Shochu 焼酎


Sweet Potato (imo), wheat/barley(mugi), buckwheat(soba)


Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan


720ml, 900ml & 1800ml


Shochu is Japan's other indigenous alcoholic beverage, but unlike sake, shochu is distilled. It is also made from one of several raw materials. The alcoholic content is usually 25%, although sometimes it can be as high as 42% or more.

Like almost all such beverages throughout the world, shochu developed as it did as an expression of region, especially climate, cuisine and available raw materials. Perhaps the factor most affecting the development of shochu is the weather. The island of Kyushu and the western part of  the island of Honshu are significantly warmer than the rest of Japan.

Unlike many other beverages, shochu is made from one of several raw materials. These include sweet potato, and shochu made from these is called "imo-jochu." Other materials commonly used include from rice, soba (buckwheat), and barley. There is even one island where there a few places that make shochu from brown sugar. It can also be made from more obscure things like chestnuts and other grains.  

And, each of these raw materials gives a very, very distinct flavor and aroma profile to the final sake. These profiles run the gamut from smooth and light (rice) to peaty, earthy and strong (potato). Indeed, each of these raw materials lends a unique flavor in much the same way that the peat and barley of each region in Scotland determine the character of the final scotch whiskey.

Perhaps the most interesting - and illustrious - of all shochu are those made from the sweet potatoes of Kagoshima Prefecture: imo-jochu. While the flavors can be heavier and more earthy than shochu made from other starches, Kagoshima imo-jochu offers complexity and fullness of flavor that makes it quite enjoyable to many a connoisseur.

Honkaku "the real thing" shochu is usually enjoyed straight, on the rocks, or with a splash of water. Another way to enjoy either type of shochu is known as "oyu-wari," which is simply mixing it with a bit of hot water. This both backs the alcohol off a bit, releases flavor and aroma, and warms the body to the very core. Unbeatable in winter, for sure. From experience, I can guarantee it will warm you from the core outward.

Shochu overall is enjoying massive popularity these days in Japan. Over the last couple of years, both beer and sake consumption have continued to drop, where as shochu has actually increased. 

While shochu has its roots in either China or Korea, probably having come across during trading, the traditional home of shochu in Japan is Kagoshima, on the island of Kyushu. In fact, the first usage of the term shochu appeared in graffiti written by a carpenter dated 1559 in a shrine in the city of Oguchi in Kagoshima.

Kagoshima is rightfully proud of their shochu heritage. It is the only prefecture in Japan that brews absolutely no sake, but only produces shochu. If you ask for sake down there, expect and enjoy the local sweet-potato distillate