When talking about Japanese alcoholic beverages, most of us immediately think of sake. But it\u2019s time to change that thought process, because the distilled spirit of Japanese shochu is worth your time. Though it lacks sake\u2019s name recognition, shochu is becoming more widely available in some U.S. cities and is popping up at more bars and restaurants. It\u2019s great news for anyone looking to expand their drinking horizons. \n\n\n\nWhat Is Shochu? \n\n\n\nShochu is a distilled spirit that is mainly produced in Japan\u2019s southern regions Kyushu and Okinawa. It has over 500 years of history and is considered Japan\u2019s native spirit. Its common base ingredients include rice, barley, sweet potato, buckwheat or chestnuts. \u201cDepending on which [base] ingredient is used, a shochu can be called barley shochu, rice shochu or potato shochu,\u201d says Tetsuro Miyazaki, general manager of U.S. operations of Iichiko Shochu. \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nIt's also often thought of as \u201cJapanese vodka\u201d for its higher alcohol by volume (ABV). Although shochu can range in ABV from 20% to 40%, most average around 25% ABV. This makes the spirit a lower-alcohol alternative to liquors like gin or vodka, but a higher-alcohol alternative to beer, sake or wine. \n\n\n\nWhat Does Shochu Taste Like? \n\n\n\nThe flavor is sometimes described as a cross between vodka and whiskey. The specific flavor notes and aromas are determined by various factors: the base ingredient used, the type of koji mold, the koji base, the duration of aging and the vessel used. These factors help determine the flavors of the final product.\n\n\n\nAnother influential factor is the method of distillation used. According to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS), atmospheric distillation tends to bring out a fuller flavor of the raw material, while vacuum distillation results in a lighter, slightly more floral profile.\u00a0\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nBarley shochu, in particular, is often soft and inviting on the nose and has aromatic fruity flavors. A leading brand of barley shochu in Japan is Iichiko. It offers two expressions: Silhouette and Saiten. Silhouette has notes of warm rice, white peach, sea breeze and golden plum, while Saiten, Iichiko\u2019s higher-ABV expression, has aromas of honeydew melon, white grapes and kabosu citrus, with a hint of soy, white pepper and barley notes. \n\n\n\nWhere Can You Buy Shochu? \n\n\n\nSeveral online liquor shops in the U.S. carry prestigious bottles like Kuro Kirishima, Iichiko, and Takara. Before buying, make sure to check online reviews of shops and know their offerings. You can also find shochu at your favorite Asian restaurant or Japanese bar. Here are a few of our go-to bottles for shochu beginners. \n\n\n\nShochu Bottles to Try \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nMizu Shochu\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nJikuya White Shochu\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nIichiko Saiten Shochu\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nColorful Honkaku Shochu\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nKana Shochu\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nFAQ\n\n\n\nHow Do You Drink Shochu? \n\n\n\nIn Japan, shochu is consumed more than sake or whiskey. \u201cJapanese people consume it on a daily basis [thinking] they are less likely to have a hangover after drinking shochu, so the beverage overtook sake consumption in 2003,\u201d claims Miyazaki. \n\n\n\nAnother upside? It can be served at a range of temperatures. You can drink it on the rocks or mix it with either hot or cold water. \n\n\n\nHitoshi Utsnomiya, director of the JSS, says the traditional way to drink the spirit is oyuwari, or shochu with hot water. When you add water, the alcohol content goes down to about 12 to 15%, similar to a glass of wine. \n\n\n\nShochu also makes a great cocktail base. A popular drink is chu-hi, a shochu highball that mixes the spirit with soda. \n\n\n\nShochu is traditionally enjoyed with a meal but it can also be consumed before or after eating, making it a great aperitif or digestif. If you happen to keep a bottle at home, be sure to put it in the fridge so you can enjoy it cold without the need to dilute it with ice. \n\n\n\nWhat Is the Difference Between Shochu and Soju? \n\n\n\nThough the names may sound similar, shochu and soju are two different spirits. Soju, often called the \u201cKorean vodka,\u201d is a rice-based undistilled spirit popularly consumed in Korea. Its appearance is clear and colorless, and its taste is slightly sweet and smooth. Made from grains and starches like barley, sweet potatoes and tapioca, soju has a mostly neutral flavor. \n\n\n\nHow Is Shochu Made? \n\n\n\nKoji\u2014a substance made of soybeans, rice or other foodstuffs inoculated with a mold culture\u2014is another key ingredient to shochu. The mold, a critical component of the saccharification process, breaks down starch into glucose. The resulting mash then ferments to produce alcohol, which is then distilled. \n\n\n\nWhen it comes to distillation, shochu is divided into two categories: honkaku (single distillation) and ko-rui (multiple distillations). Honkaku shochu, made from various base ingredients, is distilled in a pot still like whiskey and rum. \u201cThis [type of] shochu doesn\u2019t contain any additives or sugar, making it super-premium and clean,\u201d says Utsnomiya. Meanwhile, ko-rui shochu is made from various cereals and molasses and goes through distillation in a column still like vodka. \n\n\n\nWhy You Should Trust Us\n\n\n\nAll products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.