Get to know Shochu, Japan’s lesser known distilled beverage, and understand its differences from Sake in Part One.
Shochu is a distilled alcohol that is produced in three stages. It can be made from many different ingredients including sweet potato, barley and sesame.
- Shochu is made by steeping rice and/or barley in hot water and, after cooling it down, adding Koji Mold to convert the starches into sugar
- The mixture is turned into a ‘mash’ (moto), which is then fermented for a period of days to weeks in a vessel (ranging from steel tanks to bamboo casks to earthenware pots) to create the unrefined alcohol
- A second fermentation takes place when the steamed main ingredient (sweet potato, black sugar, chestnut, etc.) is added to the mash
- After two fermentations, the alcohol is then distilled at least once
- The shochu is then diluted with spring water to about 24% – the water used here is very important in determining the elegance and flavor of the shochu
- Shochu typically goes through a maturation period – maturation techniques vary in storage vessel and location, both of which affect the shochu’s character
- The most commonly used containers for aging are stainless steel tanks, clay pots, and wooden barrels or casks
- Maturation generally takes 1-3 months; however, unlike with Whisky, longer maturations of shochu do not always improve flavor, so most shochus on the market are released relatively young
Photos by Miwako Suzuki