Discover Shochu, How it’s Made
Whereas sake is becoming well known in the overseas market, Shochu, is often misunderstood outside Japan, sometimes hardly known at all.
In some countries, for tax purposes, it is often inaccurately labelled as “soju”, reference to the similar Korean drink.
However, if you visit Japan, shochu is one of the items that should be on your experience list for a good number of reasons, despite the main reason being getting drunk with it.
It is versatile and drinkable in different ways, (warm, mizwari, on-the-rocks) and the base of this distilled comes from many raw ingredients (i.e sweet potato, rice, barley, buckwheat, brown sugar…)
Usually a clear spirit, with versions ranging from 20% to 40% ABV.
The steaming process helps to make the dissolving of rice starch easier and also provides a sterilizing effect. The time spent washing and soaking the rice is an important part of the process.
Koji is made by sprinkling koji-kin(aspergillus oryzae) on steamed rice that has been cooled down. When the steamed rice is cooled to the optimum temperature the bacteria seeds are mixed in and left to propagate at room temperature for 2 nights. During this lime temperature and humidity levels must be closely monitored.
Yeast converts sugars into alcohol. There are suitable yeasts for shochu as there are suitable yeasts for sake. Some breweries cultivate own yeast. The choice of yeast gives variety, taste, fragrance, and profile to the final liquid.
Moromi is the preliminary mash in which the conversion of sugar into alcohol takes place in the tank. Shochu requires two preparations of moromi. In the first batch, moromi is fermented with koji, water and yeast. Then the crushed sweet potato is added. The second moromi the brewery staff, (Kurabito) constantly monitor the fermentation process and temperature every hour during the fermentation process.
Single distillation is the most traditional distilling method and is used for making “otsu-rui”. Shochu made with raw material is recognized as “otsu-rui,” and will use the single distilling method. The distilling method removes any components without alcohol and results in a high degree of purity. This kind of shochu is called “ko-rui”.
Storage & Ageing
After 6 months to 3 years, the quality of the shochu will be mild. After 3 years, the shochu will develop unique flavours. This “aged shochu” is often stored in a Kame and Tsubo (ceramic jars)
Addition of water
The original shochu (genshu) has an alcohol level of 44-60%, so water will be added to reduce the alcohol content to approximately 24-25% for otsu-rui and 35-36% for ko-rui. Ko-rui has a higher alcohol content than otsu-rui as it is usually mixed in cocktail making.