Shochu: How to Drink it and How it Differs From Other Drinks

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In the mood for a drink? But which one to choose? Why not go with Japanese shochu!

Shochu is a type of Japanese alcohol made from various ingredients, such as barley, rice, or sweet potatoes. It’s typically distilled two or three times and can be enjoyed either neat or mixed with cold water or juice. It’s a popular drink in Japan for cocktails or mixed with food.

Let’s look at what makes shochu unique.

What is shochu

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Understanding Shochu: A Versatile Liquor Born in Japan

What Makes Shochu Different from Other Alcohols?

Shochu is a type of liquor that is produced through a unique manufacturing process that sets it apart from other alcohols. Unlike whiskey, vodka, or other spirits, shochu is not simply brewed or distilled. Instead, it is made through a combination of fermentation and distillation, using a key ingredient known as koji.

Koji is a type of mold that grows on grains, vegetables, or other foods, and aids in breaking down the starches and sugars found in these ingredients. In the case of shochu, koji strains are added to a base of barley, potato, or other grains, which are then fermented and distilled to produce the final product.

One important note about shochu is that it is traditionally produced without any added sugars or flavorings. This means that the taste of shochu stays true to its natural, original flavor, which can range from slightly nutty and earthy to floral and fruity, depending on the type of koji used and the manufacturing process.

What Are the Different Types of Shochu?

There are dozens of varieties of shochu, each with its own unique flavor profile and adaptations to the manufacturing process. Some of the most common types of shochu include:

  • Imo shochu: Made from sweet potatoes, this type of shochu is characterized by its rich, sweet taste and is often compared to whiskey or brandy.
  • Mugi shochu: Made from barley, this type of shochu is lighter and sweeter than imo shochu, and is sometimes compared to vodka.
  • Kome shochu: Made from rice, this type of shochu is traditionally produced in southern regions of Japan, such as Okinawa, and has a milder, smoother taste than other types of shochu.
  • Sesame shochu: Made from sesame seeds, this type of shochu has a nutty, savory flavor that pairs well with Asian food preparations.
  • Sobacha shochu: Made from roasted buckwheat, this type of shochu has a distinctive, smoky flavor that is often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink.

How Is Shochu Served?

Shochu can be served in a variety of ways, depending on personal preference and the occasion. Some common ways to enjoy shochu include:

  • On the rocks: Shochu can be served over ice, which helps to bring out its natural flavors and aromas.
  • With water: Adding a splash of water to shochu can help to mellow out its taste and make it more refreshing.
  • With soda: Mixing shochu with soda water or a citrus-flavored soda, such as Aperol or lemon-lime, can create a light, refreshing cocktail.
  • Neat: Shochu can also be enjoyed on its own, served in a small glass and sipped independently.

One of the key benefits of shochu is its versatility. Whether served independently or mixed into a cocktail, shochu can be adapted to suit a wide range of tastes and preferences.

The History of Shochu

Origins of Shochu

Shochu is a traditional Japanese liquor that started over 500 years ago in the southern part of Japan. The spirit resulted from a combination of basic brewing techniques and a unique distillation process that underlines the production of shochu. The use of koji, a mold that breaks down starches into sugars, is a crucial step in the production of shochu.

Historical Records of Shochu

The oldest direct reference to shochu can be found in a document signed and dated August of the year Eiroku (1558) during the Edo period. Historically, shochu was attested to when the missionary Francis Xavier visited Japan and recorded the drink as “arak.” He saw many people inebriated immediately after drinking it.

Early Production of Shochu

The earliest known record of shochu production was found working inscribed on a wooden plank. The priest who made the shochu was known to be stingy, and he gave the drink to his followers only a few times a year. During the Edo period, shochu was known as kasutori, which was made by distilling sake lees in a pot.


The History of Shochu

The history of shochu can be traced back to the 16th century when the Portuguese introduced the distillation process to Japan. At that time, shochu was made from amazake, a sweet rice wine, and was considered a medicinal drink.

During the Edo period, shochu became more popular and was made from various ingredients such as barley, sweet potatoes, and rice. Kasutori, a type of shochu made from the lees of sake, was also popular during this time.

In the Meiji period, the introduction of new machinery revolutionized the production of shochu, making it possible to mass-produce the liquor at an affordable price.

The Meaning of the Name

The name “shochu” is written in kanji as 焼酎, which literally means “burnt liquor.” The first character, 焼, means “to burn,” while the second character, 酎, refers to a type of liquor that is made by heating it.

The characters used to write “shochu” are considered archaic and obsolete, and are rarely used in modern Japanese. However, they can still be seen in some places, such as on old signs or in historical documents.

The First Recorded Use of the Term

The first direct reference to shochu can be found in a wooden plank inscribed with the following characters: 燒酒燒酒. This plank was signed and dated August of the year Eiroku 5 (1562) and is historically attested to have been used by a priest who was known for being stingy. According to legend, the priest gave his guests shochu instead of wine or whiskey, which led to them becoming inebriated immediately and lying down.

The Difference Between Shochu and Soju

Shochu is often compared to soju, a similar liquor that is popular in Korea. While both liquors are made using the same distillation process, there are some differences between the two:

  • Shochu is usually made from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice, while soju is made from rice or other grains.
  • Shochu has a lower alcohol content than soju, usually around 25%, while soju can have an alcohol content of up to 50%.
  • Shochu is usually consumed straight or on the rocks, while soju is often mixed with other beverages.

The Cultural Significance of Shochu

Shochu in Social Settings

Shochu is a mixed drink that is largely consumed in casual settings, such as with friends or at home. It is often played a special role in Japanese rituals and is a way to communicate welcome and important events. Shochu is an important way to build communities and make friends.

Shochu Brewing and Taste

Shochu is brewed from a variety of starches, including rice, and the taste usually depends strongly on the nature of the starch used. Shochu is described as having a fruity flavor and is usually drunk in a variety of ways, according to season and personal preference. Shochu can be added to diluted room temperature oolong tea, fruit juice, or chūhai, which is a mixed drink consisting of soda, ice, and various fruit flavors such as apple or ume.

Shochu in Urban Areas

Shochu is widely available in liquor stores and convenience stores in Japan, with canned chuhai drinks being sold in ubiquitous vending machines. However, it can be difficult to find outside of urban areas. Interest in shochu is growing in North American cosmopolitan cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, where dedicated shochu bars are beginning to appear.

Shochu Mixing Techniques

Shochu is a common mixer, especially in cooler months, and is poured over other liquids to mix naturally without stirring. The standard ABV of shochu exceeds that of beer and wine, making it a stand-out traditional technique. The early 20th century witnessed the consumer’s interest in shochu, and the traditional technique of maewari is still used today.

Varieties of Shochu

The Main Grains Used in Shochu Production

Shochu is a distilled liquor that is primarily born in Japan. The main grains used in shochu production are barley, sweet potato, rice, and buckwheat. The content of the enzyme that converts starch into sugar is different for each grain, resulting in different flavors and aromas.

The Two Main Types of Shochu

There are two main types of shochu: honkaku and blended. Honkaku shochu is made from a single ingredient, while blended shochu is made by blending two or more types of shochu. Honkaku shochu is further divided into three subcategories:

  • Otsurui: made from a single grain
  • Korui: made from a mixture of grains
  • Konwa: made from a mixture of grains and koji (a type of fungus)

The Characteristics of Honkaku Shochu

Honkaku shochu is fairly thick and has a grain-like taste. It is similar to sake in that it shares some of the same production processes. Honkaku shochu is best enjoyed on the rocks or with a pair of drops of water to bring out its fragrance and distinctive flavors. It is also excellent when paired with tempura or chicken.

How to Enjoy Shochu

There are many ways to enjoy shochu, and it all depends on personal preference. Here are some popular ways to serve shochu:

  • On the rocks: pour shochu over ice and enjoy its heartwarming taste
  • With hot water: add hot water to shochu to obtain oyuwari, a special drink that is perfect for sharing with friends
  • With cold water: pour shochu over ice-cold water to create a refreshing drink
  • With yuzu: add yuzu to shochu for a citrusy twist
  • With soda: mix shochu with soda for a simple and refreshing drink

Expert Insights

According to Yukari Sakamoto, a food and sake expert based in Tokyo, shochu is a quintessential Japanese liquor that retains the characters of the grains it is made from. Brad Smith, a shochu expert, pointed out that shochu is a heartwarming spirit that allows for delicious flavors to be acquired.

Blended Shochu

What is Blended Shochu?

Blended shochu is a type of shochu that is created by mixing two or more different types of shochu. This mixing process can be done for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To create a unique flavor profile that cannot be achieved by using a single type of shochu.
  • To increase the volume of shochu produced.
  • To combine cheaper, lower-quality shochu with higher-quality shochu to create a more affordable product.

Regulations and Subcategorization

The shochu industry is regulated by the Japanese government, and blended shochu is no exception. The government has created subcategories for blended shochu based on the volume of each type of shochu used in the mixing process:

  • “Singly blended shochu” contains at least 90% of a single type of shochu.
  • “Blended shochu” contains at least 50% of a single type of shochu.
  • “Mixed shochu” contains less than 50% of a single type of shochu.

It is important to note that some blended shochu products may be mislabeled, so viewing the label carefully is important to ensure the product is of good quality.

Blended Shochu in Japanese Culture

Blended shochu has a historical significance in Japanese culture, with the Edo period seeing the introduction of kasutori shochu, a type of blended shochu that was created by distilling leftover sake. This type of shochu was widely manufactured and offered at festivals held at the end of the season to pray for a bountiful harvest.

In modern times, the production of blended shochu has decreased as manufacturers wish to preserve the historical way of producing shochu, known as seichō, which involves a more refined brewing process. However, blended shochu has been revitalized in recent years and is now widely manufactured and consumed in Japan.

The term “blended shochu” can be confusingly used to describe inferior, moonshine-like products in some Pacific societies, but in Japan, it is a regulated and widely accepted category of shochu.

How to Enjoy Shochu

Choosing the Right Shochu

When it comes to shochu, there are a variety of options available. Here are some tips to help you choose the right one for you:

  • Single distilled shochu is generally smoother and more mellow, while multiple distilled shochu has a stronger flavor.
  • Premium shochu is made from high-quality ingredients and is generally more expensive.
  • Blended shochu is a mix of different types of shochu and can offer a unique flavor experience.

Serving Temperature

The temperature at which you serve your shochu can greatly affect its flavor. Here are some common serving temperatures:

  • Chilled: This is the most common way to enjoy shochu and is usually served at around 5-10°C. Chilling shochu reduces the aroma and accentuates the flavor.
  • Room temperature: This is a good option for premium shochu, as it allows you to savor the aroma and flavor.
  • Warmed: This is a less common practice, but some aficionados enjoy warming their shochu to around 40-50°C. This method can reduce the aroma and accentuate the flavor.

Mixing Shochu

While shochu is usually enjoyed straight, it can also be mixed with other beverages. Here are some common ways to mix shochu:

  • Mizuwari: This is a popular way to enjoy shochu in Japan. It involves diluting the shochu with cold water at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3. This method brings out the soft flavor of the shochu.
  • Oyuwari: This method involves diluting the shochu with hot water at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3. This method brings out the aroma of the shochu.
  • Soda: Mixing shochu with soda is a refreshing way to enjoy it. The ratio of shochu to soda depends on your preference.
  • Other mixers: Some people enjoy mixing shochu with other beverages, such as nihonshu (sake), fruit juice, or tea. Experiment to find your perfect blend.

Unleashing Your Inner Mixologist

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can use shochu as a base for new and exciting cocktails. Here are some ingredients you can blend with shochu to create a unique flavor experience:

  • Kokuto (brown sugar): This adds a sweet and rich flavor to your cocktail.
  • Bell pepper: This adds a fresh and slightly spicy flavor to your cocktail.
  • Ginger: This adds a spicy and aromatic flavor to your cocktail.

Health Benefits of Shochu

Shochu is a healthier alternative to other alcoholic beverages for a few reasons:

  • Shochu uses natural ingredients and has zero purines, unlike beer and some types of wine.
  • Shochu is a low-sugar drink, which means it won’t raise your blood sugar levels.
  • Shochu is a chemical compound that doesn’t raise uric acid levels in the body, unlike other alcoholic beverages.

In conclusion, there are many ways to enjoy shochu, whether you prefer it straight or mixed with other beverages. Experiment with different serving temperatures, mixers, and ingredients to find your perfect blend. And don’t forget about the health benefits of this amazing beverage! If you’re looking to buy shochu online, there are many options available in Sydney and Melbourne, so start exploring today.

Exploring the World of Shochu Bars in Japan

Shochu: A Common Base with Different Ingredients

Shochu is a distilled spirit that is produced in Japan and is known for its complex and flavorful taste. While it is typically made from barley, sweet potato, or rice, there are many different kinds of shochu that are produced using a variety of ingredients.

Shochu Bars: Places to Try Different Kinds of Shochu

If you want to come and try shochu, then visiting a shochu bar in Japan is a great way to start. These bars offer a large selection of different kinds of shochu, and you may have trouble deciding which one to try first.

Asking the Master: How to Choose the Right Shochu

If you’re having trouble deciding, you can always ask the master at the bar for recommendations. They will listen to what kind of taste you are looking for and offer you a shochu based on your preferences.

Shochu Bars: Known for Serving High-Quality Shochu

Shochu bars are known for serving high-quality shochu, which is produced by distilleries dotted around the island of Kyushu, especially in the southern regions. Many of these distilleries have protected geographical indication, which means that the shochu is originating from a specific region and follows a unique production process.

Izakaya: Traditional Places to Enjoy Shochu with Local Cuisine

Shochu bars are often located in izakaya, which are traditional Japanese pubs. These places offer a chance to get closely acquainted with the local cuisine and try different kinds of shochu that go well with the food. For example, in Kagoshima, shochu is often served with Kurobuta pork or grilled chicken cooked over charcoal.

Shochu vs. Sake: Key Differences and Similarities

While shochu and sake are both popular Japanese drinks, there are some key differences between the two. For example, shochu is typically stronger than sake, and it is produced using a unique fermentation and distillation process. However, both drinks share a great popularity in Japan and are occasionally referred to as “sake” by devotees.

Yukari Shochu: A Special Kind of Shochu

If you want to try a special kind of shochu, then Yukari Shochu is a great choice. This shochu is made by adding yukari, which is a type of red shiso leaf, to the distillation process. It has a unique flavor and is a favorite among shochu enthusiasts.

Best Shochu Bars in Japan

If you’re looking for the best shochu bars in Japan, then there are plenty to choose from. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Shochu Bar Kaku in Tokyo
  • Shochu Bar Shima in Fukuoka
  • Shochu Bar Ishizue in Kagoshima

These bars offer a wide variety of different types of shochu, including sweet potato, barley, and rice shochu.

In conclusion, exploring the world of shochu bars in Japan is a great way to try different kinds of this unique and flavorful spirit. Whether you’re a sommelier or just a curious drinker, there’s always something new to discover in the world of shochu.


Shochu Vs Soju

Alright, folks, let’s talk about the difference between shochu and soju. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “aren’t they both just fancy ways of saying ‘let’s get drunk’?” Well, yes and no.

First off, let’s talk about purity. Shochu is distilled to a higher purity than soju, meaning it’s got less junk in the trunk, if you catch my drift. So if you’re looking for a cleaner drinking experience, shochu is the way to go.

But wait, there’s more! Shochu is also designated as honkaku, which means it’s made using traditional methods and ingredients. So you know you’re getting the real deal. Soju, on the other hand, can have all sorts of additives and flavorings thrown in there. It’s like the difference between a homemade meal and a fast food burger.

And let’s not forget about alcohol content. Soju usually sits at a modest 25-35%, while shochu can pack a bit more of a punch. So if you’re looking to get turnt up, shochu might be your new best friend.

In conclusion, shochu and soju may both be spirits, but they’re definitely not created equal. If you’re looking for a cleaner, more traditional drinking experience, go for shochu. But if you’re feeling a little adventurous and don’t mind some additives, soju might be more your style. Either way, just remember to drink responsibly and have fun!

Shochu Vs Sake

First off, sake is brewed alcohol made from rice and has a fungus that stops the fermentation process, resulting in a lower alcohol content of around 15%. On the other hand, shochu is a distilled liquor made from various ingredients like sweet potato or wheat and can have an alcohol content of up to a whopping 42%. That’s right, shochu is not messing around.

But it’s not just about the alcohol content, oh no. Sake has a mellow and tangy flavor that can complement a range of foods, while shochu has a dry and strong alcoholic bite. Think of it like the difference between a sweet little puppy and a fierce dragon.

Sake has been around for over 3,000 years and is a beloved signature drink in Japan with a global fanbase. Shochu, on the other hand, has been distilled since the 16th century and is a major alcoholic drink in Japan that is gaining popularity overseas.

So, if you’re a fan of fruity sweetness and a gentle buzz, go for sake. But if you want a stiff drink with a crisp kick, shochu is your go-to. Just make sure to read the labels carefully, as the bottles can look quite similar and you don’t want to accidentally end up with a sake when you were craving a shochu. Trust me, it’s like expecting a fluffy bunny and getting a fire-breathing lizard instead.


Is Shochu Served Hot Or Cold?

So, you’re curious about shochu, huh? Well, let me tell you, this Japanese spirit is quite versatile when it comes to serving temperature. You can enjoy it hot or cold, depending on your preference and the occasion.

If you’re feeling fancy and want to savor the clean taste of shochu, you can drink it straight and neat, just like a boss. But be careful, because this high alcohol content drink can be lethal if you’re not used to it. To tone down the potency, you can add a splash of cold water or order it “on the rocks” with ice.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can mix shochu with different chasers, like cold water, soda, fruit juice, or even oolong tea. The possibilities are endless, my friend. And if you’re feeling cold during the winter months, you can warm up with a hot shochu and water, just like the Japanese do.

So, to answer your question, shochu can be served hot or cold, depending on your mood and the occasion. Just remember to drink responsibly and experiment with different ways to enjoy this rich-tasting spirit. Kanpai!

How Is Shochu Different From Vodka?

Alright, listen up folks! Today we’re talking about the differences between shochu and vodka. Now, you might think that all hard liquors are the same, but that’s where you’re wrong. Shochu is a traditional Japanese distilled spirit that is made from grains and vegetables like sweet potato, barley, rice, buckwheat, and sugar cane. Vodka, on the other hand, is purposely made to lack any distinct flavor and is usually made from potatoes or grains.

Another big difference between shochu and vodka is their alcohol content. Shochu is typically sold in Japan with an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 25-35%, while vodka usually contains around 40% ABV. So, if you’re looking to get a little tipsy, you might want to go for the vodka.

But here’s the thing, shochu has a unique flavor that comes from its base ingredients, while vodka is intentionally flavorless. This means that shochu can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, from being served straight or on the rocks, to being mixed with soda water or used as a base for cocktails. Vodka, on the other hand, is usually mixed with other ingredients to create a cocktail.

One more thing to note is that shochu is often enjoyed at different temperatures and with different serving styles depending on the specific type of shochu and the occasion. For example, imo shochu (made from sweet potato) is commonly enjoyed hot with a 60:40 ratio of hot water, which enhances its natural sweetness and aroma. Shochu can also be paired with a wide variety of foods, making it a versatile drink for any meal.

So, there you have it, folks. Shochu and vodka may both be hard liquors, but they have some pretty significant differences. Shochu has a unique flavor, lower alcohol content, and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, while vodka is intentionally flavorless and usually mixed with other ingredients. Now, go forth and impress your friends with your newfound knowledge of shochu and vodka!

What Does Shochu Taste Like?

Ah, shochu! The Japanese distilled spirit that’s been around for centuries. But what does it taste like, you ask? Well, my dear friend, it ultimately depends on the base ingredient and how many times it’s been distilled. Shochu can be made from rice, barley, sweet potato, and even buckwheat. Each base ingredient gives shochu a unique flavor profile, ranging from sweet and fruity to nutty and roasted.

But wait, there’s more! Shochu also contains sugar and amino acids, giving it hints of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness. The mouthfeel also plays a role in determining the flavor and aroma, with some shochu having a light and refreshing taste while others are more mellow and earthy.

Now, let’s talk about the different types of shochu. Sweet potato shochu has a distinct aroma and a round taste with a hint of sweetness, while barley shochu has a refreshing taste with a barley-like aroma. Rice shochu has a mellow flavor with a hint of sweetness and a light floral aroma. And if you’re feeling fancy, aged awamori shochu develops a rich flavor with a vanilla-like sweet fragrance.

So, there you have it, folks! Shochu is a versatile spirit with a wide spectrum of flavors, depending on the base ingredient and distillation method. Whether you prefer it on the rocks, diluted with water or soda, or mixed in a cocktail, there’s a shochu out there for everyone. Cheers to exploring the wonderful world of shochu!

Can You Drink Shochu Straight?

Can you drink shochu straight? Absolutely, my friend! In fact, it’s the simplest way to enjoy this delightful spirit. You can drink it neat, which means straight up without any added water or ice. But be warned, shochu is lethal when consumed neat, so sip it slowly and enjoy its unique characteristics produced from raw materials and the straight method. The recommended shochu for drinking straight is the Otsu Rui, which has a clear and rich taste.

If you’re not a fan of drinking shochu neat, you can experiment with different options. Adding water can help to release the complex flavors of the shochu, and the typical ratio in Japan is 3:2, 60% shochu and 40% water. You can also try drinking it on the rocks, which is favored by Westerners. The ice chills the shochu and releases subtle flavors, making it a refreshing drink to enjoy slowly.

In the winter months, you can try drinking shochu cut with hot water, which is a traditional Japanese way of drinking it. The hot water mellows the shochu and makes for an intense and warming drink. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try making shochu cocktails. The possibilities are endless, my friend! Just remember to experiment and enjoy the unique flavors of shochu.

What Does Shochu Pair With?

Alright, folks, let’s talk about shochu and what it pairs well with. Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit that can be enjoyed with a wide variety of foods. The key to pairing shochu with food is to match the flavor profile of the shochu with the flavors of the dish.

For example, if you’re drinking imo shochu, which is made from sweet potatoes, it pairs well with spicy and heavy foods like fried potato croquettes, lasagna, and pork dishes. On the other hand, if you’re drinking a light-flavored shochu, it pairs well with light-flavored dishes like seafood and rice dishes with cream sauces.

It’s important to note that different types of shochu have different flavor profiles, so it’s important to adjust the alcohol content according to the dish you’re pairing it with. You can mix shochu with soda or dilute it with water to improve the pairing.

Lastly, enjoy your shochu neat or on the rocks, and experiment with different temperatures to bring out different flavors. You can even enhance the flavor of your shochu by adding citrusy juice, carbonated water, or types of tea with herbs, spices, or fruit.

So, in summary, shochu pairs well with a variety of foods, and the key is to match the flavor profile of the shochu with the flavors of the dish. Experiment with different pairings and enjoy your shochu in different ways to bring out its unique flavor. Cheers!


Shochu: The Japanese spirit that’s versatile, easy to drink, and perfect for any occasion. It’s a great way to unwind after a long day and has a low alcohol content.

It’s also easy to find in the US and other countries, so give it a try!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.