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What is Shochu

What is Shochu – an Upcoming alternative to Sake you must learn now

Whereas sake is becoming well known in the overseas market, Shochu, is often misunderstood outside Japan

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.

Sochu vs Sake

  • It is distilled whereas sake is fermented
  • Sake is made from rice; shochu can be made from sweet potato (imo), barley (mugi), rice (kome) and other ingredients, see list below.
  • It is typically stronger (on average, 20-40% alcohol vs. 15-18% alcohol)
  • They taste nothing alike, and are best enjoyed in different ways


Genshu stands for raw, original, and undiluted. Genshu must have an alcohol content of more than 36%. The flavours can be harsh, a unique aroma and strong taste that can be perceived when sipping it.

Originally Genshu has an alcohol level of 36-44% therefore water is usually added to reduce the alcohol content to approximately:

  • 24-25% for otsu-rui shochu
  • 35-36% for ko-rui

Hanatare is made in only limited quantities of only 2-3% of the total production. The alcohol content tends to be high (44%-60%) with usually strong taste but also a very concentrated fragrance.

Since Hanatare has high alcohol content, it will not freeze, so you can enjoy its super-chilled directly from the freezer, for those whom prefer not diluting with ice cubes.


Otsu-type (Otsu-rui)

With each raw material adding a different and unique flavours and aromas.

  • Imo (Sweet Potato)

Imo has a plump fragrance, and soft sweetness, often herbal, “harsh” (compared to rice or barley) and not recommendable for new beginners.

  • Mugi (Barley)

Mugi is aromatic and flavourful (umami.) The smooth, balanced flavour is pleasant and easily drinkable. It’s good for mixing into cocktails or drinking on the rocks.

  • Kome (Rice)

Kome is the original historical type made of Japonica short-grain rice, and are the smoothest, cleanest, driest type of shochu.



  1. Straight

Straight is most recommended for all Otsu-type(otsu-rui) shochu, either cold or hot.

  • Best to drink with a chaser on the side
  • Preferably chilled in advance, ideally from the freezer
  • Rich tasting shochu is best drunk at room temperature
  1. On the rocks

Served chilled “on the rocks” is a refreshing way and most popular way of drinking shochu. This way of serving works best for aged mugi (barley) shochu or Imo (sweet potato).

  • Tips on the Rocks
  • Transparent ice made with mineral water or with water that has first been boiled
  • Three or four big ice cubes
  • Pour it directly into the ice



  • Imo, Sweet Potato Shochu
    Grilled white meats, pizza, tempuras, fritters
  • Mugi, Barley Shochu
    Smoked salmon, caviar, trout
  • Kome, Rice Shochu
    Sashimi, marinated fish, tofu
  • Kokuto, Sugarcane Shochu
    Grilled chicken, pasta salads, fresh cheese
  • Awamori, Thai Rice Shochu
    Lasagne, fried sweets
  • Soba, (Buckwheat) Shochu
    Tomato base pasta, fried oysters, meat balls


Rice Steaming Stage
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.


A guide to Visiting Shochu Breweries by Kagoshima Kankou

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