June 22, 2011

Shochu Stop: An Introduction

by Washi Washino

shochu 2

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
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.

Kanpai (cheers)!

*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.


  • Rory P. Wavekrest
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Looking forward to this series!

  • Anders
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Ooooh, sugoi, Washi-kun, welcome to Umamimart! I like your writing style, very straight on and down to business. I wish my Japanese was as good as your English by now.

  • Washi
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Thanks Anders! I have a good editor, haha.

  • Washi
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Thanks Rory! Or Ryan?

  • Bryan
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm


    Omedetou! Nice job. I will definitely read your column. I hope to hear more stories about you and the guys. Do I know the guys you first drank with?

  • Washi
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Hey Bryan, thanks.
    You don’t know the guy who had Iichiko, but I think Takachiho must have been there.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Shochu Stop: Mugi Shochu (Barley) – Umamimart on July 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    […] where is also famous for mugi shochu. Iichiko and Nikakido, two shochus that I mentioned in my first post, are also made in […]

  • By Throwback Thursday: Intro to Shochu - Umami Mart on July 31, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    […] We just completed our fourth shochu talk and tasting, this time at Alchemy Bottle Shop in Oakland. What a great audience! We had a fantastic time talking to people about shochu, and thought that Washi Washino’s first blog post about shochu would be appropriate to revisit here too. […]

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