Shochu is a Japanese clear distilled spirit similar to vodka. The main difference between sake and shochu is sake (or "nihon-shu" in Japanese) is brewed, whereas shochu is distilled.
In Japan shochu is often mixed with hot water with salty ume-plums, or mixed with oolong tea and fruit juices such as orange, peach and grapefruit.
Health conscious consumers prefer shochu than other types of beverage alcohol because of its low calories. (about 15 - 20 cal. per ounce) By law, the alcohol content of Shochu must be 45 percent or less. Although most comes in at 25 percent, lower than a regular bottle of distilled spirits that are sold at 40 percent.
Shochu is produced all over the country, yet the home of shochu is Kyushu island, most southern island of Japan. Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu is the only prefecture in Japan that does not produce sake or any other types of beverage alcohol than Shochu.
Like vodka, shochu can be distilled from various types of ingredients that contain natural sugar such as potato, rice, wheat and barley. After the sugar is extracted from the source ingredient, yeast is added to the sugary water, converting the sugar into alcohol before the distillation process.
There are two main types of shochus: Otsurui and Korui. Korui shochu is distilled several times and usually consumed in cocktails. Otsurui is distilled only once, leaving a distinctive smell of the source ingredient. This type of shochu is often enjoyed on the rocks and is becoming increasingly popular in Japan.
Imo-Jochu is distilled from sweet potatoes within a few days after being harvested. Unlike other types of shochu produced from grain crops, imo jochu can only be produced during the harvest season between August and November. After the distillation, imo jochu is matured for a few months before being shipped. Shinshu (new shochu) is sold in November as a tradition to celebrate the beginning of making shochu.
The exact origin of Shochu is unknown, although the first document mentioning Shochu was found in Kyushu island in the 1500s, indicating that Shochu distillation first arrived in Kyushu island through Thailand while the other would say that it came from China through Korea. By the mid 1500s, Shochu was available to ordinary citizens according to the document found in Kyoshu island, written by a local carpenter. "I was disappointed that the manager didn't offer us a glass of shochu for all the hard work we've done for his shrine."
Today shochu cocktails or "Chu-Hai" canned cocktails are sold virtually everywhere in Japan, from a street vending machine to a 24-hour convenient store, or at a subway kiosk. Chu-Hai drinks come with the variety of flavors such as grapefruit, lemon, lime, peach, strawberry, plum and many more.