Shochu is a traditional Japanese alcohol that has been around for over 500 years. It is made from a variety of rice, barley, sweet potato, buckwheat, and other grains. The traditional method of production involves steaming, fermentation, and distillation. The end result is a clear, strong-tasting spirit that is low in calories and contains about 25-30% alcohol.

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Soju vs Shochu vs Sake

Alcoholic drinks have been a staple in many cultures for centuries, serving as a symbol of celebration, socialization, and relaxation. When it comes to traditional Asian drinks, there are three popular options: soju, shochu, and sake. While these three drinks may seem similar, they have distinct differences in their origin, production, and taste.

Soju: The Korean Spirit

Soju is a Korean thing. Don’t mix it up with Shochu! (Photo by Roi Mojado)

Soju is a clear, colorless spirit that originated in Korea and is made from rice, barley, or wheat. It has a neutral flavor, making it versatile to mix with other ingredients. Soju is typically consumed as a shot and is the most popular liquor in South Korea, with a history dating back to the 14th century. Its popularity has spread to other countries, making it a common option for those seeking an authentic Korean experience.

Shochu: The Japanese Spirit

Shochu, on the other hand, is a Japanese spirit that is made from sweet potatoes, barley, or rice. It is distilled only once, giving it a distinct, robust flavor that sets it apart from other Asian spirits. Shochu is usually consumed straight or mixed with hot water, and it is commonly enjoyed in Japan as an after-work drink.

Sake: The Rice Wine

Sake is more like beer than wine.

Sake, unlike soju and shochu, is a rice wine that is made from fermented rice, water, and a specific type of mold called koji. Sake is commonly referred to as “rice wine,” but it is actually brewed more like beer than wine. It has a unique, smooth flavor and can range from sweet to dry. Sake is typically served warm in small cups and is a staple in Japanese culture, often served at special events and celebrations.

Distillation Process

The production process also sets these three drinks apart from one another. Soju and shochu are distilled spirits, meaning that the alcohol content is higher than that of sake. Sake, on the other hand, is brewed through the process of fermentation, resulting in a lower alcohol content. This distinction in production also contributes to the distinct flavors of each drink.

Alcohol Content

Soju and shochu typically have an alcohol content of 20-30%, while sake ranges from 15-20%. The higher alcohol content in soju and shochu makes them a popular option for those seeking a stronger drink, while the lower alcohol content in sake makes it a more approachable option for those who prefer a milder flavor.

Shochu is Gaining Popularity

Shochu has become very popular in Japan in recent years, and is often seen as a more sophisticated alternative to beer or sake. It is most commonly enjoyed neat or over ice, or can be combined with hot or cold water, green tea or fruit juice to make a variety of drinks. It is also sometimes used in cooking, and can be used to make a variety of dishes from stir-fries to desserts.

Types of Shochu

There are many different types of shochu, and each one has its own unique flavor and aroma.

Kome Shochu

Kome shochu is made from rice and is the most common type of shochu in Japan. It ranges in flavor from light and sweet to robust and earthy, and can be enjoyed neat or mixed with juice or soda.

Koji Shochu

Koji shochu is made from rice, barley, and koji, a type of mold that is used in the production of sake and other Japanese foods. It is typically aged for longer than kome shochu, resulting in a smoother, more complex flavor.

Imo Shochu

Imo shochu is made from sweet potatoes and is often aged for several years, resulting in a deep, smoky flavor. It has a higher alcohol content than kome or koji shochu, making it a popular choice for those looking for a stronger drink.

Mugi Shochu

Mugi shochu is made from barley and is known for its sweet, earthy flavor. It has a mild, mellow flavor and is often mixed with juice or soda to create a refreshing cocktail.

Kokuto Shochu

Kokuto shochu is made from brown sugar and is a popular choice for those looking for a unique flavor. It has a rich, complex flavor that is slightly sweet and slightly smoky.

Awamori Shochu

Awamori shochu is made from long-grained Thai rice and is unique to Okinawa. It has a robust, slightly smoky flavor and is often enjoyed neat or with a splash of cold water.

Yamahai Shochu

Yamahai shochu is made from rice and is a type of sake-like shochu. It’s made with an ancient brewing method that results in a complex flavor with notes of fruit, spices, and earthiness.

Where to Find Shochu?

If you are visiting Japan, you should definitely try shochu.

Shochu is Easy to Find

It is available in most supermarkets and liquor stores, and can also be found on the menu in many restaurants and bars. Traditional shochu is made with just one type of grain, such as rice or barley, but there are also more modern varieties that are made with a blend of grains.

Bar Hopping Tour could be a Good Idea

If you happen to be in Sapporo, you might also consider joining a bar hopping tour.

(Source: KLOOK)

The Sapporo Style Bar Hopping Experience is a unique and exciting way to explore the city of Sapporo and its culture. With an English-speaking guide who knows the city well, you will visit 3 restaurants/bars and have 1 meal and 1 drink at each venue. You can indulge in traditional Japanese snacks and drinks, as well as try the famous Sapporo miso ramen.

The highlight of the experience is undoubtedly the chance to sample the national drinks of Japan – sake and shochu. These drinks are best enjoyed at an izakaya, and the guide will take you to one of the best in the city. You will be able to appreciate the unique flavour of these drinks, as well as the atmosphere of a traditional izakaya.


The tour will also take you to a bar in a multi-tenant building loved by locals, where you can try a set of sake and snacks, and a restaurant where you can sample noodle and beer set to finish off the night like a local.

Joining the Sapporo Style Bar Hopping Experience is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture, cuisine and drinks of Sapporo. You will get to experience the best of Sapporo.

These are just some of the many types of shochu available in Japan. With so many varieties to choose from, it’s easy to find one that suits your taste. Whether you’re looking for a light and sweet shochu or a complex and smoky one, there’s sure to be a type of shochu to fit your palate.

Bottom Line

Shochu is a great way to experience the traditional flavors of Japan in a modern way. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif before dinner, or as a digestif after a meal. It is also a great way to start a night of drinking and socializing among friends. Whatever way you choose to drink it, shochu is sure to be an enjoyable experience.

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