Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lesson 1: The two basic categories of shōchū

Shōchū (焼酎) means "burning sake". It is a distilled spirit (unlike sake, which is a brewed rice wine) and typically has a much higher alcohol content than sake, ranging between 20 and 45 per cent.

These are the characters for shōchū:

You should find them somewhere on the bottle, in some kind of stylised form.

Shōchū is made from all kinds of things: potato, rice, barley, buckwheat etc. etc. etc.. However, all of these spirits fit into two major and very different classifications:

Korui (甲類) shōchū

This is sometimes abbreviated to kōshu (甲酎).

This is a multiply distilled spirit and is best compared to vodka. In general, fairly characterless and odourless. To confuse things, the "" in kōrui actually means "first rank", but this is the colourless liquid that they sell dirt cheap in huge plastic containers in Japanese supermarkets. There are posher brands but lets move along the supermarket aisle to the really interesting stuff:

Honkaku (本格) or Otsurui (乙類) shōchū


This is the stuff I am fascinated by. It used to be called otsurui shōchū, which means "second rank", but, because this legal classification was misleading people into thinking it was second rate, its makers have been allowed to call it Honkaku, which means authentic or "classical method" shōchū. It is singly distilled and often retains more of the character of the original ingredients than kōrui shōchū.

See this entry if your browser can't read the Japanese characters in brackets.
The photograph is taken from islodelba. Islodelba is sharing it on these creative commons conditions.

1 comment:

not incurious said...

Thank you for writing this guide! It's very clear and informative.