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….