Guitar Aficionado

Shochu makes a splash in its Japanese homeland and abroad

Meet the drink that has replaced Sake as Japan's most popular native spirit.

SPIRIT OF JAPAN: Shochu makes a splash in its Japanese homeland and abroad

Image placeholder title

By Chris Gill | Photography by Massimo Gammacurta

For probably as long as alcohol consumption records have been kept, Sake has ranked as the most popular indigenous alcoholic beverage in Japan. That status changed however in 2003, when Shochu became the most popular drink, and since then the two have battled for the top spot. This change was brought about by a younger generation of drinkers who ignored the “working class” and “old man” image that Shochu had in Japan and were drawn to its bolder flavors, greater variety, and more potent alcoholic kick.

Whereas Sake is brewed from rice, Shochu is distilled from any number of ingredients, including barley (mugi), sweet potato (imo), rice (kome), buckwheat (soba), brown sugar (kokuto), or various other ingredients, like sesame and chestnut. More than 600 distilleries in Japan make Shochu. Single-distilled Shochu—often identified as Honkaku Shochu—generally has a higher percentage of alcohol (typically between 20 to 30 percent) than multiple-distilled (Korui) Shochu, and much bolder and more distinctive flavors. Shochu can be enjoyed straight up, although most Japanese prefer to dilute it with hot or cold water, serve it with ice, or mix it with citrus juice or oolong tea.

Nikaido Kitchomu comes in a traditional ceramic bottle and is made from 100 percent barley. It has a smooth, clean mouthfeel and delicate grain flavors that make it a perfect intro to Shochu. Kuro Kirishima comes from Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture and is distilled from a blend of sweet potato (83 percent) and rice (17 percent). It has a musky, sweet personality and pairs exceptionally well with rich Miyazaki Wagyu beef. Beni Otome, which is 60 percent wheat, 30 percent rice, and 10 percent sesame, has the bold, nutty flavor of roasted sesame seeds, which makes it a great companion for sushi or yakitori.

This is a feature from the JULY/AUGUST 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story, plus features on comedian/podcaster/writer/actor/musician Marc Maron, Matt Bruck’s collection of rare and vintage British amps, former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and his new career as a solo performer and painter, the life and times of comedian, author, and guitar aficionado Dave Hill, and much more, pick up this issue by clicking anywhere in this text.

Image placeholder title