Shochu has many of the same flavor characteristics as sake, but it can be made from other starches than rice — namely barley, potatoes, or even chestnuts. The shochus reviewed here are all barley-based.
As with sake, the barley is polished until just a core remains, purifying the grain. It is fermented and mixed with a specific type of barley mold, then (unlike sake) distilled, typically just once, and can be . This raises the alcohol level to 25 to 30 proof, considerably higher than sake, while keeping that unmistakable melon character intact.
The two shochu bottlings below are from Iichiko, the best-selling shochu bottler in Japan. Thoughts follow.
Iichiko “Silhouette” Shochu – Polished to 60% of the original grain. A typical shochu, with modest, crisp melon on the nose. Underneath there’s fresh grain character — think white whiskey — but more of that melon on the finish along with a touch of dried herbal character. Nice and fresh, a solid example of what a simple shochu should be like. 50 proof. B+ / $23
Iichiko “Frasco” Shochu (pictured) – Polished to 50% of the original grain and produced with a more delicate and expensive method that I won’t try to explain here. This is a fruitier and slightly sweeter style of shochu, with a lasting finish that offers lots of melon but also pepper, and — late in the finish — neat butterscotch notes. Very silky and well-balanced, a lovely and elegant sipper. 60 proof. A / $70