The literal translation of shochu (焼酎) is “fiery spirit.” Often confused with sake, the main difference between these classic Japanese beverages is that sake is brewed and shochu is distilled. Also, while sake can only be made from rice, shochu can be made from many different ingredients. Traditionally, shochu is either offered neat, on the rocks, or ‘Oyuwari/Mizuwari’ (side of hot / cold water).
Shochu originates from Kyushu (southwestern island of Japan) where it was very difficult to make good sake because of the warm climate. In the 1500’s, distillation was introduced to Kyushu and local ingredients, such as sweet potato, barley, rice, and brown sugar, were used in pot stills to create shochu. Today, shochu is made from a myriad of ingredients, including the original 4, corn as well as chestnut, sesame, and potato. When a shochu is labeled as ‘honkaku’, it means that it is made from 100% Japanese ingredients. Shochu will always have a grain alcohol base (most often rice or barley) and is graded by the origin of its ingredients.