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Shochu is a popular Japanese beverage with an average 25% alcohol content. It has been made since at least the 16th century in Japan and is produced primarily on Kyushu, a small island. The beverage can be made from a variety of ingredients, including sweet potatoes, barley, soba, rice, or brown sugar. A few other products like sesame or chestnut may also form the base of shochu or be added. With its alcoholic content, this beverage is stronger than beer or wine, but not as strong as most “strong” drinks like whiskey, vodka or gin.
At one time, the drink was considered an “old man’s drink,” but careful marketing made the shochu market explode in 2004, with many young people, especially young women, purchasing large quantities. Unlike many other hard drinks, it is much lower in calories, making it a popular drink. The shochu boom was not without its effects, and it drastically reduced the sweet potato crop because demand for the drink was high.
Depending on the base, shochu can vary in taste. Brown sugar variants are not particularly sweet. Barley is considered to yield a mild taste, buckwheat milder still. Sweet potato tastes strong, sometimes comparable to almonds. Most people either really enjoy or really dislike the sweet potato variety because of its distinct flavor notes. Rice shochu is usually one of the most favored forms.
Shochu may be consumed in a variety of ways. It can be drunk straight up or on the rocks. Many young adults who drink it, especially young women, mix the alcohol with fruit juice or sweetened green tea. Another popular drink is chuhai, which combines shochu with soda, flavoring, and ice.
Chuhai is somewhat comparable to the American wine cooler. It’s quite sweet, and is frequently sold in cans and convenience stores or in vending machines. Another drink called hoppy is a mix of shochu and beer. Hoppy is also typically widely available in convenience stores.
Despite the many ingredients used to make shochu, there are essentially two types, called otusurui and korui. Korui is distinct from otusurui because it undergoes multiple distillations before being bottled. It is often thought best in cocktails. Otusurui is made through a single malt or single distillation process. This process often leaves the beverage with a smell and taste similar to the base ingredients. It is usually consumed in shots or over ice and considered of a higher grade than korui shochu.
I'm here right now in Kagoshima and the drink is so good - on the rocks or even with warm water and lemon slice. Yesterday I went to a Shochu hot spring resort where we sat in a huge pot of warm Shochu before getting into natural hot spring fed pools - with of course a steam room and coarse salt.
The afternoon was topped of with a cold coffee latte in the changing area. The best! We also introduced our host to Shochu bombs.. like a Sake bomb - beer in glass and a shot of Shochu dropped in - these guys can't get enough of it Source: Shochu
It is amazing how much potato the shochu producers use. I visited a producer in Kagoshima and they were using 20 tons of potatoes a day! Keep in mind though, the potatoes they use to make shochu is not a type of sweet potato used for culinary purposes. Just think about all of the corn that is grown in the US. Most of it is processed to make other food products and not eaten as corn on the cob.