Ordering shochu can be intimidating – it’s only starting to gain popularity outside of Japan and because there are so many different varieties, it can be difficult to choose the “right” one for your palate. If you’re curious to try this Japanese spirit but don’t know where to start, here’s our beginner’s guide to ordering (and drinking) shochu.
Not to be confused with Korean soju, Japanese shochu is a distilled spirit. It’s stronger than sake and wine in terms of alcohol content, but not as strong as standard spirits like vodka and whisky (unless it’s genshu, or undiluted). Shochu is extremely versatile because it can be distilled from a variety of ingredients, including rice, barley, sweet potato, buckwheat, sugar, and chestnuts. Most singly distilled shochu starts with rice or barley as the base ingredient, adding the main ingredient during second fermentation. Given its diversity in flavor profiles, there’s likely to be a shochu for everyone. The best way to find the perfect shochu for you is to try the different types, but here are some rough guidelines as a starting point:
Rice: Rice shochu has a very clean flavor and a touch of sweetness – it’s the perfect gateway shochu. Because of these more silent flavors and the fact that it’s so easy drinking, rice shochu might appeal to vodka lovers.
Tantakatan: This is a type of rice-based shochu that’s infused with shiso. It’s fresh, clean, and makes for very easy drinking. Great for tea lovers.
Barley: Barley shochu is mellow and another great beginner’s shochu. Mellow barrel-aged barley shochu may appeal to bourbon drinkers.
Black Sugar: Reminiscent of white rum, black sugar shochu from the Amamai Islands is great for rum drinkers, as rum is made from sugarcane byproducts.
Sweet Potato: Sweet potato shochu is round and smoky – a flavor profile that Scotch whisky fans might like.
Buckwheat: Buckwheat shochu has a distinct aroma and this strong, nutty flavor is often appreciated by the older, male population in Japan. Perhaps not a beginner’s shochu…
Awamori: Awamori is shochu made in Okinawa and has a slightly different production process. It has a complex flavor profile with just a hint of sweetness and may also appeal to bourbon drinkers.
Once you decide on the type of shochu you’d like to drink, the next question is – how should you drink it? You can order it neat, which might be the best way to really taste the shochu, but that’s a little hardcore for those who aren’t familiar with the spirit. Mizuwari (cut with cold water) is perfect for when you’re enjoying shochu in the summer months, especially with Tantakatan shiso-infused shochu. Oyuwari (cut with hot water) is great for the winter, and you can also order shochu with oolong tea or juice. There’s also the popular shochu highball in Japan, the Chu Hi, which is usually shochu + soda and lemon, grapefruit, apple, or ume. Canned Chu Hi’s are available in most convenience stores throughout Japan, much like canned whisky highballs. But when it doubt, simply ordering shochu on the rocks is the way to go. Trying different types and drinking styles is the only way to find the shochu that’s truly right for you!