Review: Iichiko Shochu – Silhouette and Frasco
Shochu is something we see so seldomly here at Drinkhacker that we
don’t even do! have a category for it. (I’m putting it in the sake category for lack of a proper one.)
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
Interesting review! After a week of touring shochu bars in Osaka, I have a new found appreciation for a great tasting vocabulary. When trying new barley shochu with my friends, the best they could muster was “tastes like barley.” A quick question, how did you prepare these shochu drinks for your review? neat? rocks? with water? If you had them neat or with water, were they warmed or chilled?
Neat, straight. We taste virtually everything except beer and white wine neat, at room temperature, as most professionals do. (We may retaste or further taste on the rocks or with water — as with cask strength whiskey, absinthe, etc. — but the primary review is generally neat unless noted.) Colder temperatures dull flavors, making it more difficult to distinguish a spirit’s character.