- Types of shōchū
- The honkaku shōchū manufacturing process
- Raw ingredients
- How to drink shōchū/Matching shōchū with food
- Storing shōchū
- Shōchū and health
- Ensuring safe, high quality ingredients (The Komasa Jyozo model)
- Comparison between shōchū and other distilled liquors
Types of shōchū
- Honkaku shōchū
- Honkaku shōchū is a traditional, single-distilled Japanese spirit made by fermenting ingredients such as sweet potatoes, wheat, and rice using kōji mold. Strongly retaining the characteristic flavors and aromas of its ingredients, such as sweet potato and barley, this traditional Japanese shōchū allows the drinker to savor a taste of nature in every glass.
- Kōrui shōchū
- Kōrui shōchū is a spirit made by distilling imported crude alcohol (much of which is made from raw ingredients like molasses and corn) in a continuous still. As it generally has a mild flavor, it is often consumed neat or as a mixer in highballs and other drinks.
- Types of honkaku shōchū
1.Imojōchū – Shōchū made from sweet potatoes.Imojōchū is characterized by the distinctive sweetness of sweet potato and soft taste. It ignited the boom in demand for premium shōchū that began around 2003 in Japan. Under the WTO TRIPS Agreement, fermented moromi containing malted rice, or malted sweet potato made with sweet potatoes from Kagoshima Prefecture, and sweet potatoes and water from Kagoshima Prefecture, that has been distilled using a simple distillation system and bottled in Kagoshima Prefecture (excluding Amami city and Ōshima District) may carry the name “Satsuma Shōchū.”
2.Mugijōchū – Shōchū made from Nijo barley.
Mugijōchū is a light, easy-to-drink shōchū with a pleasant aroma, spiciness, and sweetness.
3.Komejōchū – Shōchū made from rice.
Komejōchū is characterized by the mellow aroma and sweet taste of rice.
4.Sobajōchū – Shōchū principally made from soba (buckwheat).
The taste of sobajōchū is even lighter and milder than mugijōchū.
5.Kokutōjōchū – Shōchū mainly made from kurozatō (muscovado).
Kokutōjōchū can only be made on Amami Ōshima, Kagoshima Prefecture. It has the distinctive aroma and sweetness of muscovado sugar and has a mild flavor.
6.Awamori – A distilled spirit from Okinawa Prefecture principally made from long-grain rice.
It has a characteristic vanilla-like flavor that comes from rice.
The honkaku shōchū manufacturing process
- What is the difference between shōchū and sake?
- Shōchū is a distilled spirit, but sake is a brewed beverage. The two drinks are almost identical in that they both include grains, but while moromi is distilled when making shōchū, it is compressed when making sake.
- How long does it take to make shōchū?
- The kōji production process takes around two days, preliminary preparation around one week, and secondary preparation around two weeks. The shōchū is ready in around three weeks, after which it undergoes a maturation period of around three to four months before it is bottled and packaged. There is also premium select shōchū, which is stored for at least 3 years.
- What do the preparation processes involve?
Preliminary preparation is the process wherein kōji and yeast are added to the mother water.
The starch in the raw ingredients is turned into glucose by the diastatic enzymes produced by the kōji. The yeast then feeds off the glucose and produces alcohol.
Secondary preparation is the process wherein steamed raw ingredients and water are added to the preliminary moromi to start fermentation.
The resulting spirit is known as imojōchū if sweet potatoes are used as raw ingredients, mugijōchū if barley is used, and komejōchū if rice is used.
- How is shōchū stored? What is the difference between stainless steel tanks, oak casks, and earthenware pots?
- As fresh shōchū is still young, it is stored for around three or four months to let it mellow before being shipped to market. Stainless steel tanks are the most commonly used storage medium, and the shōchū is stored until it matures naturally. Shōchū is also stored in oak casks like whisky and other spirits. Casked shōchū inherits a sweet, vanilla-like aroma and naturally takes on an amber hue over time. Shōchū stored in earthenware pots matures due to the countless minute holes in the each pot, and takes on a mellow flavor.
- What is blending?
- Blending is the process of ascertaining the individual character of each tank and mixing the shōchū so as to create a product with the desired qualities.
- What do you do with the shōchū lees?
- Moromi that has gone through the distillation process is known as “lees”. As it contains many nutrients, it is dried, powdered, and otherwise processed for use in applications such as livestock feed and health food products.
- What is kōji?
- Steamed rice or barley, etc., to which kōji mold (known as tanekōji, or mold starter,) has been added and left for approximately two days to let the mold reproduce is called kōji. Kōji contains diastatic enzymes that convert starch to glucose, and kōji production is said to be the most important step in the shōchū manufacturing process.
- What types of kōji mold are used to make shōchū?
- There are three types of kōji mold: black, white, and yellow.
Black kōji has been used since long ago to make shōchū. It produces a full flavored beverage.
White kōji arose as a mutation from black kōji. It produces a crisp tasting shōchū.
Yellow kōji is the type of kōji mold originally used to produce sake. It produces a vibrant shōchū.
- What role does yeast play in shōchū production?
- Yeast feeds off glucose to produce alcohol.
The glucose that the yeast feeds off is broken down from the starch in the raw ingredients by enzymes produced by the kōji.
- Is the rice used for shōchū the same as the rice used for sushi?
- Yes. Several varieties of rice are used to produce shōchū, one of which is the kind of rice used for sushi.
- What are Satsuma-imo (Satsuma sweet potatoes)?
- The sweet potato is a plant of the genus Ipomoea and the family Convolvulaceae.
It is a vegetable with a long history, having been cultivated since at least 2,000 BC. During a famine in the Edo period (1603–1868,) Satsuma Domain (modern day Kagoshima Prefecture) had few casualties due to starvation than other areas thanks to the local sweet potato crop. This powerful vitality and nutritional value gained attention, and sweet potato cultivation gradually spread to the rest of Japan. It is said that there are around 40 varieties cultivated in Japan and somewhere in the region of 4,000 varieties cultivated around the world.
- What is Kogane Sengan?
- Kogane Sengan is a variety of sweet potato so named because of its golden (kogane) color and the fact that it is possible to harvest 3,750 kg (sengan in traditional units of measurement) per quarter acre. Kogane Sengan is a high quality sweet potato that contains a lot of starch and is also nice to eat. It is widely used as a raw ingredient of shōchū, and produces a full flavored spirit.
- What kind of water do you use to make shōchū?
- The water used to make our shōchū is 100% natural water. Accounting for around 70% to 80% of shōchū by volume, water is an important element in determining the flavor of the final product.
- Does the quality of a shōchū depend on the quality of the sweet potatoes used as raw ingredients?
- Yes. The quality of the raw ingredients can significantly affect the final quality of the shōchū. To make a high quality shōchū, everything from the quality of the kōji to the fermentation process and distillation and storage processes must be carefully managed.
How to drink shōchū/Matching shōchū with food
- On the rocks
- Shōchū can be enjoyed by pouring over ice. Selecting the biggest ice cubes you can find will make sure that the ice melts slowly, which makes for a more consistent taste.
- With water
- Shōchū can be enjoyed by mixing with water. Put some ice in a glass, pour in the shōchū, and add the water last. The golden rule is, “Shōchū first, water last.”
This is done so that the shōchū mixes well with the water so as to bring out its flavor.
- With hot water
- To drink shōchū with hot water, add the hot water to the glass first, and the shōchū last. This will ensure that the two liquids mix evenly due to the difference in temperature. The best ratio is six parts shōchū to four parts hot water.
- Naturally, it is also possible to enjoy shōchū on its own.
- Can you make cocktails with shōchū?
- As the traditional Japanese liqueur umeshu (plum liqueur) is made from shōchū, shōchū can also be used as a cocktail base. Try using shōchū in place of vodka or gin the next time you make cocktails. It is said to have a thrombolytic and relaxing effect.
- Is it true that shōchū tastes nicer mixed with hot water than on the rocks or mixed with cold water?
- Shōchū tastes different depending on how it is consumed, but mixing it with hot water brings out its aroma and tends to result in a fuller flavor, which can make it easier to distinguish between brands.
- How do you judge/taste shōchū?
- Shōchū is rated according to color, aroma, and taste.
Check the clarity and maturity of the spirit when poured into the glass. Cask-stored shōchū and well-matured premium shōchū has an amber hue.
Take a sniff and check to see if the character of the raw ingredients is evident and what kind of flavors are evoked. Aroma is rated in terms of sweetness, vibrancy, spiciness, mellowness, and so on. Different types of flavors are created depending on conditions such as the types of raw ingredients and differences in manufacturing processes.
Take a small sip and rate in terms of characteristics like body, sweetness, roundness, and finish (aftertaste).
- What foods do you eat with shōchū in Kagoshima?
- Traditional dishes from Kagoshima Prefecture include tonkotsu (pork broth), Satsuma-age (fried fishcakes), and pork shabu-shabu (pork hotpot). As many Kagoshima dishes feature strong flavors, the palate-cleansing freshness of shōchū is said to match such meals well. Unlike many spirits, shōchū is enjoyed during the meal.
- Does shōchū have a best before date?
- No. shōchū is a distilled liquor, so it has a high alcohol content and does not go bad. It therefore has no best before date.
- Does shōchū go bad once the bottle has been opened?
- There is very little chance that shōchū will deteriorate in quality if securely sealed. However, flavor compounds may fade over time, so it should be consumed soon after opening.
- How long can I store shōchū for?
- Generally speaking, shōchū mellows out around three to four months after distillation, when it is said to be at its best. The longer shōchū is aged for, the more the character of the original ingredients gives way to mellower flavors. Drink it the way you like it best – old or new.
Shōchū and health
- What health benefits does shōchū have?
- 1.According to Professor Hiroyuki Sumi of Kurashiki University of Science and The Arts, shōchū can help to prevent thrombotic conditions such as strokes.
Kagoshima Prefecture Shōchū Distillers Association website:
From the results of experiments, have shown that premium shōchū contains large quantities of a thrombolytic enzyme known as urokinase, and that it breaks down excess blood clots in the blood and promotes circulation. It is said to be 1.5 times as effective at preventing blood clots than red wine, which is said to be rich in polyphenols.
2.The aroma of imojōchū is rich in a fragrant compound called linalool. Linalool is a substance that composes the aroma of plants such as roses and lavender, and is held to have anti-anxiety effects, soothing properties, and other benefits in aromatherapy.
- What nutritional components does shōchū have?
- As shōchū is a distilled liquor it contains no sugars and is a low-calorie alcohol.
- Is it true that shōchū doesn’t give hangovers?
- Compared to brewed beverages like wine and beer, shōchū is said to be less likely to cause a hangover. The reason for this is that premium shōchū activates a thrombolytic enzyme that dissolves clotted blood (urokinase) to a greater extent than any other alcoholic drink. Drinking premium shōchū therefore improves circulation, and circulates nutrients, yeast, and fluids in the blood around the body. Consequently, it is said that shōchū improves the function of the liver and pancreas, speeding up the rate at which the body breaks down alcohol.
Ensuring safe, high quality ingredients (The Komasa Jyozo model)
- Why do you use contracted farms? How many contracted farms do you do business with?
- We have made shōchū with the help of commercial farms for over 20 years. Clearly identifying the commercial farms that we deal with allows us to deepen communication with our producers, making it possible to produce shōchū with safe, high-quality raw ingredients. We currently have contracts with around 200 commercial farms.
- Where do you source your Satsuma sweet potatoes from?
- The sweet potatoes we use are primarily sourced from the nearby towns of Kinpōchō, Fukiagechō, and Hiyoshichō in Kagoshima.
- Why do you have your own farm? (Kozuru Farms)
- Kozuru Farms plays three roles. It is used as a commercial farm to develop new types of sweet potatoes and carry out test production of new shōchūs, and as a training center to educate our employees and business partners about sweet potato growth. Kozuru Farms opened in May 2007.
- What makes a quality sweet potato?
- In shōchū manufacturing, the starch content of the sweet potato is an important metric in determining production volume. Other important factors that we look for in high-quality sweet potatoes are appropriate size, clean shape, freshness, and lack of pest damage.
- What kind of environmental initiatives have you put in place with regard to sweet potato production?
- To produce sweet potatoes, farmers cover raised beds in black plastic sheeting known as “plastic mulch” and make holes in it at regular intervals in which to plant the seedlings. The plastic mulch is intended to prevent weed growth and to assist root growth by helping to build up heat.
At Komasa Jyozo we primarily use a biodegradable plastic mulch containing shōchū lees that degrades naturally over time, which eliminates the need to recover the plastic sheeting and is more environmentally friendly.
Comparison between shōchū and other distilled liquors
- How is shōchū different to other distilled liquors from Asia?
Chinese shōchū (Baijiu)
To make this distilled liquor, mochikōji, solid kōji starter cakes made from crushed raw ingredients such as barley and wheat mixed with water, are interred and sealed in underground fermentation tanks. Due to this production method, baijiu is affected by a variety of microorganisms.
Korean shōchū (Soju)
The majority of soju is made by distilling molasses made from cereals such as rice and wheat in a continuous still, and adjusting the strength and taste by adding water to the 95 percent pure alcohol that results.
- How is shōchū different from spirits like gin, vodka, and tequila?
Vodka is a distilled spirit made from raw ingredients that include grains such as corn, wheat, and barley, and tubers such as potatoes. The ingredients are mashed, fermented, and distilled, and the resulting alcohol is then filtered through white birch charcoal.
(Alcohol content is generally around 40%–50%)
Gin is made by soaking juniper berries or other medicinal herbs in a spirit produced by mashing, fermenting, and distilling grains using malt and enzyme agents. After soaking, the spirit is re-distilled to produce a clear, colorless alcohol.
(Alcohol content is generally around 40%–45%)
Tequila is made from the agave azul, an agave plant indigenous to Mexico. The plant’s stalksare mashed and fermented, and the resulting spirit is distilled at least twice.
(Alcohol content is generally around 50%–55%)