Shochu Stop: An Introduction
Hello, I'm Washi. Nice to meet you! I moved to the U.S. in January 2010 from Tokyo. Sorry ladies, I'm married. Anyway, I have been drinking soooo much shochu for years, and I just wanna say, SHOCHU IS FANTASTIC!
Huh? What is shochu? Don't rush, I'll tell you all about it later.
During my bachelor days, my life was full of shochu. Actually, my first encounter with it still brings me nightmares. When I was 20, I drank shochu for the first time at my friend's tiny apartment in Japan. We only had cheap shochu in his room, and since we were poor students, we didn't have much of a choice. We drank the entire bottle that night.
Of course, the next morning we were so hungover and barfed everywhere, and I didn't remember anything about the night. The shochu we drank was Iichiko which is the most popular shochu distilled from barley. It was too strong and smelled too alcoholic for two young guys who were just starting to learn how to drink. Iichiko is not to blame, it was our fault.
One day, I tried a shochu that changed my outlook. Called Nikaido, this shochu was also cheap, but more round, mild and not so alcoholic as the Iichiko. I could sense the barley and actually enjoyed drinking it! That night, my friends and I talked about the usual topics of youth (art, life, and sex) until we fell into a deep sleep.
We never barfed.
Once I became a salary man, I became acquainted with imo (sweet potato) shochu. It was so aromatic, with the scent of a baked sweet potato. This was too much for me at the first time, but I gradually became used to it. Imo shochu has become my drink of choice. I used to be a beer drinker, but this requires a lot of physical strength and stamina. I'm getting old, and shochu is much easier to drink.
Tomi no hozan (imo shochu).
Let me briefly tell you about shochu.
Shochu is a distilled liquor, mainly distilled from sweet potato, barley, and rice, most often from the southern regions of Japan. Other variations include sugarcane, buckwheat, sesame, carrot, and long rice (awamori). The alcohol contents is 25% abv, which is much lower than other distilled liquors like whisky or tequila.
Though I prefer to drink shochu on the rocks, you can also drink it neat, with water or with hot water. Like any other liquor, the flavors of shochu will change according to the way you drink it. In general, imo shochu goes well with hot water, which brings out its earthy aromas. If it's too strong for you to drink straight, you can add water, which soften the flavors. Try out different styles and drink it as you wish.
Shochu is a casual drink, and pairs well with food. However, it is better with cooked food than with raw food like sashimi.
I'll be introducing a new shochu in each column for Umamimart. I hope you will be interested in shochu and enjoy it.
*Washi was born and raised in Japan, and recently moved to Berkeley. He enjoys beer, yoga, and rides his bike to his bartending job every day.