In episode 48, our hosts have a little fun by jumping into the weird, unusual, or shall we even say, uncanny shochu styles that make up a sliver of the category, but make shochu such an odd spirit to categorize.
Intro: Theresa Matsuura of the Uncanny Japan Podcast.
CHRISTOPHER PELLEGRINI Vermont born and bred, long-time Tokyo resident and author of The Shochu Handbook, Christopher learned about delicious fermentations as a beer brewer at Otter Creek (Middlebury, VT). He now spends most of his waking hours convincing strangers that shochu and awamori are unlike anything they’ve ever tried before.
STEPHEN LYMAN discovered Japan’s indigenous spirits at an izakaya in New York City. He was so enthralled that he now lives in Japan and works in a tiny craft shochu distillery every autumn. His first book, The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Award.
Stephen and Christopher enjoy going off the beaten path to discover uncanny shochu styles.
If you have any comments or questions about this episode, please reach out to Stephen or Christopher via Twitter. We would love to hear from you.
While the most popular shochu base ingredients make up about 98% (or more) of volume, the other ingredients can be just as enjoyable if much harder to find. As we are sure you know by now, sweet potato, barley, rice, kokuto sugar, and soba (buckwheat) make up the lion’s share of the market with sake lees shochu playing a culturally important, but minor role in driving volume. While the aromatic shochu subcategory is vast, but also just a sliver of sales.
While not intended to be a comprehensive dive into all of these alternative ingredients, we do highlight a few that are worth exploring.
Milk: whole milk, skim milk, and whey powder
Tea: green tea, black tea, and matcha
Seaweed: konbu (kelp), wakame, nori, and red algae
Garden Vegetables: carrot, tomato, onion, and green pepper
Mushrooms: enoki, shiitake
Seeds/Nuts: chestnut, sesame seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds
Herbs: silvervine, shiso, saffron
Other Oddities: cactus, aloe, water chestnut
Why are all of these different types of shochu legal to make? Truth is, we’re not sure. The tax office decided which were approved and distillers, farming cooperatives, and just about anyone else could apply for approval. The full list was approved and its been stated that no new ingredients will be approved, but suspect that’s only going to be true until another ingredient is approved. We personally would vote for Mizu Shochu’s Lemongrass. There’s nothing Japanese about lemongrass, but Mizu’s expression is off the charts delicious.
As with any shochu, how you drink it is up to you, but generally since these uncanny shochu are vacuum distilled, they’re going to express best straight, on the rocks, or with soda. If you like to be able to taste the diluted spirit without cold, use Stephen’s twice up receipe: 50/50 filtered water and shochu. Good way to get the experience with dilution.
That said, some of the nuttier (sesame, chestnut) expressions are great with hot water and the konbu and mushroom shochu are loaded with umami – so they will also play well with hot water or as a way to add body to a cocktail. Very much look forward to getting our hands on a few bottles and doing some experiments.
More to Explore
As usual, there is so much to explore in this world of honkaku shochu. If you find anything interesting out there, please let us know.