Translated by Hilary Keyes
How To Select The Best Shōchū, Sake and Whisky
Written by WINE TRIP
Today we delve into the world of Japanese sake, shōchū and whisky - specifically their unique points. Please think of this as a guide to finding the perfect Japanese liquor for you.
In Japan you can purchase many different types of alcohol at both supermarkets and convenience stores. It goes without saying that you can buy Japanese sake, shōchū and Japanese whisky, so when in Japan, why not try finding the drink that you like best?
Today, let's head to the convenience store and take a look at the Japanese sake, shōchū and Japanese whisky they have available
Matching Alcohol to Your Tastes
Here we are at the room temperature sake (酒) corner of the convenience store.
Choosing Between the Raw Materials
Junmaishu (純米酒) is an alcohol make solely from rice. The personality of the rice and its flavor is very prominent in this type of sake. Compared to other types of sake, it is said that, because Junmaishu only contains rice, you will not end up in a drunken frenzy or sick from drinking it.
Honjōzō (本醸造) is sake that has had alcohol added to it. One of its merits is that, compared to Junmaishu, it is relatively more reasonably priced. For Japanese sake fans, this type is comparable to a nice, daily house wine.
Choosing by Flavor
Karakuchi (辛口) are dry, not sweet drinks. Karakuchi drinks do not affect the flavors of food but set them off, making them excellent drinks to pair with meals. If you are having sashimi, appetizers or other delicately flavored Japanese dishes, by all means please choose a karakuchi sake.
Nakakuchi (中口) is slightly sweeter than karakuchi, but is not very sweet at all.
Amakuchi (甘口) is sweet. These types of sake will not lose their flavor when compared to strongly flavored dishes, such as steak and meat in general. They also pair very well with lobster and other shellfish-based main dishes.
Choosing by Distillation
Ginjōshu refers to sake made from rice that has been milled by no less than forty percent. As the rice has become quite refined through this process, there isn't any bitterness to the final product, making for a pure, refreshing flavor.
Daiginjō refers to sake made from rice that has been milled to no less than 50 percent. As a result of this lengthy manufacturing process, this type of sake may be considerably more expensive than other types. It also makes for a high grade, neat/smartly flavored sake.
Shōchū Types: Potato or Wheat
Near the sake corner you will find shōchū (焼酎). The main difference between sake and shōchū can be easily understood by looking at the label where you see the "alcoholic content" (アルコール分) written. If the alcoholic content is fifteen percent or less, then it is considered sake, 25 percent or less, shōchū. Sake has a similar brewage to beer, while shōchū is more like a distilled spirit, explaining why it has a higher alcoholic content.
Shōchū may be made from potatoes, grains, or rice distilled with brown cane sugar and is typically enjoyed on the rocks, or by adding water, soda water, oolong tea or other mixers. These are usually added in a ratio of 1:3, 1 shōchū to 3 of the water/soda/tea.
There are bottles labeled shōchū (焼酎) as well as bottles with honkaku shōchū (本格焼酎) on them. Honkaku shōchū (本格焼酎) refers to shōchū made without any added alcohol, just potatoes, grains or rice; this gives Honkaku shōchū the raw, unalterated flavors of these ingredients.
If you see the character for potato (芋) on the label, you are looking at imojōchū. These are often made from sweet potatoes grown in the warm Kyushu region. The flavors of imojōchū change based on the types of potatoes used, so when compared to shōchū made with grains or rice, imojōchū has a heavier, more powerful taste and its own uniqueness to it. Imojōchū is a drink that you either love or hate it seems, but its fans can't stop raving about its taste.
If you see grains (麦) on the bottle or label, you have a bottle of mugi shōchū (麦焼酎) before you. Mugi shōchū (typically barely-based) are smoother, more refreshing in taste compared to the fragrant or savory sweet potato based shōchū. These may also be aged in casks or barrels, giving them flavors that some say are equal to, if not better than whisky.
Try Japanese Whisky too!
From the left are Taketsuru (竹鶴), Yamazaki (山崎), and Hakushu (白州). Each 180 ml bottle may be purchased for about 1000 yen.
Taketsuru (竹鶴) has a vanilla-y smokiness to it, and has an overall softly mellow deepness to the flavor.
Yamazaki (山崎) is a famous, high class brand of whisky often given as gifts in Japan. With a brilliant yet gentle flavor, this whisky has a pleasant aftertaste to it. It is best suited to people who like smokey or malt alcohols.
Hakushu (白州) has a refreshing flavor that reminds people of the forest. This whisky is best suited to drinking with soda or just drinking straight too.
Do Try these Flavorful Japanese Drinks
Japanese sake, shōchū and whisky - have you found something you would like to try? If you check your local convenience store you will find that there are plenty of reasonably priced yet genuine Japanese alcohols to enjoy. And, if you find something that you really like, why not take a few bottles home with you where you can enjoy them with your friends and family overseas too?