Shochu is a drink that I have enjoyed immensely in the last decade, and to further my education about the spirit, I flew to Los Angeles last summer to take a certification course to become a Shochu Adviser. Put on by the Sake School of America near Little Tokyo, I spent an entire day with my head buried in study materials while tasting dozens of shochus from Japan.
Shochu is Japan's distilled liquor. It can be made with anything considered a starch – the most popular types being sweet potato, barley, and rice. It is not to be mistaken with sake, which is brewed (like beer). However, they do share a main ingredient: koji, a mold that creates the process of multiple-parallel fermentation (a juicy factoid I learned in the class!).
The front of the school:
They sent me study materials well in advance by mail.
The course was led by Toshio Ueno, Vice President of the Sake School of America, and Sake and Shochu Professional. Mr. Ueno goes through the booklet with the students to drill in all the information necessary to pass the 100 question test at the end of the day.
Hospitality specialists and shochu enthusiasts came from as far as Texas to take this course. It was a full class!
I always find the health studies for shochu the most interesting. Less calories than other spirits, beer, wine or sake – for example a shot of vodka might have around 100 calories versus only 30 calories in shochu. Because of this, it's been a great alternative drink for diabetes patients in Japan, as well as those with heart disease.
Another highlight for me was to see the different kojis used in shochu. Unlike sake, which exclusively uses yellow koji, shochu uses white and black varieties as well, which enhances the taste of shochu in different ways.
The tasting portion of the course was the most eye-opening.
We went through shochus one by one and wrote tasting notes vigorously. I love shochu for its different aromas – some can be fruity, others can be super funky, like wet mud.
Shochu is still an undiscovered beverage in the U.S., but so expansive and there's so much to learn. I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in shochu and wants more in-depth knowledge about its history, production, and ingredients. The Sake School of America offers courses throughout the year in LA, and the NYC area! I learned a lot through the course and passed the test – so I'm now Umami Mart's resident Shochu Advisor. Ask me anytime about shochu!