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What is Japan Shochu and how to drink it


UpdateSeptember 12, 2022
ReleaseJuly 25, 2018

Do you know “shochu”?
Sake is probably the most famous Japanese alcoholic beverage, but Japan also has original spirits as popular as sake: shochu. Here are some attractive aspects of shochu.

What is Shochu?

What is Shochu?
Shochu is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is affordable and popular with a wide range of people. Among various kinds of shochu, the ones that are made by Japan’s traditional methods and have an enhanced flavor of the ingredients are called “honkaku shochu” (authentic shochu). Honkaku shochu can be enjoyed in various styles and goes well with any kind of dish, and is thus well liked by Japanese people.

Various Kinds of Shochu

The flavor and taste of shochu depend on the ingredients. Try different kinds at a Japanese pub.

Kuro Kirishima (imo, sweet potato)
Kuro Kirishima is made from soft water containing a moderate amount of minerals from the Kirishima Mountain Range and sweet potatoes. It has a pleasant sweetness as well as a refreshing aftertaste. It is best enjoyed on the rocks or with water.

iichiko (mugi, Barley)
Made from Barley, this shochu has a simple, sophisticated, and clear taste. It goes well with any type of dish, never making people get tired of drinking it. It is best enjoyed on the rocks or with water.

Shiro (kome, rice)
Made from rice, it has a mild taste and can be enjoyed much like sake. It goes well especially with fatty dishes and dishes with Worcester sauce. It is best enjoyed with carbonated water.

Zuisen (awamori)
Awamori, a kind of shochu made only in Okinawa, is made from Indica rice. It can be enjoyed on the rocks, straight, or with carbonated water. Like whisky and wine, awamori has vintage grades.

How to Drink Shochu

Shochu can be enjoyed in your favorite style, including straight, on the rocks, and with water. When you order shochu at a Japanese pub, the list below may be helpful.

You can enjoy the natural flavor and taste of the ingredients.

On the rocks
You can enjoy the flavor of the ingredients along with coldness in the mouth. It is a popular drinking style among the younger generation.

Mizu-wari (with water)
Recommended for the shochu beginners. The addition of some water lowers the alcohol content, making it easier to drink and offering a cooling sensation.

Oyu-wari (with hot water)
Hot water makes it milder and enhances the sweetness and aroma.

Soda-wari (with carbonated water)
It gives an exhilarating feeling. It is a drinking style that has recently become popular.

Cocktails expand the possibilities for shochu to be enjoyed, with various ingredients.

Recommended Shochu Distillery Tours

Kirishima Factory Garden
You can observe the particular production processes for two of Japan’s most popular honkaku shochus, “Shiro Kirishima” and “Kuro Kirishima.”
10 min. by taxi from JR Miyakonojo Sta.
A reservation by phone for the factory tour is required in advance (Kirishima Shuzo Co., Ltd.: +81-986-21-8111)
Shibita-cho 5480, Miyakonojo City, Miyazaki
Shibita Factory’s factory tour: starting at 11:00 and 13:30 (twice a day) (a tour takes about 30 min.)
Tel: +81-986-21-8111

(1) You can join a factory tour by the shochu manufacturer with Japan’s highest sales.
(2) There is a restaurant where you can enjoy local dishes of Miyazaki.
(3) You can purchase exclusive products available only at the factory.

Kirishima Factory Garden, Official site:www.kirishima-fg.jp/
*The factory tour guide is offered in Japanese. Brochures in English, Chinese, and Korean are available.
Kirishima Shuzo, Official Global site:www.kirishima-global.com/co/en/

iichiko Hita Distillery
You can sample unprocessed and matured versions of iichiko, one of Japan’s most popular mugi-shochus.
About 1 hour by car from Fukuoka City.

(1) You can sample all kinds of shochu and purchase limited products at a duty-free store.
(2) Multilingual signs (English, Chinese, and Korean) are posted inside the sampling shop and factory guideboard.
(3) You can freely go around inside the factory.

Nishiarita 810-1, Hita City, Oita
Business hours: 10:00-16:00
Tel: +81-973-25-5600
Official site:www.iichiko.co.jp/factory/

Hakutake Denshogura
This shochu museum offers a tour to observe the production processes for Hakutake, honkaku shochu made with rice, and to learn about the history of traditional Kuma-shochu.
10 min. by taxi from JR Hitoyoshi Sta.

*Available in Japanese, English, Chinese (Pekingese), and Korean.
There is an exhibition that shows how kome-shochu used to be made.
You can purchase kome-shochu (and umeshu plum liquor made with it) made by Takahashi Distillery as well as products and souvenirs from 28 kuma-shochu distilleries.

Gonoharu-machi 461-7, Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto
Business hours: 9:00-16:00 (last admission at 15:30)
Tel: +81-966-32-9750
Official site:www.denshogura.jp/

Shochu, Actually Healthy

Shochu also attracts attention from people as a healthy alcoholic beverage. First, shochu contains no carbohydrates and therefore is low in calories. Especially, honkaku shochu and awamori have no additives, as they are made only from natural ingredients. Secondly, honkaku shochu and awamori are 1.5 times more effective in thrombolysis than polyphenols in wine. So, you can expect that drinking honkaku shochu and awamori will improve your blood flow. For such reasons, shochu attracts health-conscious Japanese people with its positive health effects.

Special Drinking Sets for Serving Shochu

Kuro-joka (Kagoshima)
This is a set of drinking vessels, which have been handed down for generations in Kagoshima, for enjoying shochu. People in this area practice hospitality by mixing water and shochu on the day before their guests arrive, and on the next day warm it on direct heat, such as a hibachi brazier, before serving it to the guests.

Gara and Choku (Kumamoto)
A set of drinking vessels, which has been handed down for generations in the Kuma region, Kumamoto Prefecture, consists of a bottle called “gara” and small cups called “choku.” Gara can be directly put on heat to warm up the shochu inside. Pour warm shochu into choku to let the mild taste and aroma be enjoyed.

*The information in this article is current as of July, 2018. It is subject to change without notice.