SHOCHU, THE JAPANESE SPIRIT
Japanese shochu (焼酎) is a distilled spirit that is remarkably smooth and light with delicate, earthy notes seldom found in Western spirits. These distinctive flavors are a tribute to the local harvests - typically barley, sweet potato, sugar cane or rice - and are rooted in a deep appreciation for the purity and perfection found in nature. To capture the true essence of these ingredients, ‘honkaku’ (authentic style) shochu is distilled only one time. The traditional method of single distillation preserves and highlights the naturally occurring oils and aromas that deliver the spirit’s unfamiliar, yet exquisite flavors.
Today, there are roughly 500 working distilleries producing over 5,000 unique brands of shochu in Japan. Most of these are scattered throughout the pristine countryside on the island of Kyushu. Once perceived to be old-fashioned, an old man’s liquor, shochu is now the favorite of a younger generation of Japanese drinkers. It has even become more popular than sake; an ongoing trend that has been fueled by both men and women in their 20’s and 30’s who are rediscovering the complexities of the 500 year old spirit. Some of the appeal has been brought on by a number of reported health-related benefits, most notably that shochu has a lower calorie count when compared to other spirits.
The “sho” character (焼) means fired or burned, and the “chu” character (酎) means to concentrate, giving the meaning that shochu is a type of alcohol concentrated by fire.