Shochu Spirit

Shochu Spirit _1 Shochu Spirit _2

Shochu is a Japanese distilled alcohol, whereas Sake is made from brewed rice. Kagoshima’s warm climate is not suited for the making of sake, but Kagoshima Shochu distilled from Japanese sweet potatoes is very famous throughout the country.

The oldest historical record of Shochu is found in a rather unusual place.

During the reconstruction of a 900-year-old Koriyama-Yawata shrine in Ota city, Kagoshima in 1599, graffiti was discovered on the ceiling written by one of the carpenters working there.  “I am so disappointed. The owner contractor here is so cheap, he didn’t even buy us Shochu!” he wrote.

Shochu was a beverage originally distilled from rice. However, farmers found sweet potatoes from Okinawa grew well even in the poor soil of the Kagoshima area, which was made mainly of volcanic ashes. Soon, sweet potatoes replaced rice for Shochu making. 

Shochu was an alcohol beverage for the common people. Since rice was considered more precious and expensive, the abundant sweet potatoes in the region were the natural choice for Shochu.  Consequently, local people came up with great local dishes, as Shochu drinking became a ritual for families and restaurants after work. Earth ware for Shochu bottles and cups became a new local industry as well. Recently, Kagoshima’s Shochu and its local cuisine had a commercial boom at the dawn of the 21st century, causing a temporary shortage of sweet potatoes!

Shochu on the rocks, or with cold or hot water are the typical ways of drinking the beverage. However, there is a special method that has been passed on among the locals for many centuries; letting Shochu and water mix for 3 to 4 days in advance, the recommended ratio between Shochu and water being 5:5 or 6:4.  Right before drinking, ones pours the mixture into an earthenware pot (Kurojoka). Then it is serve either hot or warm. This method helps to reduce Shochu’s unique and powerful smell, and makes its flavor milder.

 

Photo by Kagoshima Prefectural Visitors Bureau

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