’ sushi rolls that I picked up at our favorite ‘awesome’ supermarket where they have authentic Japanese sushi chefs in their seafood dept. I also picked up a decent bottle of Sake. Everything was so amazing…regretfully, no photos taken!

    Now, to get to the subject of Sochu! I’m copying and pasting the link, because I am so thrilled that you introduced me to this fabulous cocktail that I surely want to try, and it’s really quite affordable. Also, I’m certain I can get some Yuzu at our longtime favorite Asian market that carries Asian vegetables, and some fresh fruits. So, now I’m on a ‘mission’ Sissi…thanks to you! Seriously, I do appreciate your interesting info, and more stories about your trip to Japan. Now, I’m tracking back to your previous post that I think I also missed:)

    1. Thank you, Elisabeth, for such kind words. I am glad I didn’t bore you. I also have problems to keep up with all the posts my blogging friend produce at such a quick pace. The fact that you didn’t take photos proves that the moment was too exceptional to think of a camera…
      Can you imagine I haven’t had a single glass of sake in Japan? I simply feel an awful ignorant about sake, so I preferred to stuck to the shochu I drink in Switzerland all the time and can appreciate more (although I’m not a connoisseur of course!).
      I hope you can taste shochu one day. It’s really fantastic.

    1. Elisabeth, this one is simply unforgettable! Subtle, delicate, sophisticated… If you buy this one, don’t mix with any juice (ice is enough). I wouldn’t even add yuzu…
      This one is a bit closer to a single malt whisky…
      And I think these above are the only bottles I know from this shop. Prices are quite similar in Switzerland.

  16. Hi Sissi! I know you will use your precious yuzu for this drink! 😀 I can imagine it was all worth it. 🙂 It’s so interesting to know that someone who’s far far away from Japan is enjoying yuzu and shochu so dearly. I’m really happy to hear that and make me smile. 🙂 Thanks for the shout out. You are an expert in knowing and explaining in details! I love reading your posts – very education, even you are talking about Japanese things!

    1. Thank you once more, Nami, for all the kind words. Yuzu is soo good I must watch my Japanese grocery shops closely to see if they don’t sell it (they did two years ago and I didn’t buy because it was expensive…). I still have some yuzu left for this weekend’s drinks. It changes completely the ways I see my glass of shochu.

  17. Sissi, this is a great post about shochu. And a real yuzu! Wow, what a treat. My mom has been talking about planting a yuzu tree in her yard, so I can’t wait to snag some fruit from her. In the meantime, I am filled with envy…

    1. Thank you so much, Azusa. Your comment means a lot to me. I love shochu and I have enjoyed discovering it so much on my first trip to Japan, I haven’t had a single sip of sake! The only thing I regret is not taking more yuzu fruits. They keep so well in the fridge… Next time I will buy at least a kilo. It’s such an extraordinary fruit, I don’t know why no one grows it in Southern Europe.

      1. I’ve recently discovered all the dishes you’ve cooked from Humble Bean! Thank you so much for featuring them on your site and photographing the recipes so beautifully. I’m glad we have a mutual affinity for Japanese cuisine!

        1. Azusa, thank you so much for visiting and for leaving such kind comments. Japanese cuisine is for me definitely the best in the world (my first recent trip to Japan only confirmed it) and your blog is one of the most inspirating I know. I have prepared several of your wonderful dishes and never get tired of them (your tomato and shiso salad an shoyu chicken are staples in my house). I have only left comments on your blog saying the dishes were excellent, but maybe I should have boasted more leaving links to my posts 😉 I will do this next time!

  18. Sissi, that is so kind of you. I like to hear about people’s experiences with the recipes, so please do leave a link! Your post on your trip makes me want to go back…!

    1. OK, I promise I will not be shy next time I use your recipe 😉 (I’m happy you liked my trip post in spite of the bad photos… I didn’t want to leave Japan at all and will certainly be back next year).

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